Black people turned out in droves to usher in the Obama era. Can Hillary Clinton ignite a similar passion? Yes, Clinton has a long history of supporting issues that matter to African Americans, but a younger generation of black activists are much more confrontational in demanding her commitment.
In our Meet the Candidates series, we asked the leading candidates of both parties about their policy proposals on issues that are important to our community. Previously we examined Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. Now we take a look at Clinton.
With the recession now in the rearview mirror, black people want to be part of the nation’s economic recovery. Hillary Clinton proposes a menu of solutions to raise incomes for struggling families. They range from tax cuts for child care to encouraging corporations to share their rising profits with workers.
In an interview with The Root, Clinton’s senior policy adviser, Maya Harris, underscored the candidate’s plan to “unleash small-business growth.” Harris says black women, who represent the fastest-growing group of entrepreneurs, would benefit.
Clinton, who wants to be “a small-business president,” is calling for an expansion of capital and markets, as well as tax relief and simplification for small-business owners.
For those on the bottom rung of the income ladder, Clinton declares that they are long overdue for a raise. Clinton supports the Fight for 15 campaign, but unlike some Democrats, she would cap the federal minimum wage at $12 an hour and leave it to local lawmakers to decide if their economy could support anything higher.
Obtaining a higher education has long been the pathway from poverty to the middle class. But a college education doesn’t come cheap.
Over the past decade, black families have taken on more student-loan debt than white families, according to the Urban Institute. In 2013, the think tank says, 42 percent of blacks had student-loan debt, compared with 28 percent of whites.
The centerpiece of Clinton’s higher education proposal is her College Compact. Her goal is to create a system in which students do not have to borrow money for tuition, books and fees to attend a four-year public college in their state. She also proposes free tuition at community colleges. Her plan would address current and future college debt, as well as focus specifically on historically black colleges.
Students would work 10 hours per week as part of their family’s “affordable and realistic contribution.” At the same time, Clinton would create a federal-state partnership and require more school accountability. The price tag is an estimated $350 billion over 10 years.
Heath care remains a hot button issue in the election, despite President Barack Obama’s efforts to reform the system. African Americans have been among the most ardent supporters of Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Yet they are less likely to benefit from it than other racial groups.
The Hill explains that blacks live disproportionately under Republican-dominated state legislatures, which refuse to adopt Affordable Care Act rules that allow more low-income families to qualify for Medicaid. Consequently, roughly 1.4 million black people earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, but too little to afford private coverage.
The Democratic front-runner, a longtime champion of health care reform, plans to fix the “glitches” in Obamacare. She wants to build on what Obama has accomplished. Clinton’s focus would include lowering out-of-pocket costs and trying to prevent excessive premium increases, while lowering health care spending.
Another recurring issue is gun control, which painfully struck home when a white supremacist gunned down nine people at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.
African Americans have long supported gun control legislation—and they still do—even as some research observes a shift in the opposite direction.Clinton touts her record of battling the gun lobby as New York’s senator. If elected president, she promises to continue those efforts, which include closing the so-called Charleston loophole that allowed Dylann Roof, the man charged with the church massacre, to purchase a firearm despite his pending felony charge for drug possession.
Another thorny issue is criminal-justice reform. Many African-American families are quite familiar with the problems associated with our system of mass incarceration and its shocking racial disparities.
Clinton has a list of remedies that includes reforming mandatory-minimum sentencing for nonviolent offenders and ending the privatization of prisons.
But her critics say she lacks credibility on this issue. They tie her to President Bill Clinton’s “get tough on crime” policies, which resulted in many of today’s disparities.
Black Lives Matter
Earlier this year, a small group of Black Lives Matter leaders confronted the presidential hopeful at a campaign stop in New Hampshire. During the encounter, captured on video, Julius Jones told Clinton that she and the former president are partially responsible for the mass incarceration of black people. At another stop in Atlanta, Black Lives Matter protesters interrupted her rally.
To those who doubt Clinton’s passion for criminal-justice reform, the campaign points to “what she has actually demonstrated” throughout her public life.
“It’s important to focus on what she has done as a legislator,” Harris says. “As a senator, she championed a ban on racial profiling. And it’s no coincidence that her first speech was on reforming the criminal-justice system.”
Clinton also wants to defend voting rights. Advocates warn that this fundamental right to participate in our democracy is under attack in several states that have enacted various barriers to voting, ranging from requiring photo IDs to limiting early voting.
As president, Clinton would support legislation to “fix the damage done to the Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court.”
“Repairing the VRA is the minimum thing to do,” Harris says. “She has an agenda that goes further to expand access.” Clinton’s voting-rights agenda includes automatic voter registration and a range of early-voting options.
Black voters are most familiar with Clinton out of all the candidates in the race. In fact, her 80 percent favorability rating in the black community is astronomical compared with her competitors.
After acknowledging the numbers, Harris says, “We’re not taking anything for granted.”
While Clinton’s favorability lead is significant, Obama won the votes of 93 percent of blacks, who turned out in percentages that outnumbered whites. And according to some estimates, it will take similar numbers of black voters for Democrats to hold on to the White House.
Despite the widespread support of African Americans, the campaign faces the challenge of energizing black voters to turn out in the historic numbers that they did for Obama.
Clinton has avoided taking a definitive position on reparations. When asked at the Brown & Black Forum, the former New York senator said that more investment is needed in neglected neighborhoods. She pointed to Congressional Black Caucus proposals that would direct federal funds to communities that have experienced “disinvestment or no investment.”
Nigel Roberts is a New York City-based freelance writer. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.