May 1, 2015 — Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders officially entered the Democratic presidential sweepstakes Wednesday, saying that he is not running just to move Hillary Clinton to the left. Sanders, elected to the Senate in 2006 after serving eight terms in the House, will be on the ballot as a Democrat for the first time.
A self-proclaimed socialist, the eccentric senator has served his entire congressional career as an Independent who only caucuses with the Democrats. Prior to winning his first federal election, Sanders presided for eight years as the mayor of Vermont’s largest city, Burlington.
In a move having little to do with Sanders entering the race, Hillary Clinton coincidentally delivered a major policy address from Columbia University that was a clear signal to her party’s left flank, however. But her speech motivation didn’t involve Sanders, who is of little threat to her for the Democratic presidential nomination, but rather to attempt to attract those on the far left aligning with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and solidify the most loyal of Democratic constituencies, African Americans. But, she may have opened herself up for serious attacks on a couple of fronts by doing so.
Highlighting the policing incidents that led to uncalled for deaths of African-American individuals most recently in Baltimore, but also in Missouri, New York, and South Carolina earlier this year, Clinton is trying to illuminate that the American justice system is unfair and wrongly targets people on a racial basis. The move is from “Politics 101”, which is to identify a key issue important to a large constituency, champion it, and attempt to draw major support from the group in question. But, her selection here may prove to be problematic, as it once again leaves her vulnerable to inconsistency charges.
Talking about the large numbers of imprisoned African-American males, largely due to drug offenses, as well as the high number of people incarcerated nationally, are a direct result of policies her husband, President Bill Clinton, signed into law during his tenure in office. At the time, Hillary Clinton, as First Lady, supported her husband’s administration agenda, and this part of it in particular.
She is also now unconsciously aligning herself with some criminal justice reform initiatives supported by several Republican presidential candidates, including senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Ted Cruz (R-TX), who have also called for, introduced legislation, and written about the need for changes in the American justice system.
Sen. Paul wasted no time in bringing this apparently inconsistent juxtaposition to light. Immediately, his campaign issued a news release quoting the senator about Clinton’s address, highlighting her perceived inconsistency: “Earlier today, Hillary Clinton proposed various criminal justice reform ideas in an attempt to undo some of Bill Clinton’s work — the same work she cheerfully supported as First Lady,” Sen. Paul wrote.
But the inconsistency could soon more directly involve Clinton. By attacking the justice system, she will inevitably bring more scrutiny upon herself as an example of the inequality of judicial administration she now attacks. Open to a long list of times where she herself was the subject of legal scrutiny in which nothing happened — the Whitewater real estate investments, the old “Travelgate” flap, her Rose law firm billings, and most recently her private email server in defiance of federal policy — will soon highlight many instances of her receiving what could be defined as preferential treatment.
This inconsistency will come more into focus when Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC-4) attempts to require her to testify before his Benghazi investigation committee. She will predictably refuse to do so, and will likely successfully avoid appearing.
Clinton is again attempting to reap a political advantage from a current issue, but her choice of tactics may prove problematic in the long term. She is beginning to traverse a dangerous political path.