A Democrat looks at what his party can’t see
As a lifelong man of the Left who very much wants the Democratic Party to succeed, I regret to report this: The Democrats and the Democratic brand are in deep trouble. That should have been obvious when Democrats underperformed in the 2020 election, turning what they and most observers expected to be a blue wave into more of a ripple. They lost House seats and performed poorly in state legislative elections. And their support among non-white voters, especially Hispanics, declined substantially.
Still, they did win the presidency, which led many to miss the clear market signals this underperformance was sending. That tendency was strengthened by the Democrats’ improbable victories in the two Senate runoffs in Georgia, which gave them full control of the federal government, albeit by the very narrowest of margins.
At the same time, Trump’s refusal to concede the election — his bizarre behavior in that regard probably contributed to the GOP defeats in the Georgia runoffs — and his encouragement of rioters who stormed the Capitol on January 6 led many Democrats to assume that the Republican brand would be so damaged by association that the Democratic brand would shine by comparison. And yet, two years later, the Democrats are in brutal shape.
Biden’s approval rating is in the low 40s, only a little above where Trump’s was at the same point in his presidential term, which of course was the precursor to the GOP’s drubbing in the 2018 election. Biden has been doing especially poorly among working-class and Hispanic voters. His approval ratings on specific issues tend to be lower, in the high 30s on the economy and in the low 30s on hot-button issues such as immigration and crime. Off-year and special elections since 2020 have indicated a strongly pro-Republican electoral environment, and Democrats currently trail Republicans in the generic congressional ballot for 2022. It now seems likely that Democrats will, at minimum, lose control of the House this November and quite possibly suffer a wave election up and down the ballot.
Most Democrats would prefer to believe that the current dismal situation merely reflects some bad luck. The Delta and Omicron variants of the coronavirus did undercut Biden’s plans for returning the country to normal, interacting with supply-chain difficulties to produce an inflation spike that angered consumers, but that is not the whole picture. Democrats have failed to develop a party brand capable of unifying a dominant majority of Americans behind their political project. Indeed, the current Democratic brand suffers from several deficiencies that make it somewhere between uncompelling and toxic to many American voters who might otherwise be the party’s allies. I locate these deficiencies in three key areas: culture, economics, and patriotism.
Culture. The cultural Left has managed to associate the Democratic Party with a series of views — on crime, immigration, policing, free speech, and, of course, race and gender — that are far from those of the median voter. That’s a success for the cultural Left but an electoral liability for the Democratic Party. From time to time, Democratic politicians, like Biden in his State of the Union address on March 1, try to dissociate themselves from unpopular ideas such as defunding the police, but the cultural Left within the party is still more deferred to than opposed or ignored. Their voices are amplified by Democratic-leaning media and nonprofits, as well as by party officials and activists. Increasingly, a party’s national brand defines state and even local electoral contests, and Democratic candidates across the ballot have a very hard time shaking the party’s cultural-Left associations.
To understand this state of affairs, we must understand the trajectory of the American Left in the 21st century. It is now out of touch with its working-class roots and dominated by college-educated professionals, typically younger people in big metropolitan areas and university towns. They fill the ranks of media, nonprofits, advocacy groups, and foundations and are overrepresented in the infrastructure of the Democratic Party. They speak their own language and highlight the issues that most animate their commitments to “social justice.”
Those commitments are increasingly driven by identity politics, which originated in the 1960s movements that sought to eliminate discrimination against, and establish equal treatment of, women and racial and sexual minorities. Gradually, the focus has mutated. Advocates now attempt to impose a narrow worldview, emphasizing the need to oppose multiple, intersecting levels of oppression (“intersectionality”) based on group identification. In place of promoting universal rights and principles — the traditional remit of the Left — advocates now police others on the left, including those within the Democratic Party, pressuring them to use an arcane vocabulary for speaking about purportedly oppressed groups and to prohibit logical, evidence-based discourse by which the assertions of those who claim to speak on behalf of minorities and other demographic groups could be evaluated.
Is America really a “white supremacist” society? What does “structural racism” mean, and does it explain all the socioeconomic problems of non-whites? Is anyone who raises questions about immigration levels a racist? Is constant specification of personal pronouns necessary and something the Left should seek to popularize? Are trans women the same as biological women? Are those who ask the question simply “haters” who should be expelled from the left coalition? This list could go on. Politically predetermined answers to the questions are simply to be embraced by Democratic progressives, in the interest of “social justice.”
The Democrats have paid a considerable price for their militant identity politics, which lends the impression that the party is distracted by, or even focused on, issues of little relevance to most voters’ lives. Worse, the focus has led many working-class voters to believe that, unless they subscribe to the progressive worldview and speak its language, they will be condemned as reactionary, intolerant, and racist by those who purport to represent their interests. To some extent these voters are right: They are looked down upon by substantial segments — typically younger, well educated, and metropolitan — of the Democratic Party. An emerging rupture in the Democratic Party’s coalition along lines of education and region is clear.
This rupture was made deeper by the election of Donald Trump in 2016. On the left, the dominant interpretation of white working-class support for Trump was that it reflected racism and xenophobia: As America became more multicultural and multiracial, working-class whites didn’t like their alleged loss of status and privilege. This interpretation was odd, since Democratic progressives had just spent many decades sternly denouncing the American neoliberal economic model, arguing that it was ruining the lives and communities of all working people.
The Trump years further deepened the influence of identity politics on the Democratic Party, particularly in the wake of the nationwide protest movement following the murder of George Floyd. That left its stamp on the 2020 edition of the Democratic Party, notwithstanding their old-school standard-bearer, Joe Biden.
It has also left its stamp on how Democrats have handled difficult cultural issues since the election. They have fallen prey to what I have termed the “Fox News fallacy” — the idea that, if Fox News and the like are criticizing the Democrats on an issue, the criticism must be unsound and the disputed policy should be defended at all costs. That reflex has not served the Democrats well as Biden’s term has evolved.
Start with crime. Initially dismissed as simply an artifact of the Covid shutdown and as vastly exaggerated by conservative media, the rise in violent crime is clear, and voters are highly concerned about it. They include black and Hispanic voters, as indicated by polling data and confirmed by Eric Adams’s base of support in the New York mayoral contest. No wonder more Democratic politicians are running as fast as they can away from any hint of “defund the police,” the slogan that, beloved of the activist Left, was put on the ballot in Minneapolis . . . and soundly defeated, especially by black voters. According to a recent poll from Pew Research, black and Hispanic Democrats are significantly more likely than white Democrats to favor more police funding in their area.
Despite Biden’s assertion in his recent State of the Union address that funding the police is a good idea (followed by his new budget proposal), Democrats still seem far from “Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime,” the felicitous slogan of former U.K. prime minister Tony Blair. Fox News may exaggerate, but voters do want law and order — carried out fairly and humanely, but law and order just the same. Democrats — with some exceptions, including Eric Adams — are still reluctant to emphasize their commitment to cracking down on crime and criminals. It is no surprise, then, that Republicans, according to a recent Wall Street Journal poll, are favored over Democrats on the crime issue by 20 points.
Another example of the Fox News fallacy can be seen in the immigration issue. The Biden administration initially insisted that the surge at the border would subside as the hot-weather season arrived. Most Democrats echoed that line, invoking the idea that the issue was mostly a Fox News talking point.
