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Froma Harrop commentary: California Democrats had to educate the media

Summary: If the activist left succeeded in portraying itself as the heart and soul of the Democratic Party, the fault lies in much of the political media. Rather than sending Democrats a message, California has sent the media a message on where Democrats really stand on crime. ... Guess what? They don't like it.

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A bad habit in our public discourse is to simplify voter behavior according to party labels. Thus, we have a semiclueless headline in The New York Times that reads: "California Sends Democrats and the Nation a Message on Crime."

The California voters are overwhelmingly Democrats. A more accurate take would have been, "Most California Democrats Send Some Democrats a Message on Crime."

A voter exits after casting their ballot in the California primary at The Park in La Habra Heights Tuesday, June 7, 2022.
A voter exits after casting their ballot in the California primary at The Park in La Habra Heights Tuesday, June 7, 2022.
Tribune graphic

That a tough-on-crime billionaire Rick Caruso — a Republican-turned-Democrat — led in the Los Angeles mayoral primary reflected the local anger over crime and public disorder. Had Caruso been listed on the ballot as a Republican, he still would have done well.

On the state and city levels, voters often don't give a damn about party labels. In 2001, New Yorkers elected a Republican Mike Bloomberg as mayor. Bloomberg ran again as a Republican and then a third time as an independent. Each time, the voters returned him to City Hall.

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It surely helped Caruso that he could spend almost $41 million on his campaign. But what may have helped him, even more, was the endorsement of William Bratton. The former head of both the New York City and Los Angeles police departments, Bratton became famous for the "broken windows" policy of taking quality-of-life crimes seriously.

What successful mayors in liberal big cities understand is that their constituents really do value safe and clean streets. They don't want homeless encampments taking over their public spaces.
At the same time, these successful mayors don't go primitive on matters of gay rights. They don't stay up nights making life harder for transgender kids in high school. And however the citizens feel about illegal immigration, they know that immigrants form part of the bedrock of their societies. "Diversity" is not a problem. And who, even among those worried about clashes of cultures, doesn't like some of the new restaurants?

The social complexities require a high quality of policing, in addition to adequate staffing. (Caruso said he'd add 1,500 officers.) The police have to be well trained and selected to weed out the racists and sadists. Not everyone should become a cop.

Mental illness drives some of the more horrendous crimes. America, not just the cities, needs to build up its capacity to treat these disorders, but efforts at fixing broken psyches can't substitute in many cases for incarceration — or tighter gun laws.

In the end, certain people must be taken off the streets. Noting that so much of the violent crime was done by thugs arrested 10 or more times, Bratton pushed to lock up repeat offenders for a long time.

Homelessness, more often than readily acknowledged, is more the result of mental illness than housing supply. This is the reality, and portraying inhabitants of the encampments as people just like you and me but down on their luck is ignorant.

It's notable that Caruso did quite well among Black men, though he was running against Rep. Karen Bass, former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. It is equally notable the Bass herself ran afoul of some activists on the left for pushing her own crime-fighting agenda. Caruso and Bass will compete in a November runoff.

Voters in San Francisco, meanwhile, booted out Chesa Boudin, an ultrawoke former public defender who became district attorney. This came as a no-brainer to any conscious observer of the fraying quality of life in that gorgeous city.

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If the activist left succeeded in portraying itself as the heart and soul of the Democratic Party, the fault lies in much of the political media. Rather than sending Democrats a message, California has sent the media a message on where Democrats really stand on crime.

Guess what? They don't like it.

Froma Harrop can be reached at fharrop@wctrib.com or on Twitter @FromaHarrop .

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Froma Harrop covers the waterfront of politics, economics and culture with an unconventional approach. She takes public policy quite seriously. Herself, less so.


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