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May 5, 2009

Could vocal opposition to the death penalty, mass incarceration and the drug war help lead the GOP out of the wilderness?

The party switch of Senator Spector, after big losses in the last two elections, has conservative pundits talking about how the Republican party can get its mojo back.  For example, I heard on NPR yesterday this segment with David Frum and Jonah Goldberg and this segment with Christine Todd Whitman, David Keating, and Matthew Continetti.  But persistently missing in all the chatter is what I think could and should be a new winning issue for the GOP: being (fiscally) smart on crime by opposing wasteful government spending on the death penalty, mass incarceration and the drug war.

Especially on the Rush Limbaugh show, folks on the right often assert that the GOP is the only party truly committed to the principles of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."  When I hear that claim, however, I wonder how it squares with modern Republican support for the death penalty (which ends life), and for long prison terms and drug prohibitions (which severely restrict both liberty and the pursuit of happiness).  I find vocal GOP support for the death penalty, mass incarceration and the drug war especially jarring when leading Republicans complain about big government, bureaucracy and excessive taxing and spending — all these problems find particular expression, especially at the state level, in the modern operation of the death penalty, mass incarceration and the drug war.

Beyond principle, a changed course on the death penalty, mass incarceration and the drug war could make for good politics.  Many on the religious right have problems with state killing and with a penal system that does not focus on redemptive potential.  And both minority populations and younger voters, two groups the GOP is struggling to reach, would surely take note and be impressed if a Republican candidate were to express strong opposition to the most costly and oppressive facets of modern mass incarceration and the drug war.

I am not expecting the GOP to change course on these criminal justice issues anytime soon, but I am hoping that desperate electorial times might at least prompt some new thinking in traditional "tough-on-crime" quarters.  Notably, in the 1990s the Democrats got some of their mojo back when President Bill Clinton moved right on crime and justice issues.  I do not think I am crazy to suggest that Republicans might profit from flipping the Clinton playbook.

Lots of related posts on the modern politics of crime and punishment:

UPDATE with apologies: For some tech glitch reason, only the first 20+ of the 30+ comments to this post are showing up.  I do not know why and I hope I can/will be able to rescue all the additional rine comments that are being saved but are not visible.

May 5, 2009 at 09:19 AM | Permalink

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So you listen to Rush?

Posted by: | May 5, 2009 10:08:01 AM

Opposing the death penalty would be an odd strategy indeed for electoral success, insasmuch as, according to the most recent Gallup poll, the public supports capital punishment by more than two-to-one (64% to 30%). Indeed, the same poll found that a majority of DEMOCRATS support it, 52% to 44%. Only 21% believe it is imposed too often; nearly half (48%) believe it is not imposed often enough.

Opposing the death penalty would also play directly into one of the Democrats' most effectve attacks in the last campaign, to wit, that, contrary to their announced principles, Republicans had engaged in reckless spending. For the Republicans to now abandon another position they hold on principle in favor of expediency would merely reinforce the Democrats' successful message.

As for "mass incarceration," the best solution for that is a mass reduction in the thing that causes incarceration, i.e., crime. Changing the system isn't always the answer. Changing -- by reduceing -- dishonest, violent and harmful behavior is a better answer. And these things are unlikely to be reduced by signalling that society has gone wobbly in dealing with them.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 5, 2009 10:42:05 AM

In short, Bill, you have no answer or apology for mass incarceration; no answer or apology for the senseless criminalization of US youth; no answer or apology for the lack of resources to tackle issues of crime prevention or even crime detection; no answer or apology for the inefficiency of a system of justice which has seen hundreds, probably thousands of people, wrongfully convicted of crimes for which they were innocent; no answer or apology for those thousand languishing for decades on death rows or other high security prisons in conditions of sensory deprivation, poor health care, and other forms of negligent (and probably illegal) management that lead to despair, widespread mental illness, and sometimes death. You are in a state of denial for purely political dogma, and now it seems you can't even work out the economics. As I remarked some months back - where the hell is the LEADERSHIP back to sanity going to come from. Lets hope some emerges soon - whether from Republicans or Democrats I care not.

