Hillary Clinton claims that the policies of Bernie Sanders won’t help black communities, but activist Dr. Cornel West vehemently disagrees. Now that the Democratic nominating process is moving past the homogeneous demographics of Iowa and New Hampshire, Clinton and Sanders are both making their case as to why their platforms will benefit more diverse communities. In the coming weeks and months, people of color will have to decide, like the voters in Iowa and New Hampshire, whether they favor the incremental advances supported by Clinton or the political revolution called on by Sanders.
Former Secretary of State Clinton, trying to keep her firewall of African American support in South Carolina and elsewhere, is trying to paint Senator Sanders as unrealistic and a one-issue candidate. The anti-establishment Sanders has made the rigged economic system that favors the wealthy a foundation of his campaign while Clinton, the Democratic establishment’s preferred candidate, argues that taking on Wall Street fraud won’t help black communities.
Cornel West has countered that the policies of Bernie Sanders, from economic initiatives to foreign policy to criminal justice reform, is in the progressive tradition of Dr. Martin Luther, King. Jr., and will do more to improve the lives of black communities than the proposals brought forth by Clinton. From Dr. West’s op-ed “Why Brother Bernie Is Better for Black People Than Sister Hillary” in Politico:
The future of American democracy depends on our response to the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. And that legacy is not just about defending civil rights; it’s also about fighting to fix our rigged economy, which yields grotesque wealth inequality; our narcissistic culture, which unleashes obscene greed; our market-driven media, which thrives on xenophobic entertainment; and our militaristic prowess, which promotes hawkish policies around the world. The fundamental aim of black voters—and any voters with a deep moral concern for our public interest and common good—should be to put a smile on Martin’s face from the grave.
The battle now raging in Black America over the Clinton-Sanders election is principally a battle between a declining neoliberal black political and chattering class still on the decaying Clinton bandwagon (and gravy train!) and an emerging populism among black poor, working and middle class people fed up with the Clinton establishment in the Democratic Party. It is easy to use one’s gender identity, as Clinton has, or racial identity, as the Congressional Black Caucus recently did in endorsing her, to hide one’s allegiance to the multi-cultural and multi-gendered Establishment. But a vote for Clinton forecloses the new day for all of us and keeps us captive to the trap of wealth inequality, greed (“everybody else is doing it”), corporate media propaganda and militarism abroad—all of which are detrimental to black America.
In the age of Barack Obama, this battle remained latent, with dissenting voices vilified. As a black president, Obama has tended to talk progressive but walk neoliberal in the face of outrageous right-wing opposition. Black child poverty has increased since 2008, with more than 45 percent of black children under age 6 living in poverty today. Sanders talks and walks populist, and he is committed to targeting child poverty. As president, he would be a more progressive than not just Clinton but also Obama—and that means better for black America.
Now, with Obama’s departure from the White House, we shall see clearly where black America stands in relation to King’s legacy. Will voters put a smile on Martin’s face? It’s clear how we can do it. King smiles at Sanders’ deep integrity and genuine conviction, while he weeps at the Clinton machine’s crass opportunism and the inequality and injustice it breeds.
Hillary Clinton, who at times has had a hard time finding her voice and providing the underlying rationale for her candidacy, seems to have settled, for now at least, upon the notion that she is tackling a broad array of issues and that Sanders has a singular focus. Contrary to Clinton’s contention, Sanders has a vast number of policy proposals that will greatly impact the lives of Americans, including black communities, from increasing the minimum wage to ending cannabis prohibition to providing universal health care to avoiding unnecessary foreign wars to improved environmental regulations. It will be interesting to see how voters react to Clinton’s messaging, whether she slows Sanders’ momentum or voters continue to #FeelTheBern.
Bernie Sanders has released a new ad noting that he marched with Dr. Martin Luther, King, Jr., where he Sanders states that, “There is no president who will fight harder to end institutional racism.”