Not so. It is now apparent that the perceived liberalization of the border regime under the Biden administration did encourage more migrants to try their luck at the border. An astonishing 1.7 million illegal crossings at the southern border were recorded in the 2021 fiscal year, the highest total since at least 1960, when the government first started keeping track. To stem the tide, the administration has scrambled to deploy whatever tools it has at its disposal, including some left over from the Trump administration. That upset immigration advocates, who staged a (virtual) walkout on top Biden officials in late 2021 to protest the policies.
These and other pressures, as well as the desire not to agree with Fox, have led most Democratic politicians to treat the topic of border security gingerly (though Biden in the State of the Union address did at least allude to the need to “secure the border”). As a result, there is no clear Democratic plan for an immigration system that would both permit reasonable levels of legal immigration and provide the border security necessary to stop illegal entry.
Voters have noticed. In the Wall Street Journal poll previously cited, Republicans are favored over Democrats by 26 points on border security. And Biden, as noted earlier, has abysmal approval ratings on the immigration issue, typically in the low 30s.
Democrats would do well to remember that public-opinion polling over the years has consistently shown overwhelming majorities in favor of more spending and emphasis on border security.
Finally, consider critical race theory, or CRT, a particularly flagrant example of the Fox News fallacy. Democrats refuse to admit that there might be a problem here. Originating in academic legal theory, “critical race theory” has been used as shorthand by the Right, who have made it a catch-all term for the intrusion of race essentialism into teacher training, school curricula, and the like. The standard Democratic comeback to criticism about CRT in the schools is to say that any voters, including parents, who worry about CRT are manipulated by right-wing media into opposing proper teaching about the history of slavery, Jim Crow, redlining, and so on.
Voters’ worries about CRT cannot be bludgeoned away so easily. Parents are far more worried that their child is taught — no matter the name of the theory — to see everything through a racial lens than they are concerned that she is learning about historical instances and practices of racism.
This issue has become caught up in general dissatisfaction with how Democrats have handled schooling issues during the pandemic. In Virginia, voters already upset about parental burdens and academic deficits from extended school closures became additionally concerned that an emerging focus on “social justice” pedagogy and policies was detracting from instruction in traditional academic subjects.
“Many swing voters knew, when pushed by more-liberal members of the group, that CRT wasn’t taught in Virginia schools,” according to the Democratic firm ALG Research, in a memo on focus groups with Biden–Youngkin voters in suburban Virginia:
But at the same time, they felt like racial and social justice issues were overtaking math, history, and other things. They absolutely want their kids to hear the good and the bad of American history, [but] at the same time they are worried that racial and cultural issues are taking over the state’s curricula. We should expect this backlash to continue, especially as it plays into another way where parents and communities feel like they are losing control over their schools in addition to the basics of even being able to decide if they’re open or not.
Again, these issues cannot be waved away simply by dismissing complaining parents as racists or dupes of Fox News. This is particularly the case for Asian parents. It would be difficult to overestimate how important education is to Asian voters, who see it as the key to upward mobility — a tool that even the poorest Asian parents can take advantage of. But Democrats are seen to be anti-meritocratic and opposed to standardized tests, test-in elite schools, and programs for the gifted and talented — areas where Asian children have excelled.
Because of its record on these and other cultural issues, the party’s — or, at least, Biden’s — attempt to rebrand Democrats as unifying, speaking for Americans across divisions of race and class, has so far failed. Voters are not sure Democrats can look beyond identity politics to ensure public safety, secure borders, high-quality nonideological education, and economic progress for all Americans.
The Democrats find themselves weighed down by those whose tendency is to emphasize the identity-politics angle of virtually every issue. Decisive action that might lead to a rebranding is immediately undercut by a torrent of criticism (Biden is getting some of this right now) or simply never proposed.
Nevertheless, Biden and the Democrats must persist in their efforts to rebrand. The alternative would be to cede to Republicans a culture-war advantage that would mean not just probable defeat in 2022 but the continued failure of Democratic efforts to forge a clear majority coalition for years to come.
One obvious issue on which to rebrand is crime. Democrats should build on Biden’s recent, tentative steps in this direction.
Consider that Democrats are associated with a wave of progressive public prosecutors who seem quite hesitant about keeping criminals off the street, even as major cities suffer a spike in murder, carjackings, and other violent crimes. This is twinned to a climate, of tolerance and non-prosecution for lesser crimes, that is degrading the quality of life in many cities under Democratic control.
This has got to stop. Weakness on crime not only damages the Democrats’ brand but harms some of their most vulnerable constituents.
“It’s time the reign of criminals who are destroying our city, it is time for it to come to an end,” London Breed, the Democratic mayor of San Francisco, said in December. “And it comes to an end when we take the steps to be more aggressive with law enforcement, more aggressive with the changes in our policies, and less tolerant of all the bullsh** that has destroyed our city.”
Strong words. But Breed — and Adams — are on to something. Normie voters hate crime and want something done about it. They’re not impressed by talk about the availability of guns when it fails to include talk about enforcing the law against criminals who use the guns.
Biden (or some other leading Democrat) could say something like this, as recommended by the excellent Charlie Sykes at The Bulwark: “We must continue the fight for social justice, but it should not come at the price of public safety. In some of our biggest cities we have folks who think that we shouldn’t put criminals in jail or downplay the dangers of violent crime. They are wrong. We have to protect our families and our neighborhoods.”
And then name some names. Maybe it’s not time for a “Sister Souljah moment.” But how about a Chesa Boudin moment? I bet London Breed would have your back.
Economics. Just what is the Democrats’ plan for the economy? Right now, it seems to boil down to their legislative accomplishments, past and future, which will result in a “better” economy. Voters, however, are foggy about what those legislative accomplishments consist of and are not sure the economy has landed in a better place yet.
Neither are they sure where the economy is supposed to be going under the Democrats’ watch. In that sense, voters may be on to something when they see Democrats as preoccupied with social issues. Parties face an opportunity cost when allocating their limited attention and resources; Democrats have not had an obvious and unifying laser-like focus on economic growth and the creation of good jobs.
To the extent that Democrats have an overarching economic story, it is that a dramatic expansion of the social safety net and a rapid move to a clean-energy economy will result in strong growth and an abundance of good jobs, someday. But the story is muddled. It’s not getting through.
A standard Democratic take on that problem is that their economic ideas and accomplishments are great but haven’t been properly communicated. I think the problem runs far deeper. Consider the debacle around the Build Back Better bill.
That was the multitrillion-dollar bill that Democrats were, until recently, trying to maneuver through Congress. Democrats talked about the care economy, a Green New Deal, and other big ideas associated with Build Back Better, but what they added up to was not clear. Would the bill have created a more dynamic American capitalism, one capable of lifting up broad segments of the country that had been left behind? Build Back Better appeared to be a means of funneling money to a wide variety of Democratic priorities. Some of the spending would have supported useful expansions of the notably stingy American welfare system, and some of it would have supported useful public investments not provided for in the infrastructure bill, particularly in clean energy.
None of that, though, would have led to more productivity, higher growth, and an American economy less unequal across regions.
It is a mistake to lose sight of the need for faster growth. Growth, particularly productivity growth, is what drives rising living standards over time, and Democrats presumably stand for the fastest possible rise in living standards. Faster growth also makes the achievement of Democrats’ other goals easier. Hard economic times typically generate pessimism about the future, not broad support for more democracy and social justice. In contrast, when the economy is expanding and living standards are steadily rising for most people, they see better opportunities for themselves and are more inclined toward generosity, tolerance, and collective advancement.
