Great piece from the Washington Post’s Radley Balko: “This isn’t 1968. Baltimore isn’t Watts. And Hillary Clinton isn’t Michael Dukakis.”

Balko’s post is a response to a couple of recent columns with identical talking points. Hack columnist Richard Cohen (also of the WaPo) and hack GOP strategist Lloyd Green (who wrote a column for the Daily Beast) both argued that Hillary Clinton’s comments on “mass incarceration” in the wake of the unrest in Baltimore means she’s “soft on crime” and will be trampled as the next McGovern or Dukakis (and both featured a shocking nostalgia for Nixon’s overt tactics to appeal to white racist fears). 

The Internet loves arguments where one writer “destroys” another, and this certainly scratches that itch, but what makes Balko’s piece so compelling is not rhetorical flourishes, but his willingness to carefully explain the data (and to focus on the human stakes behind these political arguments). Balko offers a huge amount of information on crime rates, stats on cops getting shot and cops shooting people, the public’s feelings about crime and their own safety, strong public support for reform of laws like minimum sentencing that lead to mass incarceration, overwhelming public support for cops wearing body cameras, and more. I won’t try to summarize it all. Read the whole thing.  

The nut graph: 

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It’s far from clear that voters will punish Hillary Clinton for criticizing mass incarceration, or expressing support for body cameras. It’s far from clear that voters even disagree with her. And there’s no evidence whatsoever that taking the positions she did will make her the next Michael Dukakis. Clinton is a shrewd politician who is being advised by the party’s elite campaign operatives. The very fact that she broached criminal justice reform is a pretty good indication that it’s now politically safe for her to do so.

Balko also makes the point that Hillary Clinton still has a long way to go to prove that she’s serious on these issues to advocates of criminal justice reform: 

Ask any leader in the criminal justice reform movement if they consider Hillary Clinton to be an ally. After a bout of laughter, they’ll likely point out that she criticized Barack Obama in 2008 for his support to reform mandatory minimum laws and to change the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity. They’ll then point out that she not only supported her husband’s tough-on-crime policies that exacerbated the mass incarceration problem, she fought for them. So far, Hillary Clinton has offered up some milquetoast pronouncements about criminal justice reform. She has offered few specific policies, and even the pronouncements have been couched in ways that provide political cover. (For example, she has said that with the money we save by reducing the prison population, we could hire more police officers.)

That pundits writing for prominent media outlets would characterize such middling, non-committal rhetoric as some sort of radical soft-on-crime agenda is more than anything a demonstration of the warped reality in which the political and chattering classes operate.

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