The Myth That Democrats Are Soft on Crime

Ross Douthat has a very good column in The New York Times today, arguing that conservatives both deserve credit for the role that mass incarceration has played in reducing crime and that they should embrace policies that will reduce our incarceration rate while preserving those gains. Douthat notes that the 1960s and 1970s era of Great Society liberalism assumed, incorrectly, that crime could be fought only through programs such as welfare and education that addressed root causes like poverty.

Effective policing and long prison sentences, initially championed by neoconservatives at the Manhattan Institute, their publication City Journal, and their acolyte Rudy Giuliani, have successfully reduced crime. To his credit, Douthat acknowledges that this has come at a great cost to society:

. Our prison system tolerates gross abuses, including . Poor communities are warped by the absence of so many fathers and brothers. And every American community is burdened by enough prisons to keep up with our swelling convict population.

And Douthat's ultimate conclusion, that conservatives must "take ownership of prison reform, and correct the system they helped build," couldn't be more correct. But one claim stuck in my craw: "The Democrats still lack credibility on crime policy. Any successful reform requires the support of the law-and-order party." On what basis is Douthat asserting that Democrats lack credibility on crime policy? This phrase does not have one of the copious hyperlinks that Douthat uses to source many of his claims. Perhaps that's because public opinion polling is mixed, with some polling in recent elections suggesting that Democrats are as trusted on crime as Republicans.

And they should be. Many experts and laymen consider gun control, which Democrats generally support and Republicans generally oppose, to be an essential component of anti-crime policy. It was a Democratic president, Bill Clinton, with such congressional Democrats as Joe Biden, who passed the landmark crime bill of 1994 that put 100,000 more cops on America's streets. (Many conservatives opposed the bill on the grounds that it would cost too much.) Clinton's policy of triangulation, as Douthat surely must know, was largely about neutralizing the racially tinged fear of crime that led many suburban white voters to abandon the party of Roosevelt for the one of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. If there was one political credo Clinton and his generation of Democrats lived by, it was no more Willie Hortons, as epitomized by Clinton's decision as Arkansas governor to execute the developmentally disabled Ricky Ray Rector. Clinton's Justice Department faced its main opposition from the right, which complained that Attorney General Janet Reno was too heavy-handed in Waco, Texas, and with Elián Gonzáles. This tough-on-crime approach continues under President Obama, who nominated former prosecutor Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court.

At some point, the outdated impression of Democrats, rather than just a small number of lefty activists, as being opposed to law and order has to catch up with the last 15 years of reality.

The Myth That Democrats Are Soft on Crime | News