Posted by: peter | May 5, 2009 11:18:51 AM

Well yah, the current system has worked so well in changing or reducing behavior that some consider "dishonest, violent and harmful." By all means, if a medium size paddle doesn't do the trick, go to a large sized paddle. Please inform when society is scheduled to send the next "signal" with the criminal justice system.

Posted by: Mark#1 | May 5, 2009 11:21:02 AM

Indeed, 10:08:01 AM, I listen to Rush regularly. I find him quite entertaining even though I rarely agree with his views. And I always think it is much more important for me to hear from those who have different views than to hear from those who have the same views.

Further, because Rush is right now the most vocal and popular voice on the right, I think anyone serious about modern US politics and public policy has to be paying attention to what Rush has to say.

Posted by: Doug B. | May 5, 2009 11:27:07 AM

That's it peter -- it's never the criminal's fault, it's always the system's fault.

The point of Doug's post, which apparently you forgot in your eagerness to tell me what I should be apologizing for (to wit, not buying whole cloth your leftist agenda), was that the Republican Party could well profit electorally by turning on its principles and opposing capital punishment, among other things. I pointed out that it would be an odd road to electoral success to adopt, for transparent purposes of political expediency, a position that would not merely be inexpedient, but is rejected by the public by a margin of better than two-to-one.

If you can stay on point instead of going reflexive with the party line favoring criminals, maybe you could deal with the particular post I addressed.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 5, 2009 11:36:30 AM

Mark#1:

"By all means, if a medium size paddle doesn't do the trick, go to a large sized paddle."

By all means, if a medium size paddle doesn't do the trick, toss the paddle and apologize to the thug.

Oh, wait, there ARE no thugs. Just people cruelly deprived of their Head Start program, which surely excuses their knocking over the convenience store when they get to be 36.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 5, 2009 11:42:00 AM

Republicans? Against punishment? Unpossible!

Posted by: David in NY | May 5, 2009 11:58:01 AM

Prof. Berman: Any Republican selected for an interview on NPR should be immediately expelled from the Party. As in the Godfather, you will know the traitor. He will be the one making the invitation to negotiate.

When you coddle the criminal, you get really rough on crime victims. You cannot even utter the V word out loud. It is a bigger taboo for you than uttering the N word.

The utilitarian view eventually should prevail over communism, liberalism, and libertarianism. Those three are extreme and insanely self-defeating. It never will while the criminal cult hierarchy controls the three branches of government. Only their power and economic interest will prevail.

The Republicans did not distinguish themselves from Democrats in spending or in any other way. Why? They are all rent seeking lawyer hierarchy members, stealthily promoting the criminal cult enterprise agenda, just with tiny variations in the masking ideology.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 5, 2009 12:00:49 PM

Mark #1: "Well yah, the current system has worked so well in changing or reducing behavior that some consider 'dishonest, violent and harmful.'"

1980: 10.2 murders / 100,000 population

2007: 5.6 murders / 100,000 population

Yes, getting tough on crime has worked. We can debate how much of the crime drop is attributable to tougher sentencing, but I think it's pretty clearly a substantial portion. Lots of people are walking around alive who would have been murdered had we continued the folly of the 1960s policies that so many people seem determined to bring back. Many more have been spared being raped, robbed, or burglarized.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | May 5, 2009 12:07:06 PM

The focus on violent crimes by the responses is a red herring which is more appropriate to a Fox News or Rush comments forum. I don't think anyone here is seriously suggesting that violent crimes go unpunished. I think most would like more effort into seeing that the person who actually committed the violent crime be held accountable. I also think that if you begin with the reality of our shameful mass incarceration, the reasonable premise is more effective measures can be taken by society in order to continue to provide for the public safety, while reducing the incarceration rate. That is, of course, if locking up more of "those people" is actually considered shameful. If so, leadership that educates the public about being smart on crime is necessary in order to allow the types of innovative decisions necessary in order to reverse the trend in incarceration rates. Putting our heads in the sand effectively pleads that Americans can't have public safety alongside incarceration rates such as are prevalent in the rest of the developed world. Conflating our shameful incarceration rate with "murders" or "being raped, robbed or burglarized" fails to address the real issues at the boundaries where progress can be made-assuming of course, that one seeks progress.

