With violent crime down in the U.S., Republicans no longer try to paint Democrats as soft on crime, and Democrats no longer feel the need to prove themselves tough on the issue, writes Robert Gordon in The New Republic. Campus shootings in Virginia and Illinois have barely registered politically, and President Bush’s evisceration of aid to local cops has received little attention on the campaign trail. Although the end of law-and-order demagoguery is welcome, Gordon says, America still has at least two crime problems: On one hand, the crime drop of the 1990s has ended, without delivering real relief to many communities. While murder is down dramatically in New York and Chicago, homicide rates in Baltimore and Detroit are about the same as in 1995 – and 25 percent higher than New York’s rate at its 1990 peak. The University of Chicago’s Jens Ludwig, says crime costs the U.S. on the order of $2 trillion a year.
At the same time, the U.S. incarceration rate – the highest on earth – continues to balloon. Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have talked a little about reducing penal excesses, but it is hard to imagine many politicians taking a serious run at sentencing reforms without reassuring the public they will keep crime down. The challenge is getting crime back on the national agenda. With a terrible Iraq war and a troubled economy, that is no easy task. Still, it is well worth trying, Gordon says: A 10 percent reduction in homicide rates, just a quarter of the 1990s drop, would save 1,700 lives – nearly twice the number of American military deaths in Iraq last year.