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November 12, 2016

A quick take on the Obama sentencing era and its 2016 ending

As I reflect on the emotions and uncertainty resulting from Donald Trump now being our Prez-Elect, my thoughts keep wandering back to this time eight years ago when Barack Obama had just been elected after campaigning on the slogans hope and change.  Due to my intense interest in sentencing reform changes of so many varieties, I was cautiously optimistic that the Obama era might usher in a profound new world order for the operation of federal and state criminal justice systems.  

But now I look back and have to conclude that the Obama sentencing era, generally speaking, was filled with way too much hope and not nearly enough change.  And it strikes me that for a lot of voters this past week who rejected Democratic candidates, the Obama era for them was perceived to be filled with way too much change and not nearly enough hope.

November 12, 2016 at 08:32 AM | Permalink


Obama has high opinion ratings. Many "perceive" America isn't great (try some Democratic candidate to say that ... very amusing) but seems to me even there it is not Obama himself that many people have a problem with. True you spoke of an "era" there. But, still, people seems to like Obama personally. So, if we are going to name things after him, like the health insurance law that in some cases helped people stay alive, seems relevant.

There were some improvements in the criminal area. I was reading a book about criminal justice reforms [the name eludes me] and one thing cited was the social and health aspects of criminal justice. ACA was cited, including parity on mental health, which is a major issue since many here are in various ways mentally troubled. Other things can be cited here too, including increase of commutations, drug treatment, the Fair Sentencing Act etc. But, criminal justice wasn't a major issue in this election from what I can tell. We can blame who he nominated, but neither was the courts, except to the extent many supported Trump to shift things there.

Obama changed various other things too especially if you were a member of various groups. We can even cite good economic numbers, though they don't suddenly change long term trends that one President isn't going to change, especially if he didn't have extended support (without a filibuster that waters anything down) in Congress ala FDR.

Anyway, realistically, seriously here, any "new world order" in your area of concern after the 2008 elections was simply unrealistic. That simply was not the major concern there and like for Trump just because some broad language was used everything wasn't going to change. The economy, health care & foreign affairs were the main issues. Some changes were made though. More could have been done, but CONGRESS would really be necessary there, especially how things operate these days. Republicans retained control. So, their non-action on sentencing reform? Does this mean the public accept that?

These things can be spun different ways.

Posted by: Joe | Nov 12, 2016 9:30:57 AM

ETA: Talking about spinning, what are we to say regarding the popular vote? Or, not enough, but Democrats gaining a few seats in Congress? Or, Feingold, a reformist type that could think outside straight partisan boxes losing? The other two candidates that needed to win were TBH dubious candidates though at least one of their competitors were far from ideal too. Seems to me that as much as some cute turn of phrase affected the elections there.

Posted by: Joe | Nov 12, 2016 9:38:11 AM

In my view stability vs change is the wrong lens to view the cultural climate. If one looks back historically the modern Democratic party has always been riven into two main camps: one camp places great weight on social equality and the other camp places great weight on economic equality. People like Johnson, Carter and Mondale represented the economic equality camp and people like the Clintons and the Obama have represented the social equality camp. In the 1960s and the 1970s the economic camp was ascendant but after Mondale's loss that camp faded and the social equality camp became dominant. To me, what the rise of Bernie Sanders and the loss of Clinton represents is perhaps yet another realignment for the Democratic party with the economic camp gaining ascendancy again. One tiny nugget that suggest this is true is that they most heated responses to Trump's victory have come from New York City and Portland, two communities primarily known for their social liberalism. Despite the fact that Trump is the target I see the primary purpose of these agitations as saber-rattling within the Democratic coalition--they can't do anything to change Trump but the the Dems need to pick a new party chair.

BTW, here is a nugget to chew on. Is Justice Kennedy responsible for the election of Trump? By taking gay marriage of the political table that may have demotivated a sizable contingent of socially liberal foot soldiers. The election was close enough that one can spin it more than one way (as @joe correctly notes) but I keep thinking about the counter-factual of what the election would have looked like if Hillary could have gone to the electorate with a plea that she needed to win to get the SCOTUS votes for gay marriage. Voter turnout was down overall but I'm very curious to see if turnout among gays was proportionally worse than 2012.

Posted by: Daniel | Nov 12, 2016 12:45:48 PM

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