The Bonfire of the Vanities came to Baltimore and, in the process, the Democrats may have lost their shot at regaining the Senate in 2016 and holding on to the White House. Perhaps I should explain.
We have been down this road before.
In 1968, Richard Nixon rode urban unrest and the failures of the Great Society to victory. Twenty years later, George H.W. Bush pummeled Mike Dukakis, a card-carrying ACLU member and the Democratic governor of Massachusetts, over weekend furloughs for convicted murderers, and won a third consecutive presidential term for the Republican Party, the first such term in 60 years.
And now the question: Will the voters, as opposed to the pundits and bloggers, side more with Freddie Gray or with six cops, three of them black, and one of them a woman?
According to a Wall Street Journal/NBC Poll released Sunday, a majority of Americans and almost three-in-five whites blame the rioters and looters for the rioting and looting—not the cops and not the system. At the same time, 96 percent of America expect a hot summer ahead.
Message to Hillary Clinton: Law and order still counts.
Yet, Clinton has embraced the demands of the urban end of the Democrats’ upstairs-downstairs coalition, history be damned. Her campaign rollout video had no footage of cops or firefighters. Then, last week, as the keynote speaker at Columbia University’s 18th Annual David N. Dinkins Leadership and Public Policy Forum (the fate of Dinkins, defeated for reelection after a single term because of the law-and-order issue, ought to tell her something), Clinton demanded body cameras in every police department in the country, and the end to an “era of mass incarceration.”
The speech, which has garnered praise among Democrats and their fans, will haunt her in the future because content and venue matter. Columbia is more than just Barack Obama’s alma mater. In 1968, Columbia was home to student riots, during which the kids turned the office of Columbia’s president into a latrine, took a dean hostage, faced-off against the NYPD, and had the chutzpah to demand the right to both riot and to collect academic honors.
Oh, and a-half-year later, Nixon beat Hubert Humphrey, against the backdrop of the Ivy League run amok, and riots in Baltimore, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Wilmington, Delaware – the heart of Blue America, what was then New Deal America. That was all just a coincidence, no cause and effect there?
As for Dinkins, crime and “spiraling welfare rolls” characterized his tenure as York City mayor between 1990 and 1993. With Dinkins as mayor, New York witnessed more than 2,000 murders annually. Times sure do change. The one-term Dinkins has been elevated to a Clinton prop.
Yet, all of this is ironic. It’s not just that Bill Clinton actually was the law-and-order president who ended welfare as we knew it. It’s that while Bill was scrambling to win the 1992 Democratic nomination, he got off of the campaign trail to preside over the execution of Ricky Ray Rector for the 1981 murder of Robert Martin, a Conway, Arkansas police officer.
When executed, Rector had an I.Q. of around 70, after partially lobotomizing himself with a gunshot to the head after he committed his crimes. Not surprisingly, Hillary has said nothing about the late and not-so-great Mr. Rector. She’s “evolving.”
While Clinton was staying mum about her husband’s record on crime, Barack Obama was taking Congress to task for not embracing his urban agenda. As Obama put it, “I’m under no illusion that under this Congress we’re going to get massive investments in urban communities,” as if prior investments in Urban America have been a cure-all.
Let’s go to the video. In the days since Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, Baltimore has gone from our seventh largest city to 23rd, Detroit has filed for bankruptcy, and Cleveland is a shadow of its old self. Sure, the Cavaliers have LeBron and are in the hunt for an NBA title, but Cleveland’s population has shrunk to under 400,000—the voters are now in the suburbs. As for Chicago, it has carved out a niche for gangs and gun violence, and Blue America is the hands-down home to our most segregated cities.
Obama’s trite trope of there being no red or blue America is dead. Sure, it made for a great aspirational rallying cry, and it helped him win the presidency. But the reality is that the Brazilification of America has arrived. The Baltimore police officers charged in the Gray shooting were not a monolith. They were male and female, ebony and ivory.
Demographics, however, don’t fully explain why Obama is engaging in studied finger pointing. Rather, it’s also about the failings of Obama’s own 2009 stimulus, or what Michelle Obama acknowledged was the Great Society Redux. As Jonathan Alter recounted in his book, The Promise:
A congressman approached the first lady at a White House reception after the bill’s passage and told her the stimulus was the best anti-poverty bill in a generation. Her reaction was “Shhhh!” The White House didn’t want the public thinking that Obama had achieved long-sought public policy objectives under the guise of merely stimulating the economy, even though that’s exactly what had happened.
So how did that work out? Well, the country is out of the Great Recession, but our economy has since crawled back to almost a halt. First-quarter GDP grew at an anemic 0.2 percent, while the Atlanta Federal Reserve Bank projects second-quarter GDP to inch-up to a paltry 0.9 percent. Race and crime are all too tragically in the news, and now it looks like we have not gotten our money’s worth from Obama’s first social experiment a/k/a the stimulus.
Today, Clinton is widely distrusted, even though she is the front-runner. Meanwhile, protesters chant, “no justice, no peace; no racist police,” and PBS’s Tavis Smiley prophesies that “protests and riots—uprisings—could become the new normal. Welcome to the new America.”
New America? More like 1968, and that portends badly for Clinton and the Democrats. If our cities go up in flames, Mitch McConnell may be sticking around for a while longer as Senate Majority Leader. As for Clinton, her ambitions may become roadkill to the Coalition of the Ascendant, and one more burnt offering to the Bonfire.
On Saturday night, Demetrius Johnson, an-ex con with a long and violent rap sheet, was arrested after he shot one of New York’s Finest in the face. The officer, Brian Moore, is the “fifth NYPD officer shot since last December,” according to the New York Daily News. Mayor Bill de Blasio, who managed Clinton’s 2000 Senate campaign, lamented the shooting as an “unconscionable act of violence” and “a reminder of the dangers that all of our officers face every single day.”
Funny, not a word about mass incarcerations. Hillary, are you listening?