It’s hard to keep your eyes off a bunch of grown men losing all inhibition and sense of dignity when running for what ought to be the most respectable job in the world. Up until now, the Democrats have been able to sit back and watch the Republican Party implode while claiming to be the mature alternative. The last Republican shit show in Houston, Texas may have voters feeling CNN is one debate away from hosting its next spectacle at a local dive and advertising by having Anderson Cooper stand in the streets yelling, “Bar fight!”
Just because the Democrats have been more subtle about their showmanship doesn’t mean they can’t put on a circus of their own.
It didn’t take too long after New Hampshire to realise that the next few weeks were going to be a contest of who can be caught standing next to the biggest celebrities in the black community. Sanders supporters in Concord, New Hampshire had hardly finished celebrating his victory when Bernie hopped the red-eye to New York for a private meeting with Reverend Al Sharpton.
Not to be outdone, a week later, Hillary Clinton met with Sharpton, the NAACP, the Urban League, and several other African American organizations in Harlem.
Both candidates were even given a chance to introduce themselves to voters on BET, where Bernie admitted that his campaign hasn’t focused enough on issues like police brutality, and Hillary claimed that, “I’m not tailoring my message in any way.”
Of course she is. Both candidates are. Black voters made up 61 percent of primary voters in South Carolina on Saturday. To ignore them would be political suicide, especially since they could be Clinton’s best chance to stop the Sanders revolution.
March 1st, when 12 majority-Southern states will vote, is expected to echo the South Carolina results, where Clinton not only won, but made Sanders look like he’d forgotten to put his name on the ballot. With over 800 delegates up for grabs in one day, if everything holds up for Hillary, she could pull too far ahead for Sanders to catch up.
With the support of Morgan Freeman and some carefully crafted words on the trail, Hillary has set herself up as the heir to Obama’s legacy.
“[She] stands with the president against those who would undo his achievements.” Freeman’s ‘voice of god’ says in a new Clinton ad.
This part of the election cycle puts a rare focus on minority issues. In this case, Clinton understands that the presidency may be a long and slow-rolling game, but the campaign to get there is a stint of carefully planned promises. She’s made her pitch to black voters personal, bringing on the trail mothers of Eric Garner and Sandra Bland, victims killed by police.
Clinton’s early career with Children’s Defense Fund has become the main talking point of her biography while on tour. The time she spent in South Carolina working for civil rights legend Marian Wright Edelman has been the centerpiece in nearly every campaign speech she’s given.
As part of Edelman’s team in 1972, Clinton was sent undercover to Dothan, Alabama to investigate the private schools emerging as a response to desegregation for whether black children would be accepted as students. Her long history in this part of the country means that she has the same head start in the Deep South that Sanders has with northerners, who know his brand almost as well as Ben and Jerry’s.
Sanders, on the other hand, seems reluctant to change his message to suit a specific type of voter, mostly because he believes that his revolution ought to sound good to all Americans regardless of their race. Bernie just can’t seem to be convinced to shamelessly sell himself. And though this might be his most attractive trait against one of the most well-known and least trusted names in politics, it won’t work for voters in the South, who only ever think of the Senator from Vermont when they ask: “who the hell is Bernie Sanders?”
So selling his revolution in the Deep South has been left to people like Michael “Killer Mike” Render who is one half of the rap duo Run the Jewels. Killer Mike, who voted for Bill Clinton in the ’90s, has been phone-banking, tweeting, and speaking at campaign events for Sanders ever since he endorsed the Senator in June 2015 tweeting:
“It’s official I support @SenSanders! His call 4 the restoration of the voters rights act sealed the deal for me.”
But the Clintons have always been good at selling themselves to minorities. In the ’90s, Bill managed to smooth talk his way into winning the title of “the first black president,” even though his 1994 crime bill—which disproportionately hurt minorities—resulted in the largest increase of inmates in the country’s history.
In the 1990s, with the unemployment rate for young black males at 42 percent, Clinton claimed that the economy was booming. Bill’s numbers were boosted slightly by the fact that those in prison are not counted among the unemployed. Still, many African Americans see the Clintons as their best hope at having a sympathetic ear in the White House.
But last week in Charleston, the Clinton Show came to an abrupt stop when activist Ashley Williams and her friend crashed a private Clinton event in Charleston to protest Hillary’s support for the 1994 crime bill in a speech in which she spoke about gangs saying, “They are not just gangs of kids anymore. They are often the kinds of kids that are called super-predators. We can talk about why they ended up that way, but first we have to bring them to heel.”
Clinton was caught off guard in the middle of a speech. The young woman who had paid the $500 entry fee just to protest was escorted away by Secret Service officers when she wouldn’t allow Clinton to respond to her questions. A day later, the former Secretary of State said:
“Looking back, I shouldn’t have used those words, and I wouldn’t use them today.”
But even if she enthusiastically supported Bill’s policies and was one of the most active First Ladies in the country’s history, Hillary Clinton should’t be held accountable for her husband’s mistakes.
After all, Sanders, who was a Congressman at the time, voted in favor of the 1994 crime bill; though he had made it clear for years that he opposed a tough on crime approach and that the bill had only won his support because it was lumped in with the Violence Against Women Act.
“Instead of talking about punishment and vengeance let us talk about the real issue: how do we get to the root causes of crime.” Sanders said in a speech to Congress in 1991.
“If you want to get tough on crime, let’s deal with the causes of crime. Let’s demand that every man, woman, and child in this country have a decent opportunity and a decent standard of living. Let’s not keep putting more people into jail and disproportionately punishing blacks.”
All this is to say that the campaign in the South has flipped the whole contest on its head. Sanders’ authenticity has done nothing to help him in the states where he is virtually unknown, compared to the Clinton brand, and the argument of experience, which Clinton’s supporters have been promoting, completely fades when the issues are brought closer to home. On paper, Hillary is far and away the better candidate to deal with an international crisis, but when it comes to civil rights, Bernie Sanders beat Hillary Clinton 55 years before the contest began.
Sanders civil rights activism started in high school where he ran for class president and lost, but still managed to convince his opponent to fulfil his campaign promise of offering scholarships for orphans of the Korean War.
The wild-haired Senator was 40 years ahead of his time on gay rights as part of the Liberty Union Party in Vermont and was arrested in Chicago in 1962 for protesting segregation in Chicago Public Schools and housing.
When it comes down to each candidate’s record on civil rights, Clinton has eventually fallen on the right side of history, but has always had to play catch-up with Senator Sanders. While Bernie was marching with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Clinton had just renounced her support for Barry Goldwater, a Republican presidential candidate who opposed the Civil Rights Act.
The spectacle cast on the black community once every four years gives the voters a moment in the spotlight to voice their concerns. But when the bulk of the attention comes at a time that’s most convenient for politicians, then like cynical lovers on Valentine’s Day, black voters are forced to ask, “shouldn’t you love me all year round?” In this case, knowing each candidate’s history becomes crucial to knowing how they’ll act in the future and whether they’ll simply move on once the ballots are cast.
“I think that’s the problem, we get pinpointed in one area, one aspect, rather than what everybody gets across the board,” Reverend Al Sharpton told Larry Wilmore on the Nightly Show. “By just talking to us like, ‘oh you have these set problems,’ like we’re different is really in many ways condescending.”
If either Democratic candidate manages to win the South, then the black voters who stood by them will be owed much more than the kind words they’re offered once every four years, which proves Larry Wilmore’s satirical jab that, “Everybody agrees that black lives really matter when they equal black votes.”