It’s well known that Hillary Clinton regards African American voters as the “firewall” protecting her from the Sanders challenge. It has also become apparent in recent weeks that the wall is seriously eroding requiring emergency reconstruction efforts. Her appearance in Harlem last night in which she promised, according to Amy Chozick writing in the NYT, a “$125 billion plan to assist poor and minority communities with job training, education and re-entering society after incarceration” should be seen in this light.
It’s important to pay close attention to two aspects of this initiative. First, Clinton’s career has been marked from the beginning by an intense hostility to precisely those constituencies whom she is now courting-as evidenced by her enthusiasm for welfare reform, the crime bill and war on drugs, all of which had a devastating effect on African American communities. It follows that there is absolutely no reason to believe a word of her expressions of “feel your pain” concern for them. Secondly, these overtures mark an important shift in Clinton’s campaign and, more broadly, in the neoliberal strategy of which she and her husband are the foremost avatars. Note that by proposing pie in the sky programs which she has no intention of advancing when in office she is returning to the Neoliberalism version 1.0 associated with her husband who famously ran on “putting people first” and then governed (entirely predictably) by “putting corporations first.”
The Obama administration while equally corporate friendly, if not more so, should be seen as the leading developer of Neoliberalism 2.0. The crucial difference resided in his having made many fewer promises to the rank and file base, never once pledging that he would institute significant redistributionist programs of any sort. As I wrote at the time, he could run “a relatively honest campaign” since most of the left had already invested itself in achieving the “historic breakthrough” of an African American presidency. On this basis, they would support Obama unconditionally, and Obama was not required to make even rhetorical gestures of support towards the New Deal consensus which has been overwhelmingly popular with the public (regardless of party affiliation) for generations.
As I previously suggested, Hillary found that Neoliberalism 2.0 didn’t work for her: the substitution of identitarian terms (woman for african american, gender for race etc.) was not accepted by young women who rudely dismissed elite, first generation feminists’ attempts to impose on them an obligation to cast their vote for a figurehead representative of their identitarian cohort. And so we now have a reversion to Neoliberalism 1.0 which, rather than based on identitarianism bludgeoning, is fundamentally based on dishonesty: making promises that Clinton, a leading advocate for the immiseration of African American families through welfare “reform” and the incarceration of black males through her support of the crime bill, has no intention of fulfilling.
It’s an open question whether the strategy will succeed. To be honest, I’m concerned that it will. That’s partly because Sanders, having pledged to run a “positive” campaign, will not be able to call her out on her past history of dishonesty which is the only basis on which her present dishonesty can be assessed, after all.
Anyway, important to recognize what’s going on and to have our own strategy to counteract it.