Sunday, June 07, 2020


If the presidential election were held today, Joe Biden would win, and it probably wouldn't be close. Not only is he leading in the poll averages by more than 7 points, he's crushing Trump in Michigan, winning every recent poll in Florida, running ahead of Trump in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Arizona, and giving Trump a scare (or even leading) in states Trump won comfortably in 2016 -- North Carolina, Ohio, Iowa, Texas.

But Biden is at risk of being caught in the middle of a debate that's just beginning in America.
Protesters have been marching on Saturday demanding for Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey to defund the Minneapolis Police Department and invest in community-[led] safety measures — beyond police....

... Mayor Frey was spotted in the crowd and invited up front.

The protest organizer asked him point blank yes or no — “Will you commit to defunding the police?” She said his re-election bid next year depended on it and the crowd agreed....

When he gave his answer, there was an eruption of boos and chants for him to go home.

WCCO caught Mayor Frey afterwards and here’s what he had to say:

“If you’re asking whether I’m for massive structural reform to revise a structurally racist system the answer is ‘yes’. If you’re asking whether I will do everything possible to push back on the inherent inequities that are literally built into the architecture the answer is ‘yes’. If you’re asking whether I’m willing to do everything I possibly can throughout the rest of my term to make sure that the police union, the police contract, the arbitration system, and some of these policies that have resulted in problems for specifically Black and Brown people and murder over series of generations, I’m all for that. I’m not for abolishing the entire police department, I will be honest about that.”
Say no to defunding the police -- even if you want major structural reforms -- and you alienate a large bloc of progressives. Soon Biden will be asked to choose.

And it may not matter what he says -- the slogan is out there and it's already being hung around his neck by the other side.

Biden is lucky, because while Trump and his allies have the opportunity to portray themselves as the sensible center, and to portray the demonstrators as the extremists, they're misreading the public mood. Trump's team has sprinkled his speeches with pro forma defenses of peaceful protest and expressions of dismay about injustice, and if he could persuade us that that's what he really believes, he might be able to position himself as the reasonable man in the middle. Instead, it's clear that what really gets Trump's juices flowing is the idea of violently crushing protests. Shouts of "LAW AND ORDER!" worked in 1968, but this isn't 1968.

First, Trump is the incumbent -- if there's unrest, it's happening on his watch. In 1968, when Richard Nixon ran as a law-and-order candidate, Lyndon Johnson was president. (Nixon also had George Wallace on his right, which made him appear more moderate. Trump has no one on his right.)

Beyond that, political unrest in 2020 isn't accompanied by an uptick in crime; the two were linked in many people's minds in 1968. I also suspect that more Americans felt ties to the cities where protests and property destruction were taking place. Early in the George Floyd protests, I saw many right-wingers decrying the damage in Manhattan -- "They're looting Macy's!" In 1968, many people from suburban New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut regularly shopped at Macy's. Now they barely shop at local malls. (No one's looting Amazon.)

I think that explains the poll results we're seeing now -- that and the proliferation of police brutality videos. This is from a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll:
Voters by a more than 2-to-1 margin say they’re more worried about the death of George Floyd ... and the actions of police, than they are by recent protests that have occasionally turned violent.

Fifty-nine percent of all voters — including 54 percent of whites, 65 percent of Latinos and 78 percent of African Americans — say they’re more troubled by Floyd’s death and the actions of police.

That’s compared with 27 percent who say they’re more concerned about the protests over Floyd’s death, some of which have turned violent.
And from ABC News and Ipsos:
Nearly three-fourths of Americans view the death of George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer as a sign of an underlying racial injustice problem, a new ABC News/Ipsos poll finds, a significant shift from a similar question asked just six years ago.

This poll shows a more than 30-point increase in the belief that recent events reflect a broader issue over racial injustice from an ABC News/Washington Post poll from December 2014, four months after the shooting of Michael Brown, an 18-year black man, by a white cop, and five months after the death of Eric Garner, a black man, who died after being put in a chokehold by a white officer. In the 2014 poll, 43% of Americans said those instances showed signs of a broader problem, while 51% called it an isolated incident.

In the new ABC News/Ipsos poll, ... only 26% believe the incident is an isolated one....

Majorities of whites (70%), blacks (94%), Hispanics (75%), Democrats (92%), Republicans (55%) and independents (71%) agree that what happened to Floyd exemplifies a systemic rift between law enforcement and black communities in the country.
But the slogan will make life harder for Biden. He'll lose the support of young progressives when, inevitably, he makes a statement like Frey's, saying that he supports serious reform but not "defunding" or "dismantling" police departments -- even though some who use that language are describing reforms Biden might be willing to endorse (and many Americans might approve of), as in Minneapolis:
Council Member Jeremiah Ellison, one of the most vocal critics of the city’s response to the protests and riots that followed Floyd’s death, tweeted Thursday: “We are going to dismantle the Minneapolis Police Department.”

[City Council president Lisa] Bender, a few hours later, issued her own tweet repeating that message and adding that they will “replace it with a transformative new model of public safety.” ...

Speaking only for herself and not for the council as whole, Bender said [in an interview that] she would support shifting from a traditional police department to a wider public safety department oriented toward violence prevention and community-based services.

In that kind of scenario, it’s possible that social workers or medics could respond to some calls now being handled by police.
But the slogan will sound dangerous to a portion of the electorate, the way "Abolish ICE" sounded dangerous even to many people who oppose the Trump administration's immigration policies. On the other hand, "Abolish ICE" didn't prevent Democrats from scoring big victories in the 2018 midterms, so let's hope this slogan isn't too much of a drag on Biden in November.

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