The New Jim Crow Characters: Bill Clinton

Michelle Alexander

Bill Clinton

Bill Clinton was the forty-second president of the United States. Despite being a Democrat, Bill Clinton used the same racially-charged rhetoric that had proved so successful for past Republican presidents, including Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George H. W. Bush. Eager to win over white, working-class swing voters, Clinton positioned himself as a new kind of Democrat who, like his Republican opponents, was not afraid to get “tough on crime.” To prove that he was not “soft” on crime, Clinton flew home to Arkansas just before the New Hampshire primary to witness the execution of Ricky Ray Rector, a mentally handicapped black man. Though by this point, incarceration rates had skyrocketed, Alexander writes that neither Democrats nor Republicans were interested in abandoning the “tough on crime” stance that had so resonated with working-class whites.

Once elected, Clinton advocated for tougher criminal justice policies, including a federal three strikes law, an expanded list of federal crimes, and a drastic increase in state grants to facilitate the expansions of state prisons and police forces. Far from reversing the trend of mass incarceration that had begun under Republican presidents, a report from the Justice Policy Institute found that the Clinton administration’s crime policies resulted in “the largest increases in federal and state prison inmates of any president in American history.”

In keeping with their Republican-inspired crime agenda, the Clinton administration went on to target welfare, a program that many working-class whites resented as a giveaway of their hard-earned tax...

(The entire section is 587 words.)