Posted by: Mark#1 | May 5, 2009 12:56:23 PM

The rest of the world has more crime than the US on victimization surveys. Countries with more frequent punishment, fewer lawyers have good crime rates, e.g. Egypt. These are very poor, as well.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 5, 2009 1:10:36 PM

The lawyer does not want anything slowing down his clients, such being in prison.

What about the punishment of 100's of victims a year, without due process, when the lawyer looses a vicious predator onto the public?

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 5, 2009 1:25:17 PM

Just wondering whether anyone knows of any empirical studies which examined the impact of mandatory sentences on decline of crime in the 1990s. I know lots of reasons for the crime drop have been put out there - from abortion to community policing - but are there any good studies that have looked at mandatory sentences?

Posted by: Steve Erickson | May 5, 2009 1:37:24 PM

Boy, talk about oversimplification and cherry picking statistics, Kent Scheidegger!

Sure, murder rates were at 10.2 in 1980. And what were they in 1992, after more than a decade of increasing sentences? They were 10.1! Wow! If you focus on that period, increasing punishment does nothing at all.

Why not focus in on the period 1993-94, when homicide and other crime rates suddenly began to drop? Long before that period we'd been "tough on crime," punishment (time served) for murder had been steadily increasing, but murder rates had fluctuated near the 1980 rate, roughly in sync with the economy, oddly enough. But between 1994 and 1996, the rate dropped from the 1980 level (10.1) down to 7.9, the lowest rate since 1969. Was there any change in punishment policies in the early 90's that correlates with, and thus might have caused, this sudden drop? Not that I am aware of.

There's nothing about punishment alone, or even primarily, that might explain the precipitous decline that occurred, almost overnight, and that accounts in large part for the improvement you simplistically ascribe to "getting tough."

The non-idealogical view of what happened here is that we just don't know. But given the consistency of the punitive policies in the preceding years, and the widely increasing prosperity in the 90's, one must consider economic and demographic effects as the primary cause of the change. One can only hope that the current economic downturn won't exacerbate the situation -- but if it does, I'm sure you'll say its because we've all "gone soft" on crime.

Sheesh.

Posted by: David in NY | May 5, 2009 1:47:54 PM

David, given that criminals do not tend to simply rob an old lady or burgle a house once and then live law-abiding lives, I'd say that the burden is on you guys to show how not locking criminals up for a stretch does not exert upward pressure on criminal activity.

Posted by: federalist | May 5, 2009 2:00:09 PM

Yeah, federalist. You don't like the statistics which show no serious correlation between degree of unishment and murder rates, and you just ignore it. Takes more than expressions of faith to win this argument.

Posted by: David in NY | May 5, 2009 2:46:10 PM

Honestly, Doug, the GOP is about as likely to get soft on criminals as they are to get soft on abortionists. Being tough on crime is one of the core GOP positions, like gun rights and a tough military. The party that would favor softer sentences is an imaginary party of our dreams. I don't know what that party would be called, but it certainly wouldn't be "Republican."

Posted by: Marc Shepherd | May 5, 2009 2:47:51 PM

No David, not expressions of faith, just common sense. Criminals commit crimes--remove them from society, crime will go down. And speaking of faith, is the sky blue on your planet? Where do you get support for the idea that reducing average sentences for violent crime did not exert upward pressure on the crime rate?

I really really tried, but the boxer in me just cannot resist yet another Doug Berman lead with his chin quote:

"Especially on the Rush Limbaugh show, folks on the right often assert that the GOP is the only party truly committed to the principles of 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.' When I hear that claim, however, I wonder how it squares with modern Republican support for the death penalty (which ends life), and for long prison terms and drug prohibitions (which severely restrict both liberty and the pursuit of happiness). I find vocal GOP support for the death penalty, mass incarceration and the drug war especially jarring when leading Republicans complain about big government, bureaucracy and excessive taxing and spending — all these problems find particular expression especially at the state level, in the modern operation of the death penalty, mass incarceration and the drug war."