Yet much of the Democratic Left still regards with suspicion the goal of more and faster economic growth, preferring to focus on the unfairness of the current distribution of wealth. This reflects not just a laudable concern to reduce inequality but also a feeling that the fruits of growth are poisoned, encouraging unhealthy consumerist lifestyles and, worse, causing the climate crisis. The latter view has, on the left, led to the vogue for the idea of “degrowth.”
Given such views, it is not surprising that growth does not rank high on the Democratic Left’s list of economic objectives. We saw that in the endless debate around Build Back Better, which was driven by the House’s Progressive Caucus. Almost none of the debate was about how well the bill, at whatever level of funding and with whatever programmatic commitments, would promote growth. That was dismissed as something only conservatives would care about.
Closely related to Democrats’ relative indifference to economic growth is their lack of optimism that a rapid advance and application of technology can produce an abundant future. More common is fear that a dystopian future might await us thanks to AI and other technologies. This is odd, given that almost everything ordinary people like about the modern world, including relatively high living standards, is traceable to technological advances and the knowledge embedded in them. From smartphones, flat-screen TVs, and the Internet to air and auto travel to central heating and air-conditioning to the medical devices and drugs that cure disease and extend life to electric lights and the mundane flush toilet, technology has dramatically transformed people’s lives for the better. It is difficult to argue that the average person today is not far, far better off than her counterpart in the past. “The good old days were old but not good,” as the Northwestern University economic historian Joel Mokyr puts it.
Doesn’t the Left want to make people happy? One has to wonder. They show more interest in figuring out what people should stop doing and consuming than in figuring out how people can have more to do and consume. They rarely discuss the idea of abundance, except to disparage it.
These attitudes help explain why the Democratic Left does not tend to feature technological advance prominently in its policy portfolio. The Biden administration did manage to get the U.S. Competitiveness and Innovation Act through the Senate, and the closely related America COMPETES Act through the House (the two bills have yet to be reconciled into one), but they would provide far less funding and probably have far less impact on scientific innovation than the originally proposed bill, the Endless Frontier Act. Nobody on the left seems to be particularly exercised about this step down — or even to be in much of a hurry to reconcile the two current bills.
If there is to be an abundant clean-energy future, not a degrowth one, it will depend on our ability to develop energy technologies beyond wind and solar. The same could be said about a wide range of other technological challenges that could underpin a future of abundance: AI and machine learning, CRISPR and mRNA biotechnology, advanced robotics and the Internet of things.
That’s why it’s inadequate for Democrats to focus narrowly on a clean-energy, Green New Deal–type future. Make no mistake: What Americans want is an abundant future, not just a green one. For better or worse, combating climate change does not rank high on voters’ priority list (14th in a recent Pew Research poll). Investment in clean-energy technologies needs to be embedded in a broader “abundance agenda” (to use Derek Thompson’s phrase) that drives up the supply of innovation and can deliver not just the avoidance of disaster but a better life for all.
Patriotism. Today’s Democrats have difficulty embracing patriotism and weaving it into their political brand. “There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America,” Bill Clinton said not so long ago. Even more recently, when Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008, he said, “If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our Founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.”
For his part, Joe Biden does try to inject a little of that old-time patriotism into his remarks from time to time. It’s not really taking, though. A big part of his party is singing a different tune, loudly. “The version of ‘history’ that progressives want to teach young people,” the liberal commentator Noah Smith observes, is in general
a cartoonish story in which America is the villain — a nation formed from racism, founded the day the first slave stepped onto our shores, dedicated thereafter to the repression and brutalization of people of color. This “history” ignores America’s deep and powerful tradition of anti-racism, the universalistic egalitarian ideals of the Declaration of Independence, the abolitionist movement that was present from the very beginning, the Founders’ conception of the U.S. as a nation of immigrants, America’s role in the ending of European colonialism, its position at the forefront of liberal democratic reforms and experimentation, the promotion of global standards of human rights following WW2, and so on.
Consistent with that analysis, the think tank More in Common identified a group they termed “progressive activists,” who were 8 percent of the population (but punch far above their weight in the Democratic Party) and “deeply concerned with issues concerning equity, fairness, and America’s direction today.” On the whole, they were “more secular, cosmopolitan, and highly engaged with social media.”
These progressive activists’ attitude toward their own country departed not just from that of average Americans but from that of average non-white Americans. Black, Hispanic, and Asian Americans were highly likely to be proud to be Americans and highly likely to say they would still choose to live in America if they could choose to live anywhere in the world. Progressive activists were loath to express such sentiments.
This is a problem. One of the only effective ways to mobilize Americans behind big projects is to appeal to patriotism, to Americans as part of a nation. Indeed, much of what America accomplished in the 20th century was under the banner of liberal nationalism. Yet many in the Democratic Party blanch at any hint of nationalism — one reason so many are leery of patriotism — because of its association with darker impulses and political trends. Yet, as John Judis has pointed out, nationalism has its positive side as well, in that it allows citizens to identify on a collective level and support projects that serve the common good rather than only their immediate interests.
Given all that Democrats hope to accomplish, it makes no sense not to appeal to Americans’ patriotism and love of country. That too has to be part of Democrats’ rebranding. They must insist that their party is a patriotic party, and they should not shrink from emphasizing the competitive aspect of patriotism. America is indeed in competition with other nations, notably China, and it is not xenophobic to say that America is a great nation that can win that competition.
ADemocratic Party that does not rebrand in these three crucial areas dooms American politics to continued stalemate and polarization — an unpleasant prospect. Conversely, given the serious problems and weaknesses of Republicans, a Democratic Party that occupies the cultural center ground, promotes an abundance agenda, and is unabashedly patriotic has a real shot at a long future of political success.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) on Sunday claimed that “defund the police” is “not the position of the Democratic Party” after Representative Cori Bush (D., Mo.) recently endorsed the slogan.
“Well, with all the respect in the world for Cori Bush, that is not the position of the Democratic Party,” Pelosi said during an appearance on ABC’s This Week. “Community safety, to protect and defend in every way, is our oath of office. And I have sympathy — I — we’re all concerned about mistreatment of people.”
Pelosi touted the House-passed Justice in Policing Act, which would overhaul national policing standards, saying, “Make no mistake, community safety is our responsibility.”
The House speaker’s comments came in response to Bush’s statement last week that “‘defund the police’ is not the problem.”
“We dangled the carrot in front of people’s faces and said we can get it done and that Democrats deliver, when we haven’t totally delivered,” she said, adding that she tells her Democratic colleagues that if they had “fixed this” before she got there she wouldn’t have to “say these things.”
She added that she “absolutely” felt pressure from fellow Democrats to change her position, saying they have told her the phrase is not helpful for them with their own constituents.
Meanwhile, despite Pelosi’s claims, numerous Democrats have supported the “defund the police” movement in the years since George Floyd’s murder in 2020.
Members of the progressive “Squad” have all advocated for defunding or abolishing police.
Representative Ilhan Omar (D., Minn.) said in June 2020: “The ‘defund the police’ movement, is one of reimagining the current police system to build an entity that does not violate us, while relocating funds to invest in community services. Let’s be clear, the people who now oppose this, have always opposed calls for systematic change.”
In April 2021, Representative Rashida Tlaib (D., Mich.) called policing in the U.S. “inherently & intentionally racist,” saying she is “done with those who condone government funded murder.”
