Author: Carol

The President’s Failure to Take Action on Crime

The President’s Failure to Take Action on Crime

Bass and Caruso differ on crime issues and policing — but not as much as many think

By the mid-1990s, with the Republican’s hold on power in Washington seemingly unshakable, law-and-order talk had begun to creep into national political discourse. Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich traded barbs over the president’s perceived lack of toughness toward crime: “America is the only major country in the world that does not incarcerate its citizens,” Gingrich told his audience in New Hampshire. “This president is not tough enough.”

For Clinton, this was a problem. As governor of Arkansas, he had signed an anti-crime bill that would have reduced felons’ sentences in half and put them on par with persons convicted only of misdemeanors.

“You think the public likes tough guys,” Clinton said in 1996, during a speech in which he endorsed a prison vote in Arkansas. “You think if somebody has been convicted of a serious felony, we like to go after them? You think they like it?”

Clinton took it personally. “What I’m trying to say is that when I am the subject of such criticism,” he said, “I cannot sit there and be silent.”

The president did nothing to challenge the prevailing perceptions of law-and-order Republicans. Two years later, Clinton was still under attack from conservatives, who accused him of failing to take action on crime when he had the chance. But even as crime soared under Clinton — and the crack cocaine epidemic gained a central place within his presidency — the president remained a vocal opponent of mandatory minimums and the idea that the federal government was the sole protector of liberty.

In 1998, as Republicans controlled the White House and Congress and were threatening to dismantle the country’s long-standing anti-crime statutes, Clinton was asked to make a speech about crime and punishment on a panel at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York.

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