I don't know what passes for erudition around the water cooler at The Ohio State University's law school, but I hope it's not that quote. Newsflash, it's certainly possible to be for "life" in terms of understanding that it's a human being's right to live so long as such person does not commit a heinous crime for which the death penalty is prescribed. In fact, the very people who wrote those words probably didn't question capital punishment at all. But hey, let's throw any cramped argument to make the GOP into a bunch of hypocritical meanies and see if it sticks. Same with being harsh on crime--you know, some of us feel that removing criminals, especially violent criminals, from society for long stretches of time actually maximizes the ability of the law-abiding to (a) live, (b) enjoy personal freedom (try being a woman in a high crime area) and (c) pursue happiness. Now we may be mistaken about that (I doubt it) or we may be big meanies who just like locking up criminals for kicks, but hypocritical is a tough charge to make stick. I guess Doug missed the day they taught "limited but effective government" in civics class, but no matter. Apparently, you cannot be for freedom if you want to see bad guys put away for a long time, unless, of course, they happen to have blown a .09 BAC, in which case, they need to get 40 years in prison. With respect to taxing and spending, well, two things, if we got the judges we want, we wouldn't have to spend so much on prisons, and also, ever consider that letting criminals loose tends to do bad things to the tax base? Doug, we're conservatives, not libertarians.

I won't say the charge is completely off the wall. The post does, of course, have a "grasping at straws"/"bridge too far quality". There are some points to be made about the drug war. Generally speaking, I don't want to see mere users locked up for harsh prison terms. But there are important caveats. Parolees for malum in se crimes (robbery etc.) need to stay clean on outside--a drug using ex-con is simply a bunch of victims waiting to happen. I am not above using drug possession charges as a plead-down from more serious distribution charges or to deal with a criminal who, while committing other crimes, was caught with drugs. Why sentence a guy to a year for knocking over an old lady (and make the old lady a target for witness intimidation) when you can send him away for 5 years on a crack charge. I fully get that a prison bed is a scarce resource, and that sending a mere user is not usually an efficient use of that resource. That sounds awful Republican too me.

Posted by: federalist | May 5, 2009 3:43:53 PM

My apologies, Doug, when I wrote "just like locking up criminals for kicks", I meant "just like putting people in cages for kicks". I forgot the appropriate terminology for incarcerating those who have broken our laws and who, presumptively, pose risk to our polity. We cannot have anything to suggest that those being locked in a cage actually deserve their fate . . . . that would be bad form. Once again, my apologies for my deviation from orthodoxy.

Posted by: federalist | May 5, 2009 4:04:18 PM

The GOP has become since Goldwater in 1964, a Southern regional party that used tough on time stances to build bridges with other constituencies (e.g. The Rockafeller Republicans who backed the Rockafeller drug laws in NY).

The GOP commitment to a punishment orientation is not practical, it is cultural. It is driven by the same Scotch-Irish attitudes that brought us Hatchfield and McCoy style blood feuds, and which helps explain the murder rate in the American South even now. One may as well ask the GOP to repudiate Evangelical Christianity, which is another part of the same Southern cultural tapestry.

One might make a go of pushing the GOP towards a libertarian/personal responsibility orientation towards drugs (or particular drugs at any rate), and one might succeed in replacing mass incarceration with non-deadly corporal punishment or shaming punishments, but appeals to the evils of big government, or religious doctrine won't cut it.

Posted by: ohwilleke | May 5, 2009 4:12:04 PM

ohwilleke, two questions:

1) do you actually take Doug's post seriously?

2) do you really think that Hatfield-McCoy blood feuds have led to increased crime in the South?

Self-parody, much?

Posted by: federalist | May 5, 2009 4:26:43 PM

I always enjoy it when you get on the meanie kick, federalist, but as usual you are putting words in my mouth and then complaining about what you think I mean rather than what I actually said.

