Many argue that America’s broken criminal-justice system, at the top of Hillary’s list, was made worse under her husband, via the Violent Crime and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. The law dramatically expanded the federal incarceration network, expanded the use of the death penalty, and increased the amount of time federal inmates spent behind bars.
Earlier in the primary season, Hillary Clinton was questioned about her husband’s crime bill (which she supported at the time), offering a mixed apology. At an April debate in Brooklyn, she conceded, “I’m sorry for the consequences that were unintended and that had a very unfortunate impact on people’s lives.”
In January, Bill Clinton acknowledged his role in exacerbating America’s prison problem—though by April he was exhausting personal capital by pushing back on the idea that he was an architect of the modern-day incarceration state, to little success. The former president’s mixed assessment of this history has only been complicated by a vicious 2016 newscycle highlighting the profound failures of America’s criminal-justice system, especially as it pertains to young black men. (I attended an event in Charleston this spring at which Chelsea Clinton—ever the peacemaker between two opposing factions—explained to a skeptical audience member that her mother had apologized for the crime bill, but if that apology hadn’t been heard in all corners, perhaps it was time to say it again—only louder. It’s hard to imagine Hillary choosing to revisit any part of her husband’s record on incarceration during this year’s general election.)
As to Clinton’s second priority— fixing the rigged financial system—her husband’s record once again proves inconvenient to his wife’s goals, if not plainly damaging. Throughout this primary season, Senator Sanders went out of his way to call for the reinstatement of Glass-Steagall, the financial regulations passed in 1933 that aimed to ensure banks were not engaging in risky financial bets. Many, including former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, argue that its repeal under President Clinton in 1999 contributed to the 2007 financial crisis, (which most Americans would agree gave meaning to the very definition of a “rigged system”), though Bill Clinton has said that Glass-Steagall’s repeal had “nothing to do” with the financial crisis.
Hillary Clinton has not called for the reinstatement of the act, and has insisted the solution lies with a more “comprehensive plan” that can regulate shadowy financial transactions—but still, it’s hard to imagine her wanting to echo any part of her husband’s enthusiastically de-regulatory pronouncement upon signing the law that would repeal Glass-Steagall in 1999:
Financial services firms will be authorized to conduct a wide range of financial activities, allowing them freedom to innovate in the new economy. The Act repeals provisions of the Glass-Steagall Act that, since the Great Depression, have restricted affiliations between banks and securities firms.
As for the last to-do item on Clinton’s list—making the economy work for everyone—federal assistance is one way of ensuring that everyone has a chance at economic survival. It gets to the very core of Clinton’s focus: America’s poor and its struggling. It is virtually unthinkable to imagine the Democratic nominee of 2016 echoing the promise of the Democratic nominee of 1992, when Bill Clinton announced he would “end welfare as we know it” (and by all accounts, did). Clinton’s 1996 law turned welfare over to the states and resulted in a massive hemorrhage of 10 million low-income Americans from the welfare rolls—not because they were necessarily no longer in need, but because the states would no longer provide them assistance they once had.