“No more policing, incarceration, and militarization. It can’t be reformed,” she said.
The same month, Representative Ayanna Pressley similarly said of policing in America: “We can’t reform this.”
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said in June 2020: “Defunding police means defunding police. It does not mean budget tricks or funny math. It does not mean moving school police officers from the NYPD budget to the Department of Education’s budget so the exact same police remain in schools.”
Meanwhile, Vice President Kamala Harris was also sympathetic to the movement in June 2020 when she was asked by ABC’s George Stephanopoulos if she supports proposals to re-appropriate police funding, including a proposal in Los Angeles at the time to divert $150 million from the police budget into other community priorities.
“I support investing in communities so that they become more healthy and therefore more safe. Right now what we’re seeing in America is many cities spend over one-third of their entire city budget on policing. But meanwhile we’ve been defunding public schools for years in America, we’ve got to reexamine what we’re doing with Americans’ taxpayer dollars, and ask the question are we getting the right return on our investment? Are we actually creating healthy and safe communities?” Harris said at the time.
While President Joe Biden and his administration tout what they say are successes as the end of the president’s first year in office looms, the spin from Psaki and others just doesn’t match the reality being experienced by Americans from coast to coast.
To highlight the breadth of the issues caused by Biden policies, the RNC released a video series on Biden’s “12 Days of Crises” to coincide with Christmas and highlight the pain being felt by Americans.
“Crisis, lies, and failure are the hallmarks of Biden’s presidency,” noted RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel. “In less than a year under Biden’s watch, there has been a catastrophic withdrawal from Afghanistan, historic price increases, and a crisis at the border.” And that is where Biden’s 12 Days of Crises — as outlined by the RNC — begin, all of which have been covered by Townhall this year.
On the first day of crises Joe Biden gave us a border crisis.
Our own Julio Rosas has reported extensively from the U.S.-Mexico border in Del Rio, Texas and Yuma, Arizona — and several locations in between — showing the Biden administration’s lack of action to stem a record-setting number of illegal border crossings, apprehensions, and “gotaways” in addition to increasing human and drug smuggling operations. When Julio confronted Biden’s DHS secretary about the situation, Alejandro Mayorkas still wouldn’t call the status of America’s southern border a “crisis.” Biden continues to claim that the border is closed, but Julio’s reporting proves it’s just one of Biden’s many unmitigated crises.
On the second day of crises Joe Biden gave us a disastrous Afghanistan withdrawal.
As our loyal readers know, Townhall led the charge warning that what Biden said was going on in Afghanistan was little more than wishful thinking. While the White House claimed there was no diplomatic evacuation taking place in Kabul, Townhall reported that embassy staff were shredding documents and destroying computers. When Biden claimed that the Afghan government’s potential fall to the Taliban was anything but certain, Townhall told the truth Biden surely knew but wouldn’t say. We also warned that Biden’s withdrawal was setting up the largest hostage crisis in U.S. history, and when Biden and his administration lied about how many Americans were left behind, we kept telling the stories of those Biden stranded. Following the Kabul drone strike Biden’s defense officials called a “righteous strike,” Townhall warned that it may have been a botched attack. And it was.
On the third day of crises, Joe Biden gave skyrocketing gas prices to every American.
The pain felt by Americans at the pump is something Biden has also ignored, and his supposed fix of tapping into America’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve intended to be used in emergencies like natural disasters or disruptions caused by foreign wars did almost nothing to help the American people. Making things worse, Biden has spent his first year in office turning the United States from an energy independent country to one dependent on foreign supplies. One of his first acts after being sworn in was to kill the Keystone Pipeline, just part of his work to make fossil fuels so expensive that suddenly less-reliable “green” energy seems appealing.
On the fourth day of crises, Joe Biden gave us an unconstitutional vaccine mandate.
After saying that he wouldn’t issue a federal vaccine mandate, Biden — somewhat predictably — went back on his word and levied a requirement on federal employees, federal contractors, and tens of millions of Americans who work for private companies. His mandate was announced as an attempt to distract from his disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, and it was so haphazardly put together that it quickly encountered legal challenges from states’ attorneys general and companies who wanted to fight for their employees’ healthcare freedom. And, after many companies implemented Biden’s mandate, a growing number have also reversed the mandate, including Biden’s beloved Amtrak.
On the fifth day of crises, Joe Biden gave Americans a reckless tax and spending spree.
No matter how many times Biden, Psaki, Schumer, and Pelosi claimed that the cost of Biden’s Build Back Better budget was “zero dollars,” it’s just not true. As Townhall covered, the Congressional Budget Office — which Biden used to praise until it no longer served his purpose — confirmed what we’d reported for months: Build Back Better is really a plan to make America’s economy even worse.
On the sixth day of crises, Joe Biden put parents and students last.
One needs to look no further than Biden’s relationship with teacher unions to see he doesn’t value students or their families. School closures and remote learning? No problem for President Biden. Mask mandates for young children? It’s necessary. Terry McAuliffe thinks parents shouldn’t have a role in their kids’ education? Full endorsement from Biden. And don’t forget Biden’s Department of Justice took the National School Boards Association’s lead and directed the FBI to go after parents who are speaking up and demanding accountability from their school boards.
On the seventh day of crises, Joe Biden gave himself another vacation in Delaware.
It wasn’t a secret when he took office that Joe Biden loves Delaware. Almost more than he loves ice cream cones and Amtrak. What Americans may not have counted on was just how much time he would spend there, even amid some of his other crises. Perhaps most notably, his botched withdrawal from Afghanistan, during which Biden would return to the White House from the beach in Delaware to give a speech and then immediately get back on Marine One to go back to Delaware.
On the eighth day of crises, Joe Biden gave all Americans rising prices.
It seems as though every month brings a new record-high for inflation numbers under President Biden. At first, he said it was transitory, then members of his own administration killed that theory, but Biden still isn’t taking any action to alleviate the pressure. Prices on basically everything, from gas to grocery and utility bills, continue to rise. And while Biden keeps trying to tout wage growth as proof that his economic policy is helping Americans, he conveniently neglects to mention that inflation has wiped out any gains in wages. In fact in months such as October, the impact of Biden’s agenda meant that Americans actually saw real wages decrease by 0.5 percent.
On the ninth day of crises, Joe Biden created a nationwide supply chain crisis.
Here’s to hoping all your Christmas and holiday shopping happened without incident, but if you’re waiting for some goods on a ship from Asia, your gift might still be floating in the boat parking lot off the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, or sitting in a container awaiting transport. Shortages caused rations on certain Thanksgiving meal items at grocery chains and, according to Biden’s statement earlier in the holiday season, Santa was the only one who could guarantee the tree is surrounded by gifts on Christmas morning.
On the tenth day of crises, Joe Biden put China first.
China, one of Biden’s first forays into foreign policy as president, went poorly from the start. Despite signing the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act into law on Thursday, the Biden administration was hesitant to support the legislation and reports suggested that the White House was urging a delay on the bill. And don’t forget how often Biden and his administration have dismissed concerns about China’s rule in the outbreak of the Wuhan coronavirus.
On the eleventh day of crises, Joe Biden did nothing to address crime surges across the country.
