Last week I critiqued Bernie Sanders for dismissing reparations specifically, and for offering up a series of moderate anti-racist solutions, in general. Some felt it was unfair to single out Sanders given that, on reparations, Sanders’s chief opponent Hillary Clinton holds the same position. This argument proposes that we abandon the convention of judging our candidates by their chosen name:
Youth unemployment for African American kids is 51 percent. We have more people in jail than any other country. So yes, count me as a radical. I want to invest in jobs and education for our young people rather than jails and incarceration.
When a candidate points to high unemployment among black youth, as well as high incarceration rates, and then dubs himself a radical, it seems prudent to ask what radical anti-racist policies that candidate actually embraces. Hillary Clinton has no interest in being labeled radical, left-wing, or even liberal. Thus announcing that Clinton doesn’t support reparations is akin to announcing that Ted Cruz doesn’t support a woman’s right to choose. The position is certainly wrong. But it is hardly a surprise, and doesn't run counter to the candidate’s chosen name.
What candidates name themselves is generally believed to be important. Many Sanders supporters, for instance, correctly point out that Clinton handprints are all over America’s sprawling carceral state. I agree with them and have said so at length. Voters, and black voters particularly, should never forget that Bill Clinton passed arguably the most immoral “anti-crime” bill in American history, and that Hillary Clinton aided its passage through her invocation of the super-predator myth. A defense of Clinton rooted in the claim that “Jeb Bush held the same position” would not be exculpatory. (“Law and order conservative embraces law and order” would surprise no one.) That is because the anger over the Clintons’ actions isn’t simply based on their having been wrong, but on their craven embrace of law and order Republicanism in the Democratic Party’s name.