Biden Embraces the Fearmongering, Vows To Squash D.C.’s Mild Criminal Justice Reforms
Few things are bipartisan these days. If there’s a consensus on any issue, it usually comes with a general proclivity toward moral panic—which is to say the consensus has more to do with politics than policy.
For a recent example, we can look to an announcement made by President Joe Biden on Twitter yesterday about legislation in Washington, D.C., which would have enshrined some changes to the District’s criminal code. “I support D.C. Statehood and home-rule – but I don’t support some of the changes D.C. Council put forward over the Mayor’s objections – such as lowering penalties for carjackings,” he said. “If the Senate votes to overturn what D.C. Council did – I’ll sign it.”
That’s a strange message for a few reasons, the first being that it doesn’t make logical sense. It roughly translates to: “I support D.C. statehood and home rule, but because they did something I disfavor, I will act like a king, countermanding D.C.’s home rule.” The concept of a principle is rendered meaningless if only applied in times of convenience and expediency.
The other issue, perhaps more glaring, is that in rebuking the legislation, Biden showed that he fundamentally does not know what it says. It appears he may be moving to nullify the bill not because of what’s in the legislation itself—a yearslong effort to make D.C.’s criminal code clearer, something many states across the country have done—but because of what was in newspaper editorials and Twitter chatter about the bill. Much of that was plainly false. He is responding to a panic propelled in part by Mayor Muriel Bowser, a Democrat, who vetoed the legislation after it was passed in November of last year. The City Council overrode that veto in January, which then attracted the attention of Congress. Crime is a real issue, with real effects, and it should be taken seriously. Biden’s announcement demonstrates that he has not grappled seriously with this issue.
That his administration is more acquainted with the punditry around the bill as opposed to the actual bill is evident in the example he used: carjacking penalties. The D.C. revision would “make it easier for carjackers to escape any kind of punishment,” writes John Feehery in The Hill, a publication with millions of readers. Feehery’s line is a good encapsulation of the alarming rhetoric that has come to characterize the discussion, which has seen special outsized attention paid to the bill’s carjacking provisions. The blogger Matthew Yglesias, who boasts more than half a million followers on Twitter, has zer
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