Joe Biden’s Senior Moment in Trying to Deal with Surging Violent Crime
Pres. Biden was older when he took office than Ronald Reagan was when he left. It’s not exactly a secret that older people can have problems with forgetfulness. Pres. Biden seems to be having such a moment in his attempts, summarized here and here, to come up with an answer to the dramatic rise in violent crime (a rise that started under his predecessor last year but has continued full throttle during Biden’s tenure).
On the other hand, perhaps it’s not so much that Biden can’t remember how to deal with crime effectively — a project he helped advance as a senator 25 years ago — as it is that, given the radical leftward shift in the Democratic Party, he can’t afford to remember. Instead, he has to pretend that the Left’s reality-free narrative — a jazzed-up version of the failed soft-on-crime policies of the Sixties and Seventies — is the answer.
It isn’t. It’s pathetic. And it will cost lives, disproportionately — as is always the case with violent crime — black lives.
Once more, Paul Mirengoff is acute and merciless in taking apart Biden’s “program.” His PowerLine essay starts off:
It’s now clear even to Joe Biden that the rise in violent crime poses a political problem for Democrats. The vote count in yesterday’s New York City mayoral primary reinforces that realization.
Former NYC police captain Eric Adams, now a Borough President, holds a strong nine percentage point lead over the “progressive” second place finisher, Ms. Maya Wiley. Adams has promised more policing, not less.
Biden is in a bind. The normal response to a violent crime wave is the one he embraced in the 1990s and that worked so well — more policing and tougher sentencing. But Biden, having just finished apologizing to the Democratic base for this embrace, can’t go there again. He can’t even advocate backing away from policies that constrain the police and put criminals back on the street.
And there you have it in a nutshell. It’s not like the answer to rising crime is a big mystery. Crime rose for an entire generation, from the early Sixties until about 1990. In the late Eighties, the country decided to do something about it. At the federal level, this was best symbolized by the bi-partisan Sentencing Reform Act, which inter alia abolished parole and established serious, mandatory sentencing guidelines in federal law. In the early Ninties, the trend largely continued with Bill Clinton and (who else?) Senator Joe Biden, then a key sponsor of the 1994 Crime Bill, and with the enactment of mandatory minimum sentencing laws. The states followed suit. In addition, many states and cities adopted the Giuliani-Bloomberg model of more police and more proactive policing.
And then what happened?
What happened was that crime fell by the largest amount over the shortest time in American history. In 1991, the murder rate was 9.8 per 100,00. By the dawn of 2015, it was 4.4 — a drop of slightly more than 55% (and one of the most successful, if least heralded, domestic policy achievements in American history). Other crimes, both violent and property crimes, also saw breathtaking reductions.
It’s true that not all the astonishing shrinkage of crime was due to tougher policies. The aging of the Baby Boom bulge out of its most crime-prone years, and the massive proliferation of private security and surveillance, certainly also played a part. But more police, more aggressive policing, law-driven sentencing, and greater use of incarceration (for its incapacitating effects if nothing else) were driving the train. Thousands and thousands of lives — mostly black lives, since most murder victims are black — were saved.
So here’s the deal: We already know how to stem a rising tide of murder. We did it with unequaled success for an entire generation, with Joe Biden (and Ronald Reagan and George Bush (41) and Bill Clinton and George Bush (43) and Ed Meese and many others) pitching in.
But, as Paul notes, Mr. Biden is now in a political box filled with the failures of the Sixties and Seventies rather than the successes of the Nineties and Two Thousands:
Thus, Biden will resort to the only item in the Democrats’ toolbox he can try to pass off as an anti-crime measure — gun control. The Washington Post quotes White House press secretary Jen Psaki as follows:
The president feels a lot — a great deal of the crime we’re seeing — is as a result of gun violence. You can expect he’ll speak to that and his commitment to continuing to address gun violence and gun safety in the country.
Well, yeah, a great deal of violent crime is the result of gun violence. But that doesn’t mean speaking about guns will reduce the violence. Nor does it mean that passing more gun control legislation would do so. Nor, even if it could, would that effect take hold in the short term.
I might add that gun ownership increased much, much more over the two decades-plus of massive declines in murder than it has over the last few years of increasing homicide. So it’s clear that simply the number of guns is not the answer. The answer — painfully obvious to those willing to look — is sober policies to deal with the people who are using the guns to commit crime.
When Eric Dreiband, then an Assistant U.S. Attorney General, went to Minneapolis to meet with low-income minority group members fearful of rampaging gun violence, they didn’t ask him for more gun laws. They asked for more policing.
Of course. These folks may be poor, but they’re not stupid.
Eric Adams’ seemingly successful campaign for mayor of New York City didn’t neglect mentioning gun control. He is a Democrat, after all.
But Adams’ signature promise was more policing. By all accounts I’ve read, this theme is what lifted him above his more liberal rivals.
In the absence of effective policing, citizens must protect themselves. That’s the main reason why gun sales reportedly are way up these days.
Thus, quite apart from the fact that gun control legislation fails to address the real drivers of the violent crime surge — less policing and more criminals on the street — it may, on its terms, be an unpopular response.
Bail “reform” — that is, the program immediately to return criminals to the street to continue their crime spree, largely or completely without any effective restraint — is also high on the list, but that’s grist for a future post.
The Democratic left would like to abolish the police. Few Democratic politicians advocate going that far. Instead, they favor discouraging interaction between police officers and residents of high-crime (mostly Black) neighborhoods. If you can’t abolish [policing], neutering it is the next best thing.
In sum, the Biden’s embrace of left-wing ideology leaves him and his party vulnerable and stranded on the issue of crime, even as that issue moves to the political forefront. All Biden and the [Democrats] can do is hope that the wave of violent crime recedes.
That’s not likely to happen. Last year, the [Democrats] deluded themselves into believing that the crime wave was due to the pandemic and/or unrest following the death of George Floyd. Now, they admit otherwise, as the Washington Post shows in this article.
I repeat: We already know how to reverse the upsurge in murder. We did it before, recently and stunningly. Joe Biden knows all about it, having been in the middle of it, and it’s not a “senior moment” that’s causing him to pretend he doesn’t. It’s the woke, race-huckstering ideologues in his Party — ideologues he seemingly no longer has the strength or will to control. This will be bad, or possibly disastrous, for his Party’s prospects next year. It will be even worse — and tragically so — for the thousands of crime victims who could have been saved had we only had the courage and the sense to return to what we know works rather than trot out in academic gibberish the evasions we know fail.