Yesterday, I discussed the possibility that the Democratic party may experience a crack-up as a result of slavish adherence to the demands of environmentalists, backed by the party’s upscale, elitist wing. The hard-left environmentalist agenda is likely to alienate members of the working class, a traditional Democratic constituency. We may be seeing the beginning of this process with the dispute over the Keystone XLpipeline.
The modern Democratic party depends not just on its elitist wing, but also on minority groups, especially African-Americans. This creates the potential for a crack-up over issues relating to crime and punishment.
David Frum reminds us that “it was crime more than any other single issue that drove blue-collar voters in the industrial states from the party of Truman and Johnson to the party of Nixon and Reagan.” Only when Bill Clinton backed the death penalty (unlike Michael Dukakis), endorsed longer sentences, and funded local police forces, did this issue begin to lose its sting.
And only when, due in part those longer sentences and better funded police forces, the crime rate fell dramatically, did the issue basically disappear from national politics.
Frum observes that “emancipating Americans from the fear of crime emancipated Democrats from the need to position themselves against crime.” But now that the crime rate is rising in some areas– due in part, most likely, to reduced incarceration and less intrusive policing — the Democrats may not be emancipated much longer.
Neither, though, will they feel free to return to the tough on crime stances of Bill Clinton. Why? Because, as Frum explains, the party is highly dependent on black votes and thus constrained to accept the de-incarceration, de-policing agenda of groups like Black Lives Matter.
Thus, the issue of “law and order” (as we used to call it) has the potential to crack open the Democrats’ coalition. That potential is illustrated by polling data cited by Frum:
A 2014 Los Angeles Times survey asked Californians whether local police were too aggressive and posed more of a threat than anything else: 42 percent of black voters said yes, as against 28 percent of Latinos, 21 percent of Asians, and 11 percent of whites. Only 12 percent of whites and 11 percent of Asians could recall a time in the past year when police had treated them unfairly as against 26 percent of blacks.
Nationwide, over 80 percent of white millennials believe that crime remains a greater threat than police misconduct.
There is one bit of good news on this front for Dems, however. The Republican party may bail them out by softening its position on crime. For at least the past year, important Republicans have been flirting with the idea of bipartisan criminal justice reform. Unless they are careful, the GOP could become complicit in reversing the tremendous success the nation achieved in slashing the crime rate and making our streets safe.
Tomorrow, reportedly, nine Senators will introduce a bipartisan sentencing reform bill. The nine are Sens. Grassley, Cornyn, Graham, Lee, Leahy, Durbin, Schumer, Whitehouse, and Booker. Some of these names are pretty scary.
Bill Otis hears that the bill will contain some elements of “back-end” reform (a kind of watered-down return of parole), a somewhat expanded “safety valve” for existing mandatory minimums, and a scattering of new mandatory minimums. So perhaps we shouldn’t be alarmed. We’ll see.
But why, I wonder, are the Republicans working with the Democrats on this issue at all? Why not stick with the existing legislation that has worked so well and let the Democrats contend with their coming crack-up unassisted?