Most commentators have focused on Clinton's defensive answers to questions about her and her husband's role in increasing black incarceration rates, as well as her less-than-smart suggestion that the #BlackLivesMatter movement should be responsible for coming up with policies that prevent police brutality. But to me, it was actually another moment that was most revealing.
In the video, activist Julius Jones accuses her of "victim blaming" and starts to clarify Clinton's position: "What you were saying was that what the Black Lives Matter movement needs to do to change white hearts. ..."
"I don't believe you change hearts. You change laws, you change allocation of resources, you change the way systems operate."
Did I hear that right? A candidate for president of the United States -- and a Democrat and a self-proclaimed progressive to boot -- does not believe in the potential of changing hearts on the issue of racial discrimination?
Of course, it's no surprise that Clinton thinks government -- more legislation and more money! -- is the solution to this or any other problem, even though this philosophy is perennially challenged by reality. (Just look at the Department of Veterans Affairs
, among others). But the matter-of-fact declaration that hearts can't be changed, or at least the suggestion that it isn't worth trying, is alarmingly defeatist, frighteningly cynical and counter to the way most people -- including Clinton herself -- tend to approach social issues.
How, for example, does she explain her evolution on same-sex marriage
, if not to say that her heart had been changed? How does she explain the way President Barack Obama
and nearly every other elected Democrat in the past five years have changed their position on that
? Is she suggesting that her heart isn't actually for same-sex marriage, that it's just that now there are laws and a reallocation of resources?
But on another level, it's chilling to think Clinton doesn't believe America can become a more tolerant place, that the best way to protect minorities is through government. Activists and average citizens alike -- from Rosa Parks
to Matthew Shepard -- through their stories and their courage, have undoubtedly changed hearts and minds. Laws are important, but shouldn't we attempt to encourage actual tolerance, acceptance and equality instead of just legally requiring them?
If Clinton thinks Americans aren't capable of progress unless ordered by government fiat, I'm not sure what role she thinks the individual has played or will ever play in social change.
And as someone who has worked hard to change hearts and minds on same-sex marriage within my own party -- and who has witnessed firsthand that change is possible -- Clinton's defeatist language is stunning and sad.
I for one hope that the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and any others interested in reform and progress, reject this notion completely. Changing hearts and minds is not only possible, it's crucial.