Whether it’s about politics or a personal passion, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has made an unprecedented commitment to Africa-Americans and all who are concerned about the impact of racism in this country. During a recent speech she made in Harlem, Clinton said that the mission of her presidency will be to end racial inequality.
The former First Lady has presented what she calls her “economic revitalization plan,” which includes plans to spend $20 billion on youth jobs, $5 billion on reentry programs for people coming out of prison, and $25 billion on entrepreneurship in communities that have been underserved historically. Clinton has made it clear that the intended beneficiaries of these plans are poor and working poor African-Americans and other people of color.
“For many white Americans, it’s tempting to believe that bigotry is largely behind us,” she said. “But more than half a century after Rosa Parks sat, and Dr. King marched and John Lewis bled, race still plays a significant role in determining who gets ahead in America and who gets left behind. Now anyone – anyone – asking for your vote, has a responsibility to grapple with this reality.”
The political reality is that Clinton consciously did something that President Obama has been criticized for being loathe to do: putting racism in America front and center and going into attack mode. Even relatively compassionate critics such as author Dr. Michael Eric Dyson have suggested that Obama “often practiced the politics of racial sublimation,” using “racially neutral projects” such as Obamacare to address the concerns of black people covertly while marketing them as good for the working poor and middle class of all races. Dyson called this an uneasy “alliance of amnesia and avoidance” that ignored seething racial tensions.
Whether one agrees or disagrees with Dyson’s characterization of the president, it’s clear that candidate Clinton has chosen a different, more aggressive path. Assuming she wins the Democratic nomination and in the general election, Clinton’s plan will face scrutiny and opposition by experts and Republicans.
“It (Clinton’s revitalization plan) doesn’t really sound like anything new,” said Jerry Mitchell, chairman of the National Black Chamber of Commerce. “It sounds rather like some of the programs that have been laid out in various Democratic administrations in the past.
“It sounds good. I’m wondering where the money (will be) coming from to do some of these things.”
Taxes is the answer to Mitchell’s reflection. The Tax Foundation, which CNN has described as “conservative-leaning,” estimates that Clinton will raise tax revenue by $498 billion over the next 10 years to pay for her plan. The foundation believes only $191 billion actually would be collected due to a “reduction in the size of the U.S. economy,” which it attributes to her proposed tax increases on higher income earners. And this, the foundation maintains, “would lead to lower after-tax incomes for taxpayers at all income levels, but especially for taxpayers at the top.”
Mitchell also warns that Congress, especially if it remains Republican-led, may impede or even block completely Clinton’s plans.
“At least you’ve got something to look at,” Mitchell said before issuing another warning.
“The only caveat I have is I would hate for somebody to dangle a carrot in front of me and then I bite it, and it’s not really a carrot.”
Clinton’s black agenda was presented after a close call in Iowa and a straight-up loss in New Hampshire to her primary opponent Sen. Bernie Sanders. So, some believe that she is pandering to African-American voters.
The polls have long shown Clinton’s strength in the black community. And if they can be trusted, she dominates Sanders there in the nine upcoming primary states that have significant black populations – Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. It also helps that she has been endorsed by establishment black politicians such as Congressmen John Lewis and Jim Clyburn.
Sanders, however, seems to be outmaneuvering Clinton by garnering the support of young activists and intellectuals such as Michelle Alexander, best-selling author of the New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Alexander wrote a scathing critique of Clinton recently for The Nation and has endorsed Sanders. He’s also gotten endorsements from best-selling author Ta-Nehisi Coates, Dr. Cornel West, Congressman Keith Ellison, former NAACP CEO Ben Jealous and Erica Garner, daughter of Eric Garner, the African-American man who was choked to death by New York police officers.
So while Clinton may have seemed to have had the black vote locked up – during the 2008 primaries many black Democrats supported her before then-senator Obama began to surge – it’s still too early to count out Sanders. African-American Democratic voters have some decisions to make.
Perhaps Clinton herself gave the best advice during her Harlem speech.
“Hold me accountable,” she said. “Hold every candidate accountable. What we say matters, but what we do matters more.”