Inflation and Crime Threaten Democrats | News, Sports, Jobs
The economy is picking up. On the East Coast, cicadas sing their love songs. There is a super moon on the west coast. We are at peace (at least with other nations). And yet, President Joe Biden’s approval rating remains almost exactly where it was in the first week of his presidency – 55%.
We are so trapped in negative partisanship that the actual performance of the office of President simply does not matter to most voters. The vast majority of Democrats will support Biden no matter what, and Republicans will oppose him. From 1948 to 1992, reports the Wall Street Journal, about 18% of voters said they voted for candidates from different parties in different years. Today, less than 10% do. These voters hold the fate of the nation in their hands.
As much as I disagree with a number of Biden administration policies (e.g. overspending, subsidizing child care instead of giving parents money to use it as whatever they see fit, changing the standards of proof in sexual misconduct cases, keeping tariffs up), I think he’s crucial to the success of Biden’s presidency because: 1) the country needs to breathe, and 2) the Republican Party is not fit to hold power. It may be again in the future, but for now it is a danger to democracy.
Biden is betting that all of his big spending programs will improve the lives of Americans and that they will reimburse his party with votes. Perhaps. But there are two threats on the horizon for Democrats that they might be ill-equipped to handle.
One is inherent in Biden’s bet. Its ridiculous spending, efforts to raise the minimum wage, and the Federal Reserve’s loose cash position carry inflation risk, which this country has not seen in 40 years. The poor and the elderly on fixed incomes suffer the most when inflation hits, but everyone participates in the dizzying sensation of a situation out of control. The only tool to fight inflation in the arsenal of policymakers is extremely nasty (to say nothing politically perilous) – rising interest rates, which often triggers a recession. Democrats can avoid this trap if they cancel or delay some of their unnecessary spending plans.
The other big danger for Democrats is the rising crime rate. Last year, homicides rose 33% nationwide, the largest annual increase in 50 years. Atlanta’s murder rate rose 38%, apparently contributing to Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ decision to drop a candidate for re-election. New York (43%) and Chicago (55%) also saw significant increases in homicides.
Other violent crimes like aggravated assault and gun crimes also increased in 2020 according to the Council on Criminal Justice. Out of 34 cities surveyed, 29 posted strong increases.
Clearly, a national increase in crime during the pandemic year when Trump was in the White House cannot be put at the feet of Democrats. But the increase shows no signs of slowing down. No one is sure what the cause of the increase in crime is either. Has the pandemic driven people to murder? Other countries have not experienced waves of crime.
There are preliminary indications that cities that have seen large protests after the murder of George Floyd have also seen an increase in killings. The theory is that after numerous protests against police misconduct, the police stopped vigorously enforcing the law. In Chicago, reports The Economist, 42 people were killed between May 27 and June 2, 2020, “the city’s deadliest week since 2001.” In Baltimore, following the 2015 death of Freddie Gray in custody, police withdrew from law enforcement and homicides increased by 50%. They stayed high.
Floyd’s death sparked calls for police reform, but unfortunately for Democrats, also led to calls for the abolition of the police. And it definitely hurt Democrats politically. Veteran strategist James Carville, appearing on Bill Kristol’s podcast in April 2021, said: “I mean, this ‘police funding’ was just a terrible drag on the Democratic Party. It really was. Don’t kid yourself.
If the “defund” language is not replaced with a better message, and crime continues to rise, Democrats will pay a heavy price. Very few Americans, including African Americans who are more often the victims of overly aggressive policing, want to live without the police. Only 28% of African Americans in a USA Today / Ipsos poll said they were in favor of funding the police (with 34% of Democrats), while 37% were against it. When asked if they support “abolish” police, the number of African Americans opposing it rose to 51% with 22% support.
Democrats badly need message discipline on this issue. There is a world of reform waiting to be approved: de-escalation training, skilled immunity reform, an end to raids smoothly, accountability of police unions for police misconduct instead of taxpayers and more. But Democrats cannot lose sight of the fact that rising crime, like rising inflation, scares most people deeply, and they will punish the seemingly weak party.
Mona Charen is editor-in-chief of The Bulwark and host of “Beg to differ” Podcast.