Of course, some can and do develop "conservative" arguments in favor of the death penalty and mass incarceration and even the drug war (though I think those very arguments would also support incapacitating repeat drunk drivers for a long time). But all three still remain examples of costly, big government full of legal bureaucracy that may not (or may) justify their considerable economic burdens on taxpayers.

Your reference to "limited but effective government" in this context is important and worthy of consideration in conjunction with debates over health care reform. As I understand modern GOP claims, the government cannot be trusted to provide/allocate medical care because the government is unlikely to be either limited or effective. And yet, federalist, you suggest that the government always can/should be trusted in criminal law enforcement because you think it will be limited and effective in this setting.

Perhaps because I tend libertarian, I start with a presumptive distrust of government in all settings, and what I see happening in the criminal justice arena only sometimes rebuts this presumptive distrust. And what I find "jarring" is the tendency of many GOP pundits to attack domestic government spending everywhere except in the criminal justice arena. Maybe those GOP pundits have access to information showing consistent bang for the buck here, but if so I wish they would share these studies with me.

Posted by: Doug B. | May 5, 2009 4:49:03 PM

Fine, David in NY, if you want to focus on the period beginning in the early 1990s, they still show the same thing. These are long-term trends, and they don't turn around overnight. They did turn around after we saw the error of our naive policies and toughened up. First the rate of growth in crime rates slowed, and then the rate headed down.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | May 5, 2009 5:06:40 PM

Ah Doug, I see your "who me, I didn't imply that" tactic is on display. You imply that the GOP is hypocritical because of its stances, just as you, in the past, with loaded words have criticized people who, quelle surprise, have advocated incarceration as a means of dealing with violent crimes. What is supposed to be the takeaway Doug? That you think these people merely misguided? No. You ascribe moral failure to those who don't see things your way when it comes to incarceration (and I am sorry, when you say things like "just lock people in cages", you are implying a moral judgment). I encapsulate that with sarcasm, i.e., we're just big meanies--after all there has to be a reason for our hypocrisy, n'est-ce pas? Sorry that's so opaque.

And so, I am not putting words in your mouth. I simply boil down your bombast, hyperbole and strained argumentation to that.

If nothing else, Doug, you're the master of the pivot. You facilely move away from the silliness of your statement and its implication of rank hypocrisy (and I didn't mention the utter sillliness of the idea that the GOP can win by going soft, er, smart on crime) to GOP to some skepticism of mass incarceration etc. etc. But this is a cheap debater's trick and unworthy of a law prof.

The conservative argument for incarcerating criminals is pretty simple. Criminals wreak havoc on the innocent and need to be removed from society, else they will create more havoc. While we conservatives distrust government, we do understand that public safety is a core function of any government, and unless we want to privatize the criminal justice system (something that's not gonna happen) we have to accept the inherent limitations of government in this arena. It's called reality, and recognizing reality is not hypocritical. Also, wanting the government to provide public safety does not mean that one need desire government to

And speaking of putting words in one's mouth, I did not say that the government can/should be trusted. Government has to be watched. That's why we have procedures and an independent judiciary, as well as elected officials involved in prosecutions. A "limited but effective government" has to be one that deals with its core responsibilities, the first of which is public safety. Most people go about their daily lives with little more than a casual wave to a cop. I cannot even remember the last time I spoke to a police officer in uniform. I think it may have been in a fast food joint when I was with my kids. That's limited. Effective? Well, we're not quite there, as crime is still too high, but releasing a bunch of criminals is not the solution.

There's a silly quality to your argument too. For example, this quote: "s I understand modern GOP claims, the government cannot be trusted to provide/allocate medical care because the government is unlikely to be either limited or effective." Well, government isn't so good at running a business, nor I am a big fan of the government telling people what health care they can get. But put that to one side. It is apparently unfathomable to you that people could want a vigorous government response to a problem (i.e. crime) which falls into a core area of government responsibility yet be mistrustful or skeptical of it expanding into areas outside of where government typically operates.