In case there wasn’t already enough data to prove that America is getting less safe under President Biden, this week’s armed carjackings of an Illinois state Senator and member of the U.S. House Representatives should send a message to Biden and other Democrats that their defund-the-police agenda is endangering lives across the country. Homicides, carjackings, brazen smash-and-grab robberies, and other crime continue to hit records not seen in decades, but yet again Biden won’t take action
On the twelfth day of crises, Joe Biden’s approval rating plummeted lower and lower after each crisis.
So yes, there’s a lot of bad caused by the Biden administration, but within that is a silver line emerging for Republicans ahead of the midterms: Biden’s tanking favorability means the GOP’s fortunes are rising when voters across the country have — many for the first time since 2020 — a chance to register their opinion of Joe Biden at the ballot box. Things have gotten so bad that the White House is now frantically announcing new Biden pets in an attempt to change the narrative.
Looking to the year ahead, RNC Chairwoman McDaniel pledged to “continue to hold Biden and Democrats accountable for their failed policies and refusal to take responsibility” and predicted that “voters will soundly reject Biden and his failures, and we look forward to taking back the House and Senate in 2022.”
The thin blue line keeping criminals and citizens apart is being stretched to the breaking point as more and more city governments are acceding to progressive demands that local police be “defunded” in the wake of the killing of George Floyd while in the custody of the Minneapolis police.
The movement spawned by the Floyd killing led to demonstrations and riots that paralyzed cities including Louisville, Ky., Seattle, Wash., and Portland, Ore., in the summer of 2020.
In some departments, groups of police officers have quit at the same time, fearing city officials would not back them up in times of crisis. A study featured in The Epoch Times conducted by the Washington-based Police Executive Research Forum found that from April 2020 to April 2021, police “retirements were up 45 percent and resignations rose by 18 percent” over the previous twelve months.
Across the nation, meanwhile, the number of attacks committed on law enforcement officials has increased, taking just six months in 2021 to surpass the total for the previous year.
The national Fraternal Order of Police said Thursday the number of attacks on police officials had already risen 91 percent from 2020, with 150 officers shot and 28 killed already in 2021. Alarmingly, that includes what the FOP said were 50 “ambush-style” attacks, which suggests progressive, anti-police rhetoric has made law enforcement officials targets for political action.
The 2020 Year-End Summary of Law Enforcement Officers Shot in the Line of Duty describes ambush-style attacks as those “carried out with an element of surprise and intended to deprive officers of the ability to defend against the attack.”
The demands that local police departments be “defunded” is clearly, a new Rasmussen Reports poll shows, outside the mainstream of American thinking. “Fewer than one in five voters think America should spend less on police,” the polling firm said, “and a majority want to spend more.”
According to its latest survey, 52 percent of likely U.S. Voters believed America must spend more on police while just 18 percent said less should be spent, which suggests the reality may be starting to hit home. The perception exists that the crime rate is rising and that the Democrats – President Joe Biden in particular – are responsible.
The recently released Washington Post-ABC News poll found only 38 percent of all Americans approved of the Biden Administration’s handling of crime. Nearly half, 48 percent, disapproved. Politically, the Democrats’ failure to correct that impression could have profound repercussions in the November 2022 congressional elections, a sentiment echoed in a recent opinion piece written by former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis.
In 1988, Dukakis, the Democratic presidential nominee, blew a lead of as much as 17 points, losing the election to then-GOP Vice President George H.W. Bush, largely because Bush managed to convince voters his Democratic opponent was not only soft on crime but insensitive to its victims.
The tide may be turning, but slowly. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported Friday that a Hennepin County, Minnesota judge “has ordered Minneapolis leaders to keep the number of police officers at a level required in the city charter,” in what can only be described as a defeat for progressive activists who successfully pressured the city council and the mayor to cut the department’s funding. In doing so, Judge Jamie Anderson said, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and the City Council “failed to perform an official duty clearly imposed by law.”
While no police officer is above reproach and no police department is perfectly run, the data indicates the police are not the problem. The problem remains the various criminal elements who disrupt every facet of American life, particularly in the inner cities, with their violent, often lethal behavior. Unfortunately, no one has yet hit on a way to successfully defund them.
I did something that neither the President or Vice President of the United States are willing to do. I went to the border in Texas to learn and see with my own eyes what is going on. And to be blunt, it is far worse than I imagined — for everyone. The only people profiting from what is currently happening at the border are the human traffickers and drug cartels. Everyone else — on both sides — is a loser if this situation persists.
Here’s what I saw with my own eyes and heard with my own ears when I went to Del Rio, Texas — a town of about 35,000 people about 150 miles west of San Antonio along the Rio Grande. Local law enforcement are overwhelmed and over run. The local sheriff’s department was never intended to be a border security force. Their job is to enforce the law within the county, not monitor the border. They are stretched thin and only have four deputies to spare along almost 120 miles of border. That means one deputy to cover about 30 miles.
But even the US Border Patrol is overwhelmed. They have been put in an impossible position. Border walls are no longer being built. Technology to help border agents has been turned off. So they are left to patrol the border as best they can and even they believe they are only catching between 1/2 and 1/3 of those racing across the border.
Imagine living in a town of 35,000 people and having four times that many people flooding across the border in the space of only a few months. And that is only a low-ball estimate. Even the Border Patrol agents said that probably double to triple that many are actually crossing the border. But that they cannot count them all because so many evade detection.
I attended a townhall meeting where locals came to express their concerns. The auditorium was packed and many people were standing along side and back walls. For more than two hours a parade of local citizens — a slight majority of whom appeared to be people of color — came forward to the microphone an in a couple minutes told their experience. Here’s what I learned:
Dozens and dozens of locals described how illegals had damaged their property, broken-in to their homes, sheds, and cars. I listened for more than two hours as they described how their families and children are now living in constant danger and fear.
Some of those who spoke were descendants of the original Mexicans who wanted to be free of the despotism of Gen. Santa Anna. Their ancestors defended and died at the Alamo. Others joined Sam Houston’s army that ultimately defeated the Mexican army and won Texas’ independence. Some of the speakers came to America legally in the last decade or so and spoke English with an accent. Not that any of that matters, but the point, is, it was a diverse audience with a diverse background, but they were all united in one thing — the current situation is unbearable and must be fixed.
They described how difficult it is to make ends meet even in better times — but that when there is a constant stream of trespassers damaging your property, destroying your fences, allowing your livestock to escape, stealing your vehicles, and putting you and your children in fear for their lives and safety, it just isn’t worth it.
They described vehicles — stolen by human smugglers — driven recklessly and dangerously and colliding with locals — causing serious injuries. Several speakers referenced a young girl and her father who miraculously survived but suffered life changing injuries due to a head on collision with a human smuggler driving a stolen car.
They described having to hide inside their homes as a group of more than a hundred illegals streamed across their property in the dark of night.
A woman painfully described how her sister — who works as a house keeper at a local hotel which has been used by federal authorities as a place to house illegals before they are sent to other parts of the United States. This woman tearfully told us that her sister was brutally raped on the job.
They all had their own story, but they all expressed a sense of betrayal. And they also had a sense of anger and frustration that when they express their concerns, all too often, they are labeled as haters or intolerant and that they are ignored as if they don’t matter.
A woman of hispanic descent holding babies and speaking in an accent described how she and her family had come to America legally years ago to have a better life and become an American. She spoke with pride of their home in America and the life that they had built here. But then she asked why she and her family don’t matter, why their rights to freedom and the pursuit of happiness are now irrelevant.
