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Why Hillary Clinton can get away with not talking about Ferguson

Justin Sullivan

On Monday, Alex Seitz-Wald wrote an article for MSNBC with the thesis that pressure is building on Hillary Clinton to address the situation in Ferguson. The truth, however, is that while Clinton is certainly taking some criticism for ducking the issue she's not, objectively speaking, under any real pressure. Her position as the presumptive 2016 Democratic Party nominee is simply so strong that there is no incentive for her to wade into politically treacherous waters and every reason for her to try instead to lay low.

And that's the problem.

It's clear that Barack Obama, for a variety of fairly sound reasons, is not going to take this opportunity to address the question of systematic racial injustice in the American criminal justice system. But somebody ought to. And the next Democratic Party presidential nominee would be a fairly logical choice.

It's no secret that the demographics of the country are changing. The youngest cohort of voters is much less white than the national average — and even its white members are more liberal on economic issues. The normal course of things would be for those demographic trends to push the party to tackle new issues that were too hot for Bill Clinton or Barack Obama to touch. That's especially true because the demographics of the Democratic Party are changing along with the rest of the country. In 2012, almost 90 percent of Mitt Romney's votes came from non-Hispanic whites while racial and ethnic minorities provided about 45 percent of Obama's. And a primary campaign, the moment when activists and other policy-demanders have the most leverage over politicians, would be the ideal time for it to happen.

But Democrats aren't likely to get much of a primary campaign this cycle. And that's a shame. Not because there's anything wrong with Hillary, but because it's a lost opportunity to put new issues on the table. So far it's been left to idiosyncratic Republican Rand Paul to make the boldest statement of any prominent national politician. And good for him. But the Democratic Party, with its more multiracial coalition, is going to continue to be the political vehicle for the interests of people of color for years to come. The problem is the lack of a contested primary is denying the country the circumstances in which high-profile Democrats are forced to address the issues that Ferguson has placed squarely on the national agenda.

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