Bill Clinton's upcoming U of M appearance received more favorably than Condi Rice

Clinton speaks at the University of Minnesota in October 2012.
Clinton speaks at the University of Minnesota in October 2012.
Steven Cohen for City Pages

On June 9, Bill Clinton will deliver a speech at Northrop Auditorium as part of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs' "Keeping Faith with the Legacy of Justice" series. The 42nd president will also accept the Dean's Award for Public Leadership.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, news of Clinton's appearance has been received much more favorably by liberal activists than former national security advisor and secretary of state Condoleezza Rice was before and during her appearance at the Northrop last month.

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Before Rice's speech, U of M math professor William Messing introduced a resolution in the University Senate calling for officials to cancel her appearance. (Messing told us he would do the same if President Obama were invited to campus -- he hasn't yet responded to an email seeking his thoughts on Clinton.) The resolution didn't go anywhere, but Rice's speech was greeted by about 200 protesters upset about how Rice "mislead the American people about the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and the existence of links between al Qaeda and the Iraqi regime," as Messing's resolution put it.

One of the Rice protest organizers was Students for a Democratic Society member Nick Theis. But Theis, who just graduated last weekend, says he doesn't sense the same level of consternation about Clinton's invite.

"I personally think there are better individuals than Bill Clinton to recieve this award, [but] some of the key people who supported the Condi Rice protest are fine with Clinton coming," Theis tells us.

We were also forwarded an email exchange between Chuck Turchick, an alumnus and continuing ed student who is critical of Clinton's invite, and Samuel Myers, a Humphrey School professor of human relations and social justice who decried Rice's invite to campus (read an open letter about Myers wrote about that topic here), but is fine with Clinton's appearance.

Here's part of what Myers wrote to Turchick:

While you point out the role that Clinton played in dismantling welfare and increasing the attack on drugs (begun under previous administrations), you neglect to reference the scholarly work demonstrating the sustained economic growth during the Clinton era and the narrowing of the racial gap in earnings. You fail to mention the dramatic increase in support for Historically Black Colleges and Universities under Clinton and the impacts that educational funding for minorities had on improving economic prospects for minority college graduates. You fail to mention the hiring rates in the Clinton Administration of women and minorities in positions of policy importance. You fail to mention the role that the Clinton Administration played in advocating for "mending affirmative action and not ending it" and other initiatives widely supported by the black community.

The Roy Wilkins Center, in this instance, is a proud co-sponsor of the event honoring a true friend and supporter of Civil Rights.

Whereas Rice was paid $150,000 for her appearance, all the proceeds from the $50-a-pop Clinton tickets will be donated to the U of M for "scholarships designed to promote diversity and inclusion in the spirit of the Civil Rights Act," according to U of M info.

Some tickets are still available, but the event is nearly sold out as of this morning. If you're interested in attending, click here for more info.

Finally, if you'd like to read a book excerpt from Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow that Turchick cites in his email as outlining the reasons he's opposed to Clinton's appearance, click to page two.

Here's the excerpt from Alexander's book:

As law enforcement budgets exploded, so did prison and jail populations. In 1991, the Sentencing Project reported that the number of people behind bars in the United States was unprecedented in world history, and that one fourth of African American young men were now under the control of the criminal justice system. Despite the jaw-dropping impact of the "get tough" movement on the African American community, neither the Democrats nor the Republicans revealed any inclination to slow the pace of incarceration.

To the contrary, in 1992, presidential candidate Bill Clinton vowed that he would never permit any Republican to be perceived as tougher on crime than he. True to his word, just weeks before the critical New Hampshire primary, Clinton chose to fly home to Arkansas to oversee the execution of Ricky Ray Rector, a mentally impaired black man who had so little conception of what was about to happen to him that he asked from the dessert for his last meal to be saved for him until the morning. After the execution, Clinton remarked, "I can be nicked a lot, but no one can say I'm soft on crime."

Once elected, Clinton endorsed the idea of a federal "three strikes and you're out" law, which he advocated in his 1994 State of the Union address to enthusiastic applause on both sides of the aisle. The $30 billion crime bill sent to President Clinton in August 1994 was hailed as a victory for the Democrats, who "were able to wrest the crime issue from the Republicans and make it their own." The bill created dozens of new federal capital crimes, mandated life sentences for some three-time offenders, and authorized more than $16 billion for state prison grants and expansion of state and local police forces. Far from resisting the emergence of the new caste system, Clinton escalated the drug war beyond what conservatives had imagined possible a decade earlier. As the Justice Policy Institute has observed, "the Clinton Administration's 'tough on crime' policies resulted in the largest increases in federal and state prison inmates of any president in American history."

Clinton eventually moved beyond crime and capitulated to the conservative racial agenda on welfare. This move, like his 'get tough' rhetoric and policies, was part of a grand strategy articulated by the "new Democrats" to appeal to the elusive white swing voters. In so doing, Clinton -- more than any other president -- created the current racial undercaste. He signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, which "ended welfare as we know it," and replaced it with a block grant to states called Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). TANF imposed a five-year lifetime limit on welfare assistance, as well as a permanent lifetime ban on eligibility for welfare and food stamps for anyone convicted of a felony drug offense -- including simply possession of marijuana.

Clinton did not stop there. Determined to prove how "tough" he could be on "them," Clinton also made it easier to federally-assisted public housing projects to exclude anyone with a criminal history -- an extraordinarily harsh step in the midst of a drug war aimed at racial and ethnic minorities. In his announcement of the "One Strike and You're Out" Initiative, Clinton explained: "From now on, the rule for residents who commit crime and peddle drugs should be one strike and you're out." The new rule promised to be "the toughest admission and eviction policy that HUD has implemented." Thus, for countless poor people, particularly racial minorities targeted by the drug war, public housing was no longer available, leaving many of them homeless -- locked out not only of mainstream society, but their own homes.

The law and order perspective, first introduced during the peak of the Civil Rights Movement by rabid segregationists, had become nearly hegemonic two decades later. By the mid-1990s, no serious alternatives to the War on Drugs and "get tough" movement were being entertained in mainstream political discourse. Once again, in response to a major disruption in the prevailing racial order -- this time the civil rights gains of the 1960s -- a new system of racialized social control was created by exploiting the vulnerabilities of and racial resentments of poor and working-class whites. More than 2 million people found themselves behind bars at the turn of the twenty-first century, and millions more were relegated to the margins of mainstream society, banished to a political and social space not unlike Jim Crow, where discrimination in employment, housing, and access to education was perfectly legal, and where they could be denied the right to vote. The system functioned relatively automatically, and the prevailing system of racial meanings, identities, and ideologies already seemed natural. Ninety percent of those admitted to prison for drug offenses in many states were black or Latino, yet the mass incarceration of communities of color was explained in race-neutral terms, an adaptation to the needs and demands of the current political climate. The New Jim Crow was born.

-- Follow Aaron Rupar on Twitter at @atrupar. Got a tip? Drop him a line at [email protected]

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