Your "jarring" comment is less silly, but another exercise in hyperbole. Yes, conservatives aren't going to get too worked up about throwing a little extra money at a prison or what have you. We'd rather err on the side of safety than otherwise, and hey, any dollar spent on safety is one less dollar for some liberal wish-o-the-moment. But we don't really have a choice. We know that government isn't the most efficient thing, but we look at public safety as a categorical imperative, and we don't see enough public safety, and we remember the bad old days when it was worse, so we're vigilant. So no, we're not gonna attack spending on public safety. Kinda like Barack Obama could care less if ACORN wastes federal tax dollars.

With respect to the death penalty, which is sui generis. I don't claim to represent mainstream conservative opinion on the death penalty. I believe in it. I want it used often, and I feel that liberal judges are thwarting it illegitimately. Thus, the "fiscal" conservative argument really does not appeal to me. I feel that the ability to govern ourselves (i.e., having the DP available) is worth the expense. Plus, I feel that it saves lives. Why in the world should we cave because liberals throw up a lot of judicial roadblocks?

Posted by: federalist | May 5, 2009 5:56:49 PM

Fair points, federalist, but then explain to me why you get so grumpy when I urge tougher sentences for drunk drivers? As highway statisitcs show, drunk drivers are a (very large) group of criminals who "wreak havoc on the innocent and need to be removed from society, else they will create more havoc."

I share your commitment to public safety, which is largely the reason I am troubled by the monies spent on incarceration and the drug war. Heavy reliance on incarceration for relatively minor offenders seems to be a costly and inefficient way to prevent (mostly poor and under-educated) people from harming themselves (through drug abuse) or other people.

The key point is that you seem prepared to assume the government is making the right kinds of mistakes in the criminal justice setting. Maybe so, though I continue to see limited empirical support on this front. And I keep bringing up drunk driving because it provides a notable example where I fear we make mistakes by, generally speaking, being too soft rather than being too tough.

More generally, I am especially troubled by the failure of anyone in either party to seriously consider getting tougher through more cost-effective means --- e.g., steep fines, shaming sanctions, GPS tracking --- than using incarceration as the defaul punishment.

Finally, I cannot help but continue to wonder, federalist, not only why you keep hiding behind a pen name, but also why you resort to name-calling in this forum, rather than try to continue to engage in respectful debate. Your name calling does not hurt my feelings --- I can take it --- but it does undermine the strength of your claims.

Posted by: Doug B. | May 5, 2009 6:29:37 PM

1. We don't have to guess about what conservatives think of the death penalty. There has been polling on the subject. Anyone interested can look here:

http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/gallup-poll-who-supports-death-penalty

You will see there that conservatives support the death penalty by a margin of 74% to 21%. A more recent poll, released last November, shows that Republicans, who are generally conservative, support it by an even more lopsided majority, 78% to 18%.

Gallup's polling also shows that the death penalty is heavily favored by independents, and, by smaller majorities, by both liberals and Democrats. It is favored across all age groups, in all areas of the country, and by both men and women, although women are somewhat less enthusiastic.

With that as the state of play, it is impossible seriously to believe that any political party would benefit from taking a stand against the death penalty.

2. It is true, as Doug points out, that we have a national ideal of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But no serious person has ever taken this to be an argument against either the death penalty or imprisonment (or "mass incarceration," to use the current slogan).

It's easy to see why this is so. If the national ideal were taken as literally as Doug seems to, it would mean a complete end to the death penalty AND TO IMPRISONMENT. The idea that the country should simply abandon imprisonment as punishment for crime is so far-fetched as to not even be worth discussing. No country in the world has adopted such a radical notion, including those in Europe ordinarily cited as examples of enlightenment (as opposed to the backward, cowboy, wahoo United States).

If, as is plainly the case, imprisonment is not to be abandoned as a punishment, it's just silly to continue to employ the broad brush anthem of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" as a substitue for the more refined thinking the subject calls for.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 5, 2009 8:40:59 PM

Prof. Berman: Here it is in pictures. Even you can see this coincidence. Let me know, if you have trouble doing that.

