Culture Wars/Current Controversies

Why Democrats lose when they reduce all talk of crime to racism

By W. James Antle III, The Week

Crime wasn’t one of the top issues in last week’s elections. But it was among the reasons Democratic number-crunchers concluded their party underperformed at the ballot box last year and is primed to do even worse in the midterm elections of 2022.

Violent crime, especially murder, is on the rise. Yet a fashionable and seemingly ascendant part of the Democratic Party is in favor of defunding the police, despite President Biden’s best efforts to distance them from the movement (and their idea’s telling failure in Minneapolis on Tuesday).

Democrats have been down this road before. Beginning in the late 1960s, the most liberal among them began asserting that the phrase “law and order” was a euphemism for white backlash against civil rights gains. Racial animus certainly drives a nontrivial part of the conversation about crime, both then and now. But people of all backgrounds genuinely do not want to be raped and murdered or see their families become victims.

When liberals see crime as being only about racism and lose sight of public safety, Democrats start to lose elections. Crime became a political liability for Democratic candidates in the 1970s and 1980s, culminating in Michael Dukakis’ presidential election loss in 1988. Whatever one’s views of the propriety of the Willie Horton ad, Democrats did not win presidential elections again until they changed the perception they were soft on violence. By 1993, the issue had grown potent enough to get a Republican elected mayor of New York City.


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