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January 24, 2008

Race, class and criminal justice in campaign 2008

This new article from the Los Angeles Times, headlined "Obama turns his attention to race issue," suggests that Barack Obama's new focus on racial issues has taken a criminal justice turn.  Here are snippets from the article:

Barack Obama was down to his shirt-sleeves under the hot gym lights at South Carolina State University, exhorting students at this historically black college that America can and must be transformed. "We cannot treat our poor with disregard," he thundered Tuesday, cataloging America's racial ills, starting with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. "We can't leave New Orleans in a mess and then expect to be a model for this world."

Here at the site of the Orangeburg Massacre -- where three students were killed and 27 injured by law enforcement agents during civil rights-era demonstrations to integrate a nearby bowling alley -- Obama decried a criminal-justice system fraught with inequity. "I don't want Scooter Libby justice for some and Jena justice for other folks," he said, contrasting the white Republican ex-lobbyist with the black youths in Louisiana....

He answered a question about federal drug-sentencing guidelines without saying the word "black," though activists have long complained that stiffer sentences are meted out to blacks who smoke crack than whites who snort cocaine.

Even though I believe race is a huge factor in our criminal justice system and even though I am not a political strategist, I think Obama is making a huge strategic mistake focusing on criminal justices when wanting to take about race.  I believe Obama could (and should) talk forcefully about criminal justice issues primarily in terms of class, not race. 

Obama could (and should) talk not about "Libby justice," but rather about "Rich justice," which could and should be a sly reference to Bill Clinton's ugly pardon of Marc Rich.  Obama could (and should) highlight that upper-middle-class drug dealers are treated as heroes in TV shows, while poor drug dealers are often subject to harsh mandatory minimum sentences.  Obama could (and should) highlight that college graduates are far less likely to commit crimes than high-school dropouts and thus investing resources in education for the disadvantaged is likely the most cost-effective way to fight crime.  Obama could (and should) highlight that much of the money society need for broader health care coverage is now being spent incarcerating low-level non-violent offenders.  Obama could (and should) highlight that our criminal justice system generally protects individuals with lots of money (and even perhaps mention OJ Simpson in this discussion), but generally fails to protect those who a less economically advantaged.  Obama could (and should) highlight that California's budget crisis is so severe (and will require cuts in important services to the law abiding) in part because it has perhaps the most dysfunctional criminal justice system in the nation.

January 24, 2008 at 09:59 AM | Permalink


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Again, I say, when it comes to CJ issues, Huckabee seems the best. I don't support him for a number of reasons, but if that's you issue, Huck is your man.

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