Incarceration rate goes up, especially of blacks.

http://ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/glance/jailrair.htm

Violent crime victimization goes down, especially of black victims.

http://ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/glance/race.htm

Blacks do not have high rates of anti-social personality disorder, the biological basis for criminality. They have 1) high rates of bastardy, thanks to the destruction of the black family, in the 1960's, decreasing protection by fathers of black kids; 2) less protection for black victims, from police response to imposition of the death penalty for killing a black murder victim and disadvantage at every other point of criminal justice in between.

Thank the lawyer. This obstruction of protection by the lawyer has killed more blacks than the other lawyer operation, KKK lynchings, by two orders of magnitude. Thank the lawyer for racist lynchings, and for 100 times more deaths of blacks folks, by the current criminal justice system. In both instances, the genocidal maniac racist lawyers granted themselves absolute immunity.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 5, 2009 9:42:51 PM

ohwilleke:

"The GOP has become since Goldwater in 1964, a Southern regional party that used tough on time stances to build bridges with other constituencies..."

Well, not really. There have been 11 presidential elections since 1964. Democrats won four; Republicans won seven. Until Obama won with somewhat more than 53% of the vote, no Democrat had cracked 51% in that entire 44 years. And with the sole exception of Bill Clinton, no Democrat has been elected twice since Franklin Roosevelt. Johnson was hooted out of office for mindlessly sacrificing 50,000 American soldiers in a war he never intended to win, and Carter was hooted out for a stunning combination of cowardice and incompetence.

Indeed, if anything, it was the Democrats who were the regional party; their longtime dominance in Congress was due almost exclusively to their historic hold in the South, a dominance that was not decisively broken until 30 years after Goldwater ran.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 5, 2009 10:34:22 PM

Another try, this time in the right thread. :)

A categorical imperative?

"Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law."

Which is exactly why the death penalty and the brutalization effect are so intertwined. Killing begets killing.

You do say something almost honest though.

"any dollar spent on safety is one less dollar for some liberal wish-o-the-moment."

What you really meant was "any dollar spent on [punishment] is one less dollar for some liberal wish-o-the-moment."

There are "liberal" programs that increase public safety more than punishment does, but crime and punishment is the last bastion of conservatives. Without it, there is no longer any legitimate basis to attack "liberalism." Without it, even the life raft sinks.

It must really burn the radical conservatives here that so much of the public considers the wrongly convicted as victimized as crime victims are. How can that be? The People are sick of propaganda. They want evidence-based solutions that work.

Evidence-Based Public Policy Options to Reduce Future Prison Construction, Criminal Justice Costs, and Crime Rates.

Posted by: George | May 6, 2009 1:15:31 AM

A categorical imperative?

"Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law."

Which is exactly why the death penalty and the brutalization effect are so intertwined. Killing begets killing.

You do say something almost honest though.

"any dollar spent on safety is one less dollar for some liberal wish-o-the-moment."

What you really meant was "any dollar spent on [punishment] is one less dollar for some liberal wish-o-the-moment."

There are "liberal" programs that increase public safety more than punishment does, but crime and punishment is the last bastion of conservatives. Without it, there is no longer any legitimate basis to attack "liberalism." Without it, even the life raft sinks.

It must really burn the radical conservatives here that so much of the public considers the wrongly convicted as victimized as crime victims are. How can that be? The People are sick of propaganda. They want evidence-based solutions that work.

Evidence-Based Public Policy Options to Reduce Future Prison Construction, Criminal Justice Costs, and Crime Rates.

Posted by: George | May 6, 2009 1:17:33 AM

Sorry, for some reason something weird is going on with the posts.

Posted by: George | May 6, 2009 1:20:03 AM

How can locking up violent criminals till there old and gray be a bad thing? It would seem that the violent crime rate (outside of prison) would inevitably decrease--as it has now that most states have become harsher on violent crime.

