“… what’s past is prologue…”
William Shakespeare, The Tempest
Law and Order Issues
The issue of funding the police, along with the rise in some firearms violence rates, creates an opening for a political attack of Democrats being ‘soft on crime’ that Republicans have used for decades. The Republican Party needs to pick up just five seats to take control of the House of Representatives. Swing districts issues will be crucial in determining which party controls the House.
“The past does not repeat itself, but it rhymes.”
In the 1988 presidential election race, Republicans cast Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis as being ‘soft on crime.’ When Massachusetts convict Willie Horton committed crimes while out on temporary furlough from jail, Republicans blamed Governor Dukakis.
A Republican political action committee used Horton’s mug shot in an attack ad to play on the fear and racial anxiety among usually Democratic white voters. The ad was racist. It was also very effective. Dukakis took the high road by avoiding counterattacks.
“I badly muffed an oppertunity to really turn it on Bush, I started that campaign, I was going to be a positive guy, not going to get into the attack campaigning and all that kind of stuff. And it was a mistake.”Senator Dukakis
“We learn from history that we learn nothing from history.”George Bernard Shaw
From the Nixon Era forward, Republicans have used law and order issues to sway anxious white voters. In the 1970’s economic issues, integration using school busing, along with law-and-order issues, moved millions of middle-class/working-class white voters to the Republican Party.
Former Congressman Brad Miller of North Carolina has said,
“Republicans in the right-wing generally have a lot of practice on the issue. They have been using crime and fear of crime and the image of African American males as a threat for a very long time.”Congressman Brad Miller
Today Republicans demonize the Black Lives Matter protests and ‘open border’ illegal immigration as Democrats promoting lawlessness. ‘Law and order’ may not be a slam dunk issue for Republicans this time around. Mere scare tactics may not be enough to motivate suburban voters for whom crime is not an everyday concern. Also, the United States has a more diverse population today. The Republican’s lack of concern about the violence against police at the Capitol on January 6 could be used against the party to show their hypocrisy. One poll asked why crime is on the rise, and the response was that 84 percent cited inadequate funding for mental health as contributing to the increase. Republicans are not associated with support for mental health initiatives.
“We don’t stop to ask, what can I learn from this week that will keep next week from essentially being a repeat of the same?”Stephen R. Covey
The phrase ‘defund the police’ is a political gift to Republicans. Gwen Moore of Wisconsin advocates de-escalation training community policing says,
“You have got to give the devil its due. The Republicans have been excellent at messaging and once somebody said something about defund the police and they ran with it.”Gwen Moore
Democrats not only must advocate a plan to deal with crime, but they also need to communicate it in a manner that is reasonable and rational. They need to advocate law and order… and justice.
“No, I don’t support defunding the police, I support conditioning federal aid to police based on whether or not they meet certain basic standards of decency and honorableness. It seems like most of my career I’ve been dealing with this issue. While there’s no ‘one-size-fit-all’ approach, we know there are some things that work, and the first of those that work is stemming the flow of firearms used to commit violent crimes.”President Joe Biden
Mo Elleithee, executive director of the Georgetown University Institute of Politics and Public Service, says,
“The loudest voices on Twitter are getting the most attention but that’s not where the party appears to be. Where the party is united, though, is calling for smart police reform. So if Democratic Party candidates can focus on that, instead of a really politically tone-deaf slogan [like “defund the police”], then I think there’s very little risk of the coalition fraying on this issue at least.”Mo Elleithee
Republicans will attempt to portray all Democrats as wanting to defund the police to the point of ineffectiveness, but that misrepresents the position of the majority of Democrats. Democrats passed the American Rescue Plan, which funds police and community violence intervention programs. Also, public opinion polls show a popular majority in favor of keeping firearms out of the hands of criminals. Democrats will have an opportunity to counter the ‘soft on crime’ tag by campaigning on ‘law and order… and justice’ issues supported by the majority of the American people.
“That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons of history.”Aldous Huxley
Michael Dukakis, who was defeated by President George H.W. Bush for president largely because of the ‘soft on crime’ tag, has addressed the current political climate:
“Defunding the police doesn’t make any sense. Building an excellent police force that is committed to community policing does make sense. Look, there were some people who started talking about defunding the police. I called it nuts. I thought it was a mistake. It doesn’t make any sense to me. Of course, we need excellent policing. But it’s what kind of policing. How do you build that relationship with communities? On one hand, you have folks screaming and yelling about getting rid of policing, which makes no sense at all. And then, on the other hand, you have some people totally misinterpreting what community policing is, just as we were really making huge progress. You need active police presence, but led by police officers who are well-trained and who understand how you work effectively and constructively and appropriately with communities. We were headed in that direction until all of this stuff, and here we are now.”Michael Dukakis
Dukakis cited draconian responses to crime as an overreaction that engenders distrust of our justice system
“The day-to-day, week-to-week ongoing relationship with the community is critical. It’s not just snapping your fingers and saying well we’re going to do a mental health program.”Michael Dukakis
…Will today’s Democrats be labeled as ‘soft on crime’? Dukakis says,
“Not if they are strong and effective advocates and practitioners of community policing. That’s the difference. It’s not who’s tough and who isn’t.”Michael Dukakis
Do Biden and the majority of Democrats ‘get it’ regarding crime and justice issues? Dukakis says:
“I think he gets it and understands it. [But] I’m not sure he and for that matter, my party is articulating it very well.”Michael Dukakis
Shakespeare’s full quote is,
“Whereof what’s past is prologue, what to come in yours and my discharge.”William Shakespeare
If Democrats learn from the lessons of the past, they can avoid George Santayana’s warning that
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”George Santayana
Thanks and a tip of the hat to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Dukakis_1988_presidential_campaign#/media/File:Dukakis_Bentsen_1988_campaign_logo.svgfor the image.