Politics

Why Hillary Clinton’s Encounter with Black Lives Matter is Her Defining Performance

In this July 23, 2015, photo, Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks at a campaign event in Columbia, S.C. In her second pass at the presidency, Clinton has made discussing “systemic racism” a hallmark of her campaign as she looks to connect with the black voters who helped propel President Barack Obama to the White House. At multiple campaign stops, she bemoaned "mass incarceration," an uneven economy, increasingly segregated public schools, and poisoned relationships between police and the black community. She praised South Carolina leaders, including Republican Gov. Nikki Haley, for removing the Confederate battle from statehouse grounds after a white gunman’s June massacre of nine churchgoers at a historic black congregation in Charleston. But she warned that the act is symbolic. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)
In this July 23, 2015, photo, Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks at a campaign event in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

Steve LeVine, QUARTZ

 
(Quartz) — In January 2008, then-US senator Barack Obama, coming off a surprise victory in the Iowa caucus, lost his next primary in the race for the Democratic nomination. As he conceded the New Hampshire primary to Hillary Clinton, he made a polished, 13-minute speech in which he sounded much more like the victor. The rousing “Yes we can” speech, as it came to be known, arguably cemented Obama’s path to the White House.

Almost eight years later, Clinton has just experienced what could be a similarly defining moment, though in a much different setting—an off-stage, unscripted conversation on Aug. 11 with two activists from the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. The encounter was videotaped and released by BLM. Below is an edited version (here’s the uncut video).

 

 

It’s an emotionally charged, 16-minute encounter, in which Clinton—put on the spot in a setting that could throw off even the most skilled politician—shines with both respectful empathy and surprisingly tough love.

“Your analysis is totally fair,” she says at one point. “It is historically fair, it’s psychologically fair, it’s economically fair.”

But when BLM activist Julius Jones accuses Clinton of asking the movement “to change white hearts,” she is not rattled, and quickly interrupts him: “I don’t believe you change hearts—you change laws.”

Perhaps distracted by her emailing crisis, Clinton’s campaign doesn’t seem to be making much of the display of impressive political nuance, along with an engaging personal touch not often associated with her.

And some critics and independent political observers seem less than impressed. New York Times columnist Charles Blow found Clinton “agile and evasive.” Vox faulted Clinton for being reflexively pragmatic. And a New Republic writer said Clinton “clearly believes in a system with built-in racial bias and inequality.”

 

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