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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Is ignorance bliss as Campaign 2008 ignores crime and punishment issues?

Writing here in The New Republic, Robert Gordon has a notable commentary entitled "Criminal Intent: The presidential candidates need to stop ignoring America's crime problem — and start considering innovative solutions."  Here is how the commentary begins:

Here's a funny thing about this presidential campaign season: Two crime dramas — "The Wire" and "Law & Order" — have gotten more attention than actual crime.  Twenty years ago, with the crack epidemic peaking, George Bush rode to victory using Willie Horton against Michael Dukakis.  Now, with the violent crime rate one-third lower, Republicans no longer try to paint Democrats as soft on crime, and Democrats no longer feel the need to prove themselves tough on the issue.  Campus shootings in Virginia and Illinois have barely registered politically, and President Bush's evisceration of aid to local cops has received little attention on the campaign trail. Even Rudy Giuliani, who made his name fighting murder and mayhem in New York, included nothing on crime among his major campaign planks.

Although the end of law-and-order demagoguery is welcome, America still has a crime problem — or, rather, two crime problems.  On one hand, the crime drop of the 1990s has ended, without delivering real relief to many communities.  For example, while murder is down dramatically in New York and Chicago, homicide rates in Baltimore and Detroit are about the same as in 1995 — and 25 percent higher than New York's rate at its 1990 peak. In many inner cities, violence and the fear of violence remain central facts of life that drive away jobs, small businesses, and successful families. Overall, the country's homicide rate is still three times higher than England's or Australia's, and twice that of Canada. According to the University of Chicago's Jens Ludwig, crime costs the United States on the order of $2 trillion a year.

At the same time, America's incarceration rate — the highest on earth — continues to balloon. According to a recent report from the Pew Center on the States, one in 100 U.S. adults is now behind bars, the largest percentage in our history.  The racial imbalance is even more disturbing: One in 106 white men is in prison, compared to one in 15 African-American men.  Overall, our incarceration rate is four times higher than it was in 1980, and more than five times that of England or Canada.

This commentary makes an astute observation about the apparent eagerness for the 2008 campaign to ignore crime and punishment issues.  However, the essay fails to take Bill Clinton to task for transforming the Democratic Party into a party that has — in my view, wrongly — concluded that "law-and-order demagoguery" is essential to winning elections. 

Though this commentary starts by noting the Willie Horton ad that played a role in the 1988 Bush-Dukakis election, it fails to highlight that Bill Clinton in 1992 and throughout his presidency (directly and indirectly) urged Democrats to be involved in "law-and-order demagoguery."  It is against this backdrop that it was so telling and so sad that Senator Hillary Clinton this year was the only Democrat to speak out against the retroactivity of the crack guidelines.  That choice, in my opinion, showed that Senator Clinton still believe that electoral success (even against fellow Democrats) is to be achieved through "law-and-order demagoguery."

Give these realities, it may be an good that so far none of the major Presidential candidates are talking about crime and punishment issues.  The Clintonian approach now seems to be to use these issues as a wedge to beat up on fellow Democrats, and that approach likely ensures that we get policies and politics (at least at the national level) that contribute to both the crime problems that the TNR piece discusses.   

Some SL&P posts on crime and punishment and the 2008 campaign:

Cross-posted at SL&P

Posted by Douglas A. Berman on March 26, 2008 at 09:49 AM in Law and Politics | Permalink


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Barack "I don't like American names" Obama or Hillary "I pretend I'm been shot at" Clinton could only hope to speak on crime from the standpoint of being criminals.

When SCOTUS clears illegal legislation from infringing our Rights then you will see a marked and permanent decline in violent crime as citizens arm themselves...but, not until then.

The reason you don't think there was a sufficient response to VA Tech and every other slaughter was due directly to the stone silence of those responsible for aiding murderers through the illegal legislation of "Gun-Free Zones". The idiocy in not only creating it but, to then trumpet it by the MSM served nothing else than to ring the dinner bell for the evil and insane.

Imposters, hypocrites, zealots and abusive clowns such as Guiliani and Spitzer merely process who's caught and can only effect criminal activity until the next bad guy steps up to the plate when they're not destroying our civil rights in the process...that's not effective deterrence for criminals.

Train and arm, just as our founding fathers explicitly instructed and you will recreate a functional and even cordial society as only the spinelessly ignorant whine for anything else.

Posted by: Winghunter | Mar 26, 2008 5:19:24 PM

I suppose the question is, where are most of the criminals? Federal or state? Is it that much of a federal issue that it should be discussed over economy, the war, federal budget and spending, etc.?

Any statistics out there, anyone?

Posted by: Jonathan | Mar 26, 2008 12:20:27 PM

David Broder had a good op-ed on how "a huge increase in the number of criminals due to leave prison in the next five years" portends a dramatic rise in crime over the next few years.


He says crime is up for grabs as a political issue that any of the remaining candidates could make their own. I know Obama talks about offender re-entry programs, so he may have a head start.

Posted by: Adil Haque | Mar 26, 2008 10:22:44 AM

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