Saturday, July 9, 2016

Police, policy-making and race, post-2016

The events of this week will not affect who wins the 2016 election, neither at the national, state nor local level.  But, they may affect the way the media tell the tale, and that narrative, false though it may be, can matter.

Consider the 1980's.  During the so-called "crack epidemic," the Democratic Party felt the need to move right on crime policy, resulting in a variety of policies at the national and state levels that are currently coming under scrutiny and for which HRC is currently taking criticism.  The crime issues were not, actually, the reasons that the Democrats faced difficulty in the 1980, 1984 and 1988 elections.  No, that was the economy, of course.  Yup, I'm still basically a "fundamentalist" on presidential elections.  But, misperceptions of the importance of the "Willie Horton" ad in 1988 moved the Democratic Party, and hence policy, and paved the way for the Clintons and the rest of the DLC Democrats in the 1990s.

Right now, Democrats are facing an election that they have no business winning.  The economy is growing tepidly, and they have already won two in a row.  However, Donald Trump is a disaster of a candidate, putting HRC an average of 4 to 5 points ahead in the polls.  If the narrative constructed about the campaign includes a backlash against police violence and racial disparities in its application, that creates the potential for policy movement, even if the narrative is, like the Willie Horton narrative, false.

What policies might result?  I have no idea.  That depends on... Congress.  Uh, do they still legislate?  Never mind.

For your political science reference, a worthy book to read is David Brady's Critical Elections and Congressional Policy-making (1988).  The book is out-dated in a lot of ways, mostly in that "critical elections" (political earthquake elections that establish new equilibria) are actually bullshit (see:  David Mayhew on electoral realignments), but Brady's important point is still valid-- that perception of such a thing creates momentum for policy shifts.  Worth reading.

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