Posted by: Alpino | May 6, 2009 1:46:47 AM

Kent, you're dead wrong. The murder numbers spiked in the late '80s and early '90s, which is what David is referencing. Providing comparable data to your earlier comment for the years '88-'92 would confirm that.

The most comprehensive and credible study I know of on incarceration and crime prevention was done by Dr. Bill Spelman, who estimates that about a quarter of crime declines in the '90s stemmed from increased incarceration, while 3/4 was caused by other factors. Most of the best studies come up with similar numbers.

In Texas we've got quite a few Republicans who're promoting sentencing reform and Republican judges in Houston calling for reduced drug penalties. If you're a REAL small government conservative (as opposed to just anti-taxes) then it's a natural position to take. Similarly, if you're ACTUALLY pro-life - if you believe all human life is a sacred gift from God - opposing the death penalty is a no-brainer. The GOP is much more of a mixed bag on crime and punishment issues (and the Democrats too, for that matter) than the common stereotypes portray.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | May 6, 2009 9:37:52 AM

The assumption that "locking up criminals" removes that element from society and thereby reduces crime requires an assumption that being a "criminal" is a fixed state. But obviously criminal behavior is only the result of a set of choices combined with opportunities. If you lock up a drug dealer, that just creates an opening for someone new to step in and take over that person's market. Or, to put it in other terms, the "supply" of "criminals" might be more elastic than many on these posts seem to be assuming. That's just one of many reasons why incarceration is a stupid strategy. Also, incarceration itself is criminogenic. Remember, people do get out of prison and at that point they are likely to be angrier than when they went in and more hopeless (especially since prisons have become such terrible places and many prisons provide basically nothing for the prisoners to do). If you want to turn the nonviolent drug user into a violent criminal, sending him to prison for a few years is a great strategy. Lastly, crime is basically a young man's game. Plenty of studies show that even hardcore criminals usually give up their "career" when they reach middle age so what's the point of keeping them locked up into old age (paying their mounting health costs all the while)? If people feel good about themselves because they think the "criminals" are getting "punished", that's fine but let's not fool ourselves into thinking that mass incarceration is the best way to prevent future crimes from happening. There are smarter ways to get "tough on crime" that focus on prevention.

Posted by: lawstudent | May 7, 2009 1:09:32 PM

"Fine, David in NY, if you want to focus on the period beginning in the early 1990s, they still show the same thing. These are long-term trends, and they don't turn around overnight. They did turn around after we saw the error of our naive policies and toughened up. First the rate of growth in crime rates slowed, and then the rate headed down."

That's a ridiculous view of the numbers. For 12-14 years -- Reagan-Bush years mostly, remember -- the statistics remained essentially the same. Those guys were soft on crime??? Then that softie Bill Clinton comes in and after his first term they're at historical lows. Christ on a cracker, Kent, quit your one-answer-fits-all views, and try to figure out what happened! It's a fascinating sociological question in which you have no interest, since it doesn't fit your preconceived notions.

Posted by: David in NY | May 7, 2009 2:41:58 PM

"Fine, David in NY, if you want to focus on the period beginning in the early 1990s, they still show the same thing. These are long-term trends, and they don't turn around overnight. They did turn around after we saw the error of our naive policies and toughened up. First the rate of growth in crime rates slowed, and then the rate headed down."

That's a ridiculous view of the numbers. For 12-14 years -- Reagan-Bush years mostly, remember -- the statistics remained essentially the same. Those guys were soft on crime??? Then that softie Bill Clinton comes in and after his first term they're at historical lows. Christ on a cracker, Kent, quit your one-answer-fits-all views, and try to figure out what happened! It's a fascinating sociological question in which you have no interest, since it doesn't fit your preconceived notions.

Posted by: David in NY | May 7, 2009 2:42:49 PM

No way do I want to go back to the crime waves of the seventies. As far as soliciting drugged people these are not the type of person to maintain a democracy, where the "will of the people" is supreme

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That's a ridiculous view of the numbers. For 12-14 years -- Reagan-Bush years mostly, remember -- the statistics remained essentially the same. Those guys were soft on crime???

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