Whatever happened to crime as an issue?

Charles Lane says that Republicans are victims of their own success when it comes to the issue of crime.  What was once a potent issue for Republicans have faded from the public’s mind, as crime rates have fallen dramatically, due largely to Republican-initiated policies that now even Democrats support.

Americans were unhappy about many issues as 2012 began. In one area, though, contentment reigned. By a margin of 50 to 45 percent, a Gallup Poll reported, the public felt “satisfied” with the nation’s policies on crime.

It was a well-founded sentiment. In 2010, Americans were less than a third as likely to be victimized by violent crime as they had been in 1994; the murder rate had declined by roughly half. Today we are approaching the low murder rates of the 1950s.

For the Republican Party, this is a triumph — and a disaster, as the 2012 election results proved.

It is a GOP triumph, because the enormous decline in crime over the past two decades coincided with the widespread adoption of such conservative ideas as “broken windows” policing and mandatory minimum sentences.

Whether such policies actually caused the crime decline is a separate, and much-debated, social-science question. The important thing is that many people believe that they did. As a result, conservative crime doctrine remains dominant in politics, with the two parties differing mainly over how to control and punish unlawful conduct most cost-effectively.

Hence the 2012 disaster for the GOP. Beginning with Richard Nixon’s “law and order” campaign for president in 1968, Republicans pretty much owned the issue. Fear of street crime — and its association, accurate or not, with post-’60s moral license, liberal Democratic policies and the rise of an urban black population — converted many a white working-class Democrat into a Republican.

The GOP advantage on crime contributed to Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980, George H.W. Bush’s defeat of Michael Dukakis in 1988 and the GOP takeover of the House of Representatives in 1994.

When Gallup asked voters in January 1995 to name their top priority for the new Congress and President Clinton, 78 percent responded “reducing crime.” Given the murder rate at the time — 9.0 per 100,000 population — this was understandable. Sixty-six percent named “reforming the welfare system.”

Clinton got the message. In 1996, he signed the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, a main purpose of which was to limit death-row appeals. And, of course, he signed a historic welfare reform measure.

As the first Democratic president since Clinton, and the first African American one ever, Barack Obama has done essentially nothing to reverse Clinton’s crime and welfare policies. . . .

Indeed, Obama’s assimilation of conservative doctrine extended even to the war on terrorism, an area with which 72 percent of the public pronounced itself satisfied in last January’s Gallup Poll. Closing Guantanamo is out; drone strikes on al-Qaeda suspects are in. After four years of the Obama war on terror, you could almost summarize the two parties’ policies this way: Republicans waterboard, Democrats kill.

It’s true, as many commentators have noted since Nov. 6, that liberals seem to have the upper hand in the culture wars, after years of losing to the GOP. The 2012 electorate favored liberal positions on abortion, gay rights and the role of women in society.

We’ll never know whether 2012 would have played out the same way if crime had staged a comeback during the recession, as many expected. Certainly in the past, crime was as important to the Republican brand as abortion and gay rights, if not more important.

Safer streets, though, have blunted what was once a sharp wedge issue, and, perhaps, freed the electorate to consider social and moral issues in a different light.

via Charles Lane: Republicans a victim of safer streets – The Washington Post.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • SKPeterson

    Though, it may be that a new round will start up as people begin to look at the communities going bankrupt in California for example, and how crime rates are beginning to go back up in those locations. While there are a variety of political answers to the why’s of such events, the Republicans could potentially offer up solutions involving the proper sphere of government in protecting lives and property, the limits on the range of government services that can and should be provided, and the finances associated with providing long-term health and retirement benefits to public employees and how those should be structured.

  • SKPeterson

    Though, it may be that a new round will start up as people begin to look at the communities going bankrupt in California for example, and how crime rates are beginning to go back up in those locations. While there are a variety of political answers to the why’s of such events, the Republicans could potentially offer up solutions involving the proper sphere of government in protecting lives and property, the limits on the range of government services that can and should be provided, and the finances associated with providing long-term health and retirement benefits to public employees and how those should be structured.

  • Cincinnatus

    On the one hand, this piece raises a good point: Republicans were once the “law and order” party, and they were tremendously successful in establishing law and order.

    On the other hand, I have no use for the pathological impulse to attribute an electoral defeat/loss of the Presidency to a single variable–especially this one. The author has nothing except wild speculation to undergird his claim that the Republicans lost this election because and only because crime is no longer a salient issue. Frankly, I think that’s absurd.

  • Cincinnatus

    On the one hand, this piece raises a good point: Republicans were once the “law and order” party, and they were tremendously successful in establishing law and order.

    On the other hand, I have no use for the pathological impulse to attribute an electoral defeat/loss of the Presidency to a single variable–especially this one. The author has nothing except wild speculation to undergird his claim that the Republicans lost this election because and only because crime is no longer a salient issue. Frankly, I think that’s absurd.

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    I’m glad that crime is not such an issue any more.

    But it seems the author’s thesis is that in order for Republicans to regain the ascendancy, we need to hope for a crime wave.

    That’s preposterous. We need to move on the the next issue now.

    That said, I’m not sure Republicans up to the task.

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    I’m glad that crime is not such an issue any more.

    But it seems the author’s thesis is that in order for Republicans to regain the ascendancy, we need to hope for a crime wave.

    That’s preposterous. We need to move on the the next issue now.

    That said, I’m not sure Republicans up to the task.

  • DonS

    Many Republicans have grown wary of an increasingly intrusive law enforcement apparatus, and its increasing tendency to focus on alleged and perceived crimes against the state, rather than against fellow citizens. Civil rights have become paramount when the state police force has become much more highly politicized and used as a tool by those in power against those in opposition.

