Some Democrats today are in a similar place to where Roy Wilkins was in 1960. And for the reasons his movement had then, they too should say, “Enough.”
The issue today isn’t the racism of the old south (though obviously, if we must still remind ourselves that #BlackLivesMatter, racism remains a central issue for modern American politics). The issue is corruption. And not for some priggish, moralistic reason. Modern American political corruption has become the central mechanism by which the equality of citizens in America today is denied. And in modern America, it’s not just African Americans who need to fight for an equal voice in our elections. It is all Americans—or practically all Americans.
For America has evolved a political system that gives to the tiniest fraction of the 1 percent unprecedented political power. Almost a century ago, Texas gave birth to the “White Primary,” which explicitly excluded African Americans from the right to participate in selecting the candidates who could run in the General Election. Today, America has evolved a Green Primary, which effectively excludes 99.9 percent of Americans from the right to participate in selecting the candidates who get to run in both the primary and general elections. That selection is made through money, as candidates dance before their donors (just think of Marco Rubio dancing in the Sheldon Adelson primary), begging the rich to support them. Americans have thus allowed money to corrupt the basic commitment to equality of citizenship, just as they once allowed racism to corrupt the basic commitment to equality of citizenship. And unless at least one party stands up and defends a commitment to equality among citizens, that seems unlikely to change.
Yet this is becoming an increasingly difficult position for Democrats to take. The leading candidate in the Democratic primary for the 2016 nomination for president has become enmeshed in a welter of stories raising questions about the relationship between the public good and the private interests of herself and her husband, including their family foundation. First a book by Peter Schweizer, then a series of articles in The New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal, and now an investigative series by the International Business Times all raise the question of whether the Clintons have traded public position for private gain, and more troublingly, whether public policy has been bent by Clinton or those loyal to Clinton to encourage private gain.
The Clintons have responded to these charges by attacking their principal source. Schweizer is a conservative partisan, they insist. They have taken issue with specific charges: Clinton was not paid to give speeches in Ireland, the campaign has said. And they have also responded by insisting that no one has pointed to a “smoking gun.” As George Stephanopoulos asked again and again it in a particularly harsh interview with Schweizer (before he had revealed that he himself was a donor to the Clinton Global Initiative), “Do you have any evidence that a crime may have been committed?”