Even Democrats told us that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris and their policies are the primary cause of their problems. In Washington, we are used to partisans covering for their fellow partisans now matter how absurd the defense. But reality has forced this sort of blind partisanship to the side.
But it isn’t just the locals in Texas who are suffering. Many of those coming across the border are doing so because they’ve been invited to. But they, too, have become victims of the human smugglers and drug cartels who make them indentured servants and who threaten with physical harm and death their remaining family who serve as collateral for the cost of being smuggled across the border. These remaining family members live the rest of their lives under constant fear that the cartels and human smugglers will pay them a visit because of a late payment. Simply stated, our current policies are allowing human smugglers and drug cartels to flourish and profit and with those profits, they will not be building hospitals and schools. Instead, they’ll be building armies to expand their human smuggling operations and militarizing the border.
The Biden-Harris administration says it is working on root-causes. But stamping out poverty in central America and around the globe, is not something that will happen this year or even this decade. America has spent literally trillions of dollars in the past generation to stamp out poverty and made little impact. So if they do as well in the rest of the world as they have in the US, 50 years from now, we will still be discussing the root causes of the problem and debating how many more trillions must be spent to fix it.
But for people on both sides of the border that will be very sad news — a constant flow of crime and fear for generations to come and a perpetual stream of cruel and inhuman treatment from human smugglers and drug cartels. This is what I saw. This is what I heard. It was heart breaking. These are the cruel results of the ill-conceived and poorly thought out policies of the Biden-Harris Administration. False narratives won’t fix the problem. People on both sides of the border need solutions. And a secure border is where it all starts.
Nearly two-thirds of voters say America’s problem with violent crime is on the rise while half the country says President Joe Biden is ill-equipped to deal with it.
A new Rasmussen Reports national found 65 percent of voters likely to cast ballots in the next election felt violent crime is getting worse while fully half – 50 percent – said the problem was beyond Biden’s ability to deal with effectively.
Homicide and other violent crimes have soared since the Black Lives Matter protests began in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death last May while in the custody of the Minneapolis police. Awareness of the problem is slowly permeating the national consciousness to the point famed political consultant James Carville recently penned an essay for the Wall Street Journal telling his fellow Democrats to get ahead of the curve by blaming the rise in the crime rate on former President Donald Trump.
The Rasmussen Reports survey found 72 percent of Republicans, 59 percent of Democrats and, 65 percent of voters unaffiliated voters agreeing violent crime in America is getting worse. It also found the issue transcending racial barriers as 67 percent of whites, 68 percent of black voters, and 57 percent of other minorities found themselves agreeing things are getting worse. Women, by six points, 68 percent to 62 percent, led men in expressing their fear things had worsened, a gap some experts suggest may have something to do with the differences in gender regarding the feeling of personal safety.
According to the Rasmussen Reports analysis, “Biden’s strongest supporters are least likely to think the crime problem is getting worse” yet, among those who give him the highest marks for job performance, 51 percent agreed the problem of violent crime was getting worse while just 18 percent said, “It’s getting better.”
Additionally, the polling firm said, “among voters who strongly disapprove of Biden’s performance, 89 percent say the violent crime problem is getting worse and only 3 percent think America’s crime problem is getting better.”
The reduction in violent crime to near historic lows – which not by coincidence began during a time when Republican mayors were in charge in NYC and Los Angeles – is attributed to “tough on crime, tough on criminals” efforts eventually repudiated by successors including current New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.
These numbers suggest the GOP may have an opening it did not expect in the run-up to the 2022 elections. The 1994 crime bill, which President Joe Biden pushed through the U.S. Senate as its principal sponsor and floor manager, is widely regarded as having helped set the stage for the Republicans to retake control of the U.S. Congress for the first time in 40 years. With that in mind, Carville’s suggestions in his opinion piece – which is long on rhetoric and short on facts – comes across as an effort to help the Democrats find a way to inoculate themselves against the charge they are “soft on crime” before voters go to the polls.
This theory will be tested out in real life in Virginia in November when voters throughout the state will have the opportunity to elect a new governor, attorney general, delegates to the General Assembly, and other officials. In some communities, prosecutors and other local elected swept into office in a blue wave four years ago with the support of groups affiliated with George Soros who have pursued criminal-friendly policies like no cash bail will have to explain to an increasingly wary electorate why they should be re-elected.
The survey of 900 likely U.S. voters was conducted May 25-26, 2021, and has a sampling error is +/- 3 percentage points with a 95 percent level of confidence.
With the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin over the tragic death of George Floyd, recent police shootings, and continuing riots all dominating news coverage, it is time to have a serious conversation that honestly examines the situation. To be honest, whatever we are doing right now doesn’t seem to be working — unless the goal is to tear the nation apart.
No reasonable person can watch the video of George Floyd’s arrest and say it was good policing. Likewise, no reasonable person can seriously argue that an officer’s wrongdoing convicts an entire nation of 330 million people. Whatever Chauvin’s motivations may have been, they do not make you or I racists or even complicit. We are each responsible for our own actions — not for the actions of others. But we are responsible as citizens to create a society based in freedom, opportunity and accountability.
The truth is virtually all of America was horrified by the video of George Floyd’s arrest and tragic death. While his condition may have been compromised by an overdose of fentanyl, virtually no one who saw that video thought it was good policing, or that Floyd deserved to die. This fact is proof that America is not broadly or fundamentally racist.
The mad rush to label America a racist nation and to conclude racism is so ingrained in Americans that we are racist even without knowing it is not factual, accurate, fair or reasonable. And perhaps even more troubling, it misdiagnoses the problem and thus won’t correct things. In fact, the so-called cure will only further divide and Balkanize our nation.
The evidence is strong that Americans want justice and opportunity not only for themselves, but for others. In a nation of 330 million people, there are certainly some who are racists. But they are a very small minority. Most Americans properly see racism as loathsome. That is why people of color from all over the world try to make their way to America — they see it as a land of opportunity.
So let’s look for real solutions and leave the slogans out of it. For example, defunding the police will fix nothing. In fact, where police departments have been defunded, crime rates and murders have soared and city councils are scrambling to undo the harm they predictably helped cause by their foolishness.
What might actually help? We now know that Chauvin had 22 complaints filed against him for inappropriate policing tactics. Yet the union backed him and only once was he disciplined — when it now seems clear he shouldn’t have been a police officer. Had he been fired years ago, George Floyd would likely be alive and Chauvin would likely be making a living in some other field for which he was better suited. Perhaps we should look at how public employee unions blindly protect their membership from accountability. We can also look at police training.
Likewise, we must honestly admit that many police officers every year are killed in action — some execution style. And in many of the police shooting cases, the victim fights and/or pulls a weapon. As a society, we should teach and encourage respect for the police and the law.
Some commentators now frequently claim that people of color are more afraid of police than of a criminal trying to gain access to their home. That makes no sense at all. The data is very clear that the overwhelming majority of gun shot victims in the minority community are at the hands of violent felons, not police officers. If there are people of color who are more afraid of police than criminals, it is because media coverage has repeatedly misrepresented the facts and exaggerated the risks. This in turn is likely to increase the very circumstances that could lead to more tragedies.
Injustice occurs when people do things that unfairly harm others. Some of those things may be relatively small — like being cut off in traffic. And some may be quite significant and even tragic, like George Floyd’s treatment. But in a nation of 330 million people, we will experience or see small injustices every day. And we will likely hear of larger more significant injustices every week or month. That’s just a statistical probability in a large, populous nation.
