Here's the title of the New York Post editorial denouncing Judge Shira Scheindlin's ruling reining in New York City's stop-and-frisk policy: "Death Wish, the Sequel."
I'm not sure anyone under the age of 50 even gets that reference (to the 1974 Charles Bronson movie about vigilantism in response to out-of-control urban crime) -- but, then again, I'm not sure anyone under the age of 50 even reads New York Post editorials. In any case, for right-wing opinion-shapers, few if any of whom ever fought in an actual battle, the 1960s and 1970s are the war years they look back on with nostalgia. That was the acute phase of their war against Pure Evil, whether a unwashed hippie with bare feet or a swarthy-hued hoodlum stealing hubcaps.
And, as Charlie Pierce notes, after that they just kept fighting:
You will hear, often, of the explosion in the United States prison populations "since 1980." That date is not accidental. We elected a president that year who ran on an implicitly -- and, occasionally explicitly -- racist appeal to white voters by which he argued sub rosa that those white voters should be frightened of black criminals, and angry at black people who were "exploiting" the welfare system....The New York Daily News, by the way, goes with '80s nostalgia in its appalled response to Judge Scheindlin's ruling (click to enlarge):
The entire fundmental basis for what became known as "cultural conservatism" was a fear of black crime and an anger at welfare "fraud." It was an decade of archetypes. Welfare queens. Crack babies. Superpredators. And the national media went along for the ride, because the archetypes were scary enough -- "IN YOUR TOWN!" -- to move the ratings needle. That very few of them panned out didn't matter. They served everyone's short-term goals well enough to become established as fact. Then, in the middle of it all, the "war" on drugs got itself declared, and the face of the war on drugs was a black or brown face, and scared legislatures passed appallingly draconian laws in response. And a lot of black and brown people -- an inordinate number, given the population as a whole -- got tossed into prisons that are now so overcrowded that most of them are timebombs. So we're looking at some of those laws again.
This is why I'm skeptical when The New York Times tells me that a moment has passed -- in a front-page Times story, we're told that the stop-and-frisk decision and Eric Holder's curtailment of mandatory minimum sentences signal "a major shift on crime." I hope so -- but I fear the forces of reaction.
How hard is it to imagine the right-wing media (and the centrist News) front-paging every violent crime committed in New York, certainly throughout the mayoral campaign, the way Drudge front-pages every violent crime in Chicago? The goal will be either to elect yet another Republican mayor, one who'll continue Bloomberg's policy and appeal Judge Scheindlin's ruling to the bitter end, or at least make any call for even mild reforms as risky for the Democratic mayoral candidate as furloughs and death-penalty opposition were for Mike Dukakis in the bad old days of 1988.
Could it happen? Could we go back in time that way? Maybe not -- maybe times really have changed. But I wouldn't be too sure.