  • DonS

    Many Republicans have grown wary of an increasingly intrusive law enforcement apparatus, and its increasing tendency to focus on alleged and perceived crimes against the state, rather than against fellow citizens. Civil rights have become paramount when the state police force has become much more highly politicized and used as a tool by those in power against those in opposition.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    Crime is not a political issue because people who care about crime have arranged their lives to avoid crime. That is, they have moved away from where they will be targeted. Before someone snidely asserts that I am saying some people don’t care about crime, my point is that they don’t care as much and that is why they move and don’t vote for someone running on an anti crime platform.

    http://homicides.redeyechicago.com/

    Chicago homicide list excerpt:

    Victims

    Oct. 21 – Darrius Boyd, a 25 year old black male, caused by a gunshot in South Chicago.
    Oct. 21 – Reginald Robinson, a 25 year old black male, caused by a gunshot in Roseland.
    Oct. 21 – Patrick Robinson, a 18 year old black male, caused by a gunshot in Roseland.
    Oct. 21 – Michael White, a 30 year old black male, caused by a gunshot in South Deering.
    Oct. 21 – Denzell Williams, a 21 year old black male, caused by a gunshot in Austin.
    Oct. 20 – Terrance Johnson, a 17 year old black male, caused by a gunshot in Rogers Park.
    Oct. 20 – Claude Snulligan, a 36 year old black male, caused by a gunshot in West Garfield Park.
    Oct. 19 – Terrance Wright, a 18 year old black male, caused by a gunshot in South Deering.
    Oct. 19 – Eric Saunders, a 34 year old black male, caused by a gunshot in West Englewood.
    Oct. 17 – Dejuan Thurman, a 36 year old black male, caused by a gunshot in Morgan Park.
    Oct. 17 – Clinton Smith, a 39 year old black male, caused by a gunshot in Greater Grand Crossing.
    Oct. 17 – Bai Wei Wang, a 55 year old asian male, caused by a gunshot in Bridgeport.
    Oct. 14 – Jamiere Brown, a 18 year old black male, caused by a gunshot in Washington Park.
    Oct. 13 – Nawal Aysheh, a 20 year old white female, caused by a gunshot in Belmont Cragin.
    Oct. 13 – Bernard Kolin, a 33 year old white male, caused by a gunshot in West Englewood.
    Oct. 13 – Modell McCambry, a 17 year old black male, caused by a gunshot in Woodlawn.
    Oct. 12 – Lafayette Johnson, a 34 year old unknown male, caused by a gunshot in Englewood.
    Oct. 12 – William Thomas, a 73 year old black male, caused by a gunshot in South Shore.
    Oct. 11 – Rakiem Douman, a 21 year old black male, caused by a gunshot in Chatham.
    Oct. 10 – Ingram Scott, a 28 year old unknown male, caused by a gunshot in South Chicago.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    Crime is not a political issue because people who care about crime have arranged their lives to avoid crime. That is, they have moved away from where they will be targeted. Before someone snidely asserts that I am saying some people don’t care about crime, my point is that they don’t care as much and that is why they move and don’t vote for someone running on an anti crime platform.

    http://homicides.redeyechicago.com/

    Chicago homicide list excerpt:

    Victims

    Oct. 21 – Darrius Boyd, a 25 year old black male, caused by a gunshot in South Chicago.
    Oct. 21 – Reginald Robinson, a 25 year old black male, caused by a gunshot in Roseland.
    Oct. 21 – Patrick Robinson, a 18 year old black male, caused by a gunshot in Roseland.
    Oct. 21 – Michael White, a 30 year old black male, caused by a gunshot in South Deering.
    Oct. 21 – Denzell Williams, a 21 year old black male, caused by a gunshot in Austin.
    Oct. 20 – Terrance Johnson, a 17 year old black male, caused by a gunshot in Rogers Park.
    Oct. 20 – Claude Snulligan, a 36 year old black male, caused by a gunshot in West Garfield Park.
    Oct. 19 – Terrance Wright, a 18 year old black male, caused by a gunshot in South Deering.
    Oct. 19 – Eric Saunders, a 34 year old black male, caused by a gunshot in West Englewood.
    Oct. 17 – Dejuan Thurman, a 36 year old black male, caused by a gunshot in Morgan Park.
    Oct. 17 – Clinton Smith, a 39 year old black male, caused by a gunshot in Greater Grand Crossing.
    Oct. 17 – Bai Wei Wang, a 55 year old asian male, caused by a gunshot in Bridgeport.
    Oct. 14 – Jamiere Brown, a 18 year old black male, caused by a gunshot in Washington Park.
    Oct. 13 – Nawal Aysheh, a 20 year old white female, caused by a gunshot in Belmont Cragin.
    Oct. 13 – Bernard Kolin, a 33 year old white male, caused by a gunshot in West Englewood.
    Oct. 13 – Modell McCambry, a 17 year old black male, caused by a gunshot in Woodlawn.
    Oct. 12 – Lafayette Johnson, a 34 year old unknown male, caused by a gunshot in Englewood.
    Oct. 12 – William Thomas, a 73 year old black male, caused by a gunshot in South Shore.
    Oct. 11 – Rakiem Douman, a 21 year old black male, caused by a gunshot in Chatham.
    Oct. 10 – Ingram Scott, a 28 year old unknown male, caused by a gunshot in South Chicago.

  • Ro

    Claude 10/20/2012 was my brother this is what happened when he spoke up about crimes in the neighborhood.

  • Ro

    Claude 10/20/2012 was my brother this is what happened when he spoke up about crimes in the neighborhood.


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