But we seem to have entered a very unhealthy and irrational sphere of thinking where every time an officer shoots a minority that is proof of a broadly racist society. In fact, it is not only the most frequently repeated explanation in the media, we have gotten to the point where reluctance to accept this explanation is itself viewed as racist. We should examine the facts of each case, not merely assume or presume that race was the deciding issue.
If we assume that every slight and every injustice is racially based, we will become more racially divided. If I assume that when I get cut off on the highway by a person of a different race, that it was racially motivated, I’d be wrong almost all the time. They might have been distracted, or not seen me, or misjudged the space available and speed of traffic. But it’s very unlikely that they saw me and thought, “I’m gonna cut that guy off because I hate him for racial reasons!”
As a nation, let’s strive as Martin Luther King encouraged, to judge each other “by the content of their character” rather than the “color of their skin.” Let’s hold police accountable when they act outside the law. But otherwise, let’s respect and honor the law and the police. And let’s not rush to label every error or misdeed a racially motivated attack. Let’s seek to unify and recognize that despite our differences, virtually every America seeks a just and fair society where freedom and opportunity abound and where individuals who break the law are held accountable in accordance with the law.
As a political issue, crime is back.
Between the uproar over police shootings in Minneapolis and other cities, the demands by activists to “defund the police,” and a spreading “blue flu” pandemic that seeing veteran police officers walk off the job – in some cases not to return – crime in America is on the rise. Even if the national political media hasn’t yet caught on.
But they will. It’s inevitable because few issues hit home as closely as personal safety does. What drives many BLM adherents into the streets to protest police shootings is not just the sense, amplified by the media coverage, that they aren’t safe in their neighborhoods but that the biggest threat comes from the very people who are supposed to protect them.
It turns out, a new poll says, that your sentiments on the issue are influenced considerably by which television news network you watch. “Fewer than 50 unarmed black suspects were killed by police last year and more people were killed with knives than with so-called ‘assault weapons,’,” the polling firm Rasmussen Reports said Friday, “but viewers of MSNBC and CNN are far more likely than Fox News viewers to get those facts wrong.”
The firm found 50 percent of likely U.S. voters who identified CNN or MSNBC as “their favorite cable news outlet” believed the number of unarmed African Americans who were fatally shot by police in 2020 exceeded 100. “By contrast, only 22 percent of Fox News viewers believe police shot more than 100 unarmed black people last year.”
The poll, found just about one in four of CNN viewers and one-in-five MSNBC viewers thought cops “fatally shot more than 500 unarmed black suspects last year” while only one in ten Fox viewers thought the same thing.
“Fox News viewers (60 percent) were about three times more likely than viewers of MSNBC (19 percent) or CNN (23 percent) to correctly estimate the number of unarmed black people shot and killed by police in 2020 as less than 50. Sixty percent (60 percent) of talk radio listeners also estimated the number correctly,” the firm said the data collected showed.
Each year about 1,500 U.S. homicides annually are committed with knives and fewer than 500 are committed with rifles. However, 30 percent of likely voters thought the number of annual homicides involving rifles was more than 500, including 18 percent who said they believed it was more than 1,000 homicides, Rasmussen Reports said.
“Thirty percent of MSNBC viewers correctly estimated the number of homicides committed with rifles as between 100 and 500, as did 22 percent of CNN viewers and 19 percent of Fox News viewers. However, while 63 percent of Fox viewers underestimated the number of killings with rifles as less than 100, viewers of CNN and MSNBC were more likely to overestimate the number of homicides committed with rifles. Forty-three percent of CNN viewers and 40 percent of MSNBC viewers believe rifles are used in more than 500 homicides annually, compared to just 19 percent of Fox News viewers. Only 26 percent of talk radio listeners overestimated the number of homicides committed with rifles.”
The survey of 2,000 U.S. likely voters was conducted on April 29-May 3, 2021 by the Heartland Institute and Rasmussen Reports. The margin of sampling error is +/- 2 percentage points with a 95 percent level of confidence. To see survey question wording, click here.)
The US should use performance-based contracting tied to reducing recidivism.
President Biden’s executive order calling for the eventual elimination of the use of private prisons by the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) serves as a hasty and misguided attempt to satisfy a political impulse without actually improving federal correctional services.
In fact, the new executive order could make conditions in prisons worse for inmates and staff. The Biden executive order repeats many of the same flawed arguments former President Barack Obama’s then-Assistant Attorney General Sally Yates made in an August 2016 memothat coincided with the release of an Office of the Inspector General (OIG) report. At that time Yates said:
“Private prisons … simply do not provide the same level of correctional services, programs, and resources; they do not save substantially on costs; and as noted in a recent report by the Department‘s Office of the lnspector General, they do not maintain the same level of safety and security. The rehabilitative services that the Bureau provides, such as educational programs and job training, have proved difficult to replicate and outsource—and these services are essential to reducing recidivism and improving public safety.”
The biggest sticking point of the Yates memo was the allegation that private prisons in the Bureau of Prisons perform poorly when compared to their BOP-operated counterparts. This allegation does not have a basis in the OIG report itself, but it is nonetheless parroted by the new Biden administration’s EO, which says:
“(A)s the Department of Justice’s Office of Inspector General found in 2016, privately operated criminal detention facilities do not maintain the same levels of safety and security for people in the Federal criminal justice system or for correctional staff.”
As I noted in a report released in 2017, despite Yates’, and now Biden’s strong claims, there’s no evidence, that privately-run BOP prisons are less safe or provide inferior service compared to the BOP’s “in-house” prisons. In fact, the BOP warned against making such comparisons in a response to an earlier draft of the August 2016 OIG report:
“(W)e continue to caution against drawing comparisons of contract prisons to BOP operated facilities as the different nature of the inmate populations and programs offered in each facility limit such comparisons.”
Despite this clear warning from the BOP itself saying not to use the August 2016 OIG report to compare public and private prisons against each other due to the numerous factors that make such comparisons untenable, many continue to do so.
When sample groups share similar characteristics, comparisons tend to be more valid. But the Bureau of Prisons overwhelmingly puts foreign prisoners (mostly from Mexico and a few Central American countries) in privately-run BOP prisons, while the BOP-operated prisons are overwhelmingly filled with Americans. While the distinction may seem subtle, communicating with a mostly non-English speaking population presents additional costs and challenges for the operation of those prisons. Communication with a mostly Spanish-speaking population requires additional staff resources that add costs to operating the facilities. In addition to the communication barriers, there can be other problems related to the prisons having a lack of background information on the inmates themselves. Having a clearer criminal background of inmate populations helps corrections officers plan housing arrangements to minimize potential conflicts. When a prison knows of potential affiliations with hate groups, gang affiliations, and the like, it is available to better inform such decisions.
This segregated approach also can affect the safety of inmates and staff. The placement of inmates in cells is usually coordinated to avoid potential violent confrontations, so confining one large subset of inmates to one type of prison makes that sort of planning more difficult. The authors of the OIG report make those points pretty clearly:
“We acknowledge that inmates from different countries or who are incarcerated in various geographical regions may have different cultures, behaviors, and communication methods. The BOP stated that incidents in any prison are usually a result of a conflict of cultures, misinterpreting behaviors, or failing to communicate well. One difference within a prison housing a high percentage of non-U.S. citizens is the potential number of different languages and, within languages, different dialects. Without the BOP conducting an in-depth study into the influence of such demographic factors on prison incidents, it would not be possible to determine their impact.”
