The last stand of law and order Republicans?

Tim Alberta of Politico wonders whether we are witnessing “the last stand of ‘law and order’ Republicans.” Alberta’s piece is defective as a matter of logic and evidence. It’s also intellectually dishonest.

Alberta sees an emerging divide in the Republican party on the issue of policing. On the one hand, there are traditional Republicans who, he says, believe that “police are heroes and protesters are criminals and the only tragic failure in America is a failure to respect authority.”

With this passage, which appears in his third paragraph, Alberta has already gone off the rails. No Republican I know believes that protesters who don’t violate the law are criminals or that the only tragic failure in America is a failure to respect authority. There are other tragic failures in America.

Alberta has created a straw man. He has forfeited any genuine claim to the seriousness of his article.

In contrast to his cartoonish “law and order” wing of the GOP, Alberta presents us with his good guy Republicans — figures like George W. Bush who recognize that obvious police brutality is a routine event and that its root cause is a “broken institution with embedded racial inequalities,” namely America’s police.

Here’s how Alberta summarizes the thinking of the two wings:

On one side are the reformers who understand that the system is no longer broken only in the eyes of black and brown voters; on the other side are the traditionalists who will go to their political graves insisting that American exceptionalism guarantees American equality.

“American exceptionalism guarantees American equality”? I’ve never heard anyone say or suggest that. I’m not even sure what it means.

Alberta quotes Sen. Tom Cotton as a representative of the traditionalist side. Cotton told him:

I do not think you can paint with a broad brush and say there’s systemic racism in the criminal justice system in America. Can there be inequality? Can there be injustices in particular cases? Yes, there can be. But I do not think you can, nor should you, paint with such a broad brush.

This doesn’t sound like “American exceptionalism guarantees American equality.” It sounds like a plausible statement that should be tested against the evidence.

This, Alberta does not do. He rejects Cotton’s position, but offers no evidence that it is factually incorrect.

Instead, Alberta turns to polls. He notes that “for the first time, [] a majority of Americans (57 percent) and a plurality of whites (49 percent) believe police are more likely to use excessive force against African Americans.”

After a week or more of strident, overwrought media insistence on the point, I’m surprised that more people don’t believe this.

But here’s where Alberta’s article hits rock bottom. He writes:

To be clear, the traditionalists are winning the intraparty battle—and they might continue to win well after Trump leaves office. But they can’t win forever. As with gay marriage and marijuana legalization, the cultural current is now running plainly in one direction.

Alberta has answered his own question: This is the last stand, albeit perhaps a prolonged one, of the law and order Republicans.

But Alberta fails to consider the consequences of a sustained attack on traditional, proactive policing. What if that attack and the reforms pushed by the left produce a breakdown in law and order? What if most of our cities and some of our suburbs turn into Baltimore?

The likely answer is that, in this scenario, law and order Republicans will carry the day.

This is why it’s idiotic of Alberta to compare the issue of policing with gay marriage and marijuana legalization. No one is afraid to leave his or her house at night because gay marriage is legalized. No one fears for his or her life because marijuana use is legal.

Weak policing is an entirely different matter. It carries with it the risk of a breakdown in public safety. Alberta should have asked himself what polls would look like in that event.

The back end of Alberta’s piece presents a potted history of the law and order debate in modern American politics. That history undercuts the thesis of his article.

As Alberta says, the term “law and order” made its way into political discourse “during the bloody summer of 1968.” Democrats eventually embraced the concept “in the face of decades of rising crime rates.” Their embrace included backing long prison sentences for criminals — the “tough on crime” legislation that Democrats, some Republicans, and (it seems) Alberta find deeply misguided and maybe even racist.

Yet, Alberta never considers the possibility that a return to the lawlessness of 1968 and the high crime rates of the following 25 years would cause the body politic to once again support tough on crime policies.

There have been plenty of overwrought, nonsensical articles produced in the aftermath of the tragic killing of George Floyd and the ensuing protests and riots. Alberta’s effort among the worst.

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