Sunday, August 13, 2006

# Posted 10:38 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

REMEMBER WILLIE HORTON? These days, we like to think of the elder George Bush as a sort of cuddly teddy bear. Even Democrats tend to wax nostalgic about George the father's kindler, gentler America, where bipartisanship was expected and wars ended quickly.

Those good old days are, of course, a total fabrication. Today, embittered liberals say that the Swift Vets' pack of lies are what made George W. Bush president. In 1988, embittered liberals said that George H.W.'s vicious and deceptive effort to paint Dukakis as soft on crime put a Republican office.

So why I am bringing this all up now? Well, the answer is that the cover story in today's Outlook is about the resurgence of murder in America's streets. New York may still be a showcase of victory in the war on crime, but things are going very wrong in other American cities.

There were 14 murders in DC in the first 12 days of July. Last week, Orlando sets its all-time record for annual murders, with four months still left on the calendar. And there are plenty more stats where those came from.

So is there any hope of preventing another crime wave? The article's author says yes, although much of his diagnosis will strike conservatives as pathologically liberal:
Profligate arrests and incarcerations, many aimed at drugs, have destroyed the village in order to save it. As crime has dropped, zealous enforcement has continued. A staggering 2 million people are now incarcerated in the United States, and about 5 million are on probation and parole.

They disproportionately come from -- and return to -- the same neighborhoods. The Justice Policy Institute recently determined that a shocking 52 percent of Baltimore's black men ages 20 to 29 were incarcerated, on probation or on parole; nationally, the lifetime chance of a black man being locked up is one in three.

This enforcement breaks up families; it ruins the prospects of young people who now have little reason to finish school and take entry-level jobs, and of older people who find themselves virtually unemployable; it creates a street culture in which prison is normal and even valued; and it plays directly into community narratives that equate law enforcement and the white community with slaveholders and other historical oppressors.

The "stop snitching" culture that recently made headlines has been brewing for decades, reflecting a conviction on the part of many that law enforcement is a racist enemy -- even though staying silent means protecting violent predators.

So what do we do?
The answer that question also sounds like something out of Karl Rove's perverse fantasies:
To the contrary, everywhere I go, state and local officials feel abandoned by the federal government. While authorities talk about terrorism, people are dying on our streets. Poor black grandmothers didn't stand up after the World Trade Center attacks and say that the world had just become a dangerous place; they were already living in a world that could turn lethal at any moment, and still can...

The federal government must return to its role as a real partner in conquering crime by providing funding and crafting effective approaches to key problems, such as drug markets, the methamphetamine epidemic, domestic violence, gangs and prisoners' reentry into their communities.
Yes, blame the cops for crime, downplay the significance of terrorism and solve the problem with government spending. Is this guy on Rove's payroll?

Yet interestingly, the author does make one very conservative point and he makes it unequivocally: The pathological culture of black, urban America is now turning young men into criminals.
In hard-hit neighborhoods, the violence is much less about drugs and money than about girls, vendettas and trivial social frictions...The code of the streets has reached a point in which not responding to a slight can destroy a reputation, while violence is a sure way to enhance it. The quick and the dead are not losing their tempers; they are following shared -- and lethal -- social expectations...

This thug ethos is spreading. It used to be that one learned how to be a gangster from another gangster. No more. Mass-market glossy magazines promote the thug life. One can learn from listening to rapper 50 Cent, or by watching music videos. And it is big business. When rapper Lil' Kim was convicted of perjury connected to a shooting by her posse, she got her own reality show on Black Entertainment Television, which promoted her intent to go to federal prison with her "mouth shut and head held high."
If a liberal professor admits that much, Democrats will catch hell on the campaign trail. The first item in the tough-on-crime playbook has always been to focus on the evil of the criminals (and accuse liberals of coddling them). If criminals' warped morals really are a prominent cause of the current crime wave, then voters will find that approach more credible than ever.

So then, how bad does the crime wave have to get before it starts to hurt Democrats at the polls? I have no idea. Almost certainly not until 2010 or 2012. Or perhaps the current crime wave is just an outlier in the data set. I hope it is, since America without crime is a much better place to live in.
(5) opinions -- Add your opinion

"The code of the streets has reached a point in which not responding to a slight can destroy a reputation, while violence is a sure way to enhance it. The quick and the dead are not losing their tempers; they are following shared -- and lethal -- social expectations..."

The cure for redneck's (which is exactly what this is) is UFC. Seriously, if the kids want to fight let them do it with a few rules and a handshake at the end. I watched it work in real time.
If criminals' warped morals really are a prominent cause of the current crime wave, then voters will find [the get tough on crime] approach more credible than ever.

I think you mean to say that if social science research supports what conservative voters have believed all along, liberal voters will find the get-tough approach more credible. It's not the reality of the cause of crime that's changing, it's liberal understanding as mediated by phds.

Also, are the descriptions of the Swift Boat Vets and GHW Bush as 'pack of liars' and 'vicious and deceptive' your interpretation of what embittered liberals believe, or do those phrases reflect your own beliefs?

as a Liberal, I thought this was pretty good analysis. Kudos.

However, polls don't show crime right now as being the deciding issue. 1988 was closer to the height of the drug wars.
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Crime today is simply nowhere near it was in the height of the crack epidemic. A slight uptick is always worrisome, and probably a sign of demographic changes more than anything (more young people now than 10 years ago). But crime won't come back onto the radar screen unless it gets a LOT worse.

As for Democrats, you seemed to have forgotten the 1990s and Bill Clinton. Democrats long abandoned the "all society's fault, not culture or individual responsibility" line. Certainly some never got the picture, but very Democrats take the Walter Mondale approach to crime anymore. In fact, this is where Barack Obama is most representative of current Democratic thinking: we need a culture of hope, success and respect, an ethic of personal responsibility AND a government that takes social justice seriously. That's why Republicans will have a tough time running on crime anymore. White exurbanites are more scared of Mexicans taking their jobs and terrorists who might attack Alabama than they are blacks in the city. At least for now.
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