One way to better ensure safety, equality, and facilitate comparisons between the BOP’s public and private prisons would be to integrate the native Spanish-speaking population into all BOP facilities, so all BOP prisons would have a similar mix of native English and Spanish speakers. The added diversity would force BOP-run prisons to account for serving an entirely new set of inmates in terms of background, while the added ability to separate and strategically place inmates could help to minimize potentially violent incidents in all facilities. Providing services for inmates to a meaningful level of satisfaction is difficult for any prison operator, and it is made even more difficult when language barriers are introduced. Equalizing populations would also force the Bureau of Prisons to undertake those challenges itself, which it will eventually have to do anyway if private prisons are eliminated in the BOP.
Another problem that prevents valid comparisons between public and private prisons in the BOP is the lack of assurance that the two prison types have equal levels of security and monitoring procedures. While both public and private BOP prisons have dedicated resources to monitoring the operations and safety of their facilities, the Bureau of Prisons serving as both operator and monitor in its own facilities raises concerns about the comparability of the operational and monitoring regimes of public and private prisons in the BOP.
The August 2016 report does note that a greater number of security incidents per capita in privately-run BOP prisons, but in addition to communication barriers and other factors that make ensuring safety and security more difficult in contract prisons, there is reason to believe that publicly-run BOP prisons also have problems implementing staff policies and changes related to safety. Far from conclusive and limited to contraband interdiction, the BOP OIG’s own findings at least suggest a culture of distrust exists between staff and management in BOP-operated prisons, hindering opportunities to accurately assess and identify problems, much less improve and innovate practices and procedures in response to those problems.
Another OIG report produced in June 2016, which focused mostly on conducting staff contraband searches in BOP-operated prisons, noted that searching BOP staff at recommended levels has long been a struggle. The June 2016 report notes the BOP was asked to implement recommended staff search procedure changes in 2006, calling on all facilities to randomly search at least five percent of their staff on a monthly basis, only for the BOP prison guard union to stall and avoid implementation. After nearly a decade, it has implemented the policy inadequately and unevenly. The contraband interdiction report notes only one percent of employee shifts had received any pat-down searches between January and June of 2014, and the searches themselves did not follow established protocol for conducting proper searches (which should take two minutes per person, despite at least one search event lasting only a single minute).
While the BOP says that they were not finding contraband in the prisons they operate in-house, the OIG makes it clear that they doubt the validity of their self-reported claims:
“(I)n light of the BOP’s infrequent application of random pat search events and other related issues described in this report, the absence of contraband recoveries may not constitute an accurate performance measure.”
Since the contraband interdiction report’s time span coincides with the August 2016 report’s period of reporting incidents, the OIG seems to be saying that at least some of the contraband numbers reported from BOP-run prisons in their subsequent August report may be inaccurate. And the BOP’s in-house contraband interdiction efforts do not seem to be improving much. According to an OIG report from last year intended to map out the agency’s largest performance challenges, contraband is still a “pervasive problem” in BOP prisons. The report says that “5 of the 11 recommendations (from the 2016 contraband interdiction report) remain open, including those related to revising its contraband staff search policy and upgrading its security camera system.”
In contrast, the August 2016 OIG report’s authors do note that the relationship between BOP and private prison company staff (for the oversight and monitoring of contracts) is one that effectively works to improve conditions as problems are confronted:
“We determined that for each of the safety and security-related deficiencies that BOP onsite monitors identified during our study period, the contractor responded to the BOP and took corrective actions to ensure the prison was in compliance with policies and the contract.”
While one cannot conclude that guard searches are not an issue in privately-run BOP prisons, the OIG’s findings show that guard searches remain a big problem in the BOP’s publicly run prisons, despite over a decade of warnings and recommendations from the OIG to improve things. The August 2016 OIG report, in contrast, provides examples of how private BOP prisons changed procedures in immediate response to problems, including improving the interdiction of contraband as well as health care procedures, recordkeeping, and staffing procedures. None of these changes took contracted facilities a decade to implement fully.
The Biden executive order also creates problems on the training, educational and rehabilitation side of corrections. “We must ensure that our nation’s incarceration and correctional systems are prioritizing rehabilitation and redemption,” the order says.
The BOP itself is currently entered into over 150 contracts with private entities (businesses and nonprofits) for reentry services alone, with centers scattered all over the United States, mostly in or near medium-to-large cities (100,000+). Some of those firms are the same ones that operate reentry facilities, and a new anti-contracting would certainly undermine BOP’s goals on reentry.
Map of Reentry Centers Contracted By the Bureau of Prisons:
GEO and CoreCivic, two companies that manage federal prisons, alone combine for 17 contract facilities that accommodate around 13 percent of the BOP’s total capacity of roughly 9,800 inmates. The 2016 Yates memo chides private prison companies for preventing the reduction of inmate recidivism, even as the BOP continues to rely on these same companies for reentry services.
Prioritizing rehabilitation and redemption in the BOP would undoubtedly include finding the best reentry services and facilities for those transitioning back into society. Banning private prison companies from the equation only ensures that the BOP would be forced to eliminate some of the very arrangements it sees as providing the best answers to the difficult questions of preparing inmates for the final steps of returning to life as citizens.
Few question that prison systems in the United States need significant reforms and changes. Many are finally starting to come to the conclusion that the so-called tough-on-crime mentality has done more harm than good, including in terms of making conditions worse for inmates while in prison and subsequently after their release. Some of these failures have reached the point where federal consent decrees in multiple states have been filed in recent decades that cite prison conditions that violate our Constitution’s protections against cruel and unusual punishment.
But solutions to improving life inside and after prison have largely remained elusive to governments. Radical and innovative thinking will be needed to improve prison conditions to be more in line with best practices that have been demonstrated in Australia and New Zealandthrough effective use of performance-based contracting where private prison funding levels are tied to reducing recidivism.
A move toward a more rehabilitative and constructive incarceration experience requires policy changes that move away from the real driving factors of mass incarceration. After decades of courts, politicians, and prosecutors making incarceration harsher and lengthier, a growing consensus is moving toward a more rehabilitative approach that recognizes most inmates will eventually be released and reenter society.
New approaches focus on building inmates’ work and personal skills to help them avoid a return to prison. Innovative and competition-driven corrections services can help make that happen, and such a transformation requires departments of corrections that seek to find solutions wherever they emerge.
Getting prison operators and service providers the right incentives to work toward effective solutions should be the focus of the Bureau of Prisons and state departments of correction, regardless of whether the individuals’ responsible work for the government or private sector.
In the corrections space, reform should hinge on improving health and safety conditions as well as the availability of opportunities for inmates while in prison and after release. That is not what government-run prisons have delivered, and expecting that to change without competition from the private sector ignores how the present situation in corrections has played out for decades.
Given the BOP’s reliance on the private sector, a working relationship with private operators who provide effective rehabilitative and reentry services seems crucial. So let’s continue to develop ways to hold all prisons accountable to similar standards, no matter who runs them, and try to find what works best to ensure inmates and staff are kept in safe, secure environments that provide opportunities for those inmates to improve their lives behind bars and after their release. Looking to end private prisons in no way simplifies the difficult problems facing corrections, and the Biden administration’s proposed ban would, unfortunately, work to make solutions more elusive.