We can assume that the Biden administration’s aborted effort to claim that it was really the Republican Party that wanted to defund local police forces was an abject flop. That brief exercise in insulting the nation’s intelligence is being supplanted by a modestly more nuanced message: The paltry few Democrats who did want to defund the police are out of their minds.
This week, President Joe Biden attended a town hall-style forum hosted by CNN where anchor Don Lemon gently guided the president toward reframing the defund debate in a way that could benefit Democrats. “You said police are up against—well, they’re up against the narrative that, you know, the country is anti-police, Democrats are anti-police, Joe Biden is anti-police,” Lemon probed the president. “They’re not saying it,” Biden interjected. “Republicans are saying it on the far–,” the president caught himself. “I’m not going to—anyway.” “No,” Lemon pressed. “I want you to talk about this, because, I mean, it’s an important narrative.”
That word—“narrative”—conveys to the audience that they’ve been privy to little more than a story. It’s a more nuanced variation of the idea that Democrats have never really sought to defund local police forces, and you only believe that because you’ve been gulled by the GOP’s mesmeric powers of suggestion. But Biden expounded on this theme in a rather bizarre exchange with reporters on the subject.
“Are there people in the Democratic Party who want to defund the police?” a reporter asked the president. Biden snapped back: “Are there people in the Republican Party who think we’re sucking the blood out of kids?” he said to the sound of bewildered silence. Check and mate.
To translate, Biden’s veiled answer to the question posed by his interlocutor is, yes, of course, some Democrats support defunding the police. But they are as fringe, paranoid, and, indeed, vicious as the Republicans who subscribe to the most unhinged QAnon conspiracies. If that were true, we would be in big trouble. By any objective assessment, the number of Republicans who subscribe to some version of Q’s incomprehensible theories is dwarfed by the amount of elected Democrats who weren’t just amendable to defunding police but tried to translate that slogan into policy.
Forget the grassroots activists who are telling anyone willing to listen that they “mean literally abolish the police” in venues as obscure as the New York Times opinion page. The Democratic Party is—or, at least, was—replete with advocates for policies that would expressly divert public funds away from law enforcement. In 2020, the Times found “near-unanimous sentiment” among the 54 Democratic National Committee members its reporters interviewed favoring policies that “redirect more money toward social services.” Indeed, “they are aligning themselves” with a movement that has seen “defund” policies implemented in many major American metropolitan areas, including Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Denver, and Portland Oregon.
At the height of 2020’s spasm of civil unrest, Washington D.C. cut $15 million from the police department budget. New York City redirected roughly $1 billion from the city’s police department, cancelled recruiting classes, and disbanded plainclothes anti-crime units. The Los Angeles city council voted to strip the LAPD of $150 million in funding—a move one city councilman attributed directly to the work of “Black Lives Matter L.A. organizers.”
Austin, Texas. Seattle, Washington. San Francisco, California. Baltimore, Maryland. These and many other municipalities across the country all committed their cities to a social experiment that sacrificed funding for police forces. The predictable result, some criminologists explain, was to compel law enforcement to pare back preventative policing tactics—indeed, that was the stated objective of “defund” activists. As an outgrowth, violent crime has surged both in areas where it was already endemic and in places that had never experienced shootings, car jackings, armed robbery, and murder.
There were Democratic dissenters who opposed defunding police to curb law enforcement’s abuses, Joe Biden among them. When former President Barack Obama criticized “defund” activists, he was excoriated by the party’s most vocal progressive lawmakers.
“The problem is America’s comfort with Black death — not discomfort with slogans,” Rep. Jamal Bowman fired back. Comparing herself to Rosa Parks, Rep. Rashida Tlaib said Obama was attacking “black lives” and defending “racist police systems.” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez called Obama ignorant for failing to understand that “playing the ‘polite language’ policy game” only made activists “easier to ignore.” “I’m so out of patience with critiques of the language of activists,” Rep. Ayana Pressley exclaimed. Rep. Ilhan Omar corrected Obama’s misapprehension that “defund” activists had only popularized what the 44th president dismissed as a “snappy slogan.” “It’s not a slogan but a policy demand,” Omar insisted. “And centering the demand for equitable investments and budgets for communities across the country gets us progress and safety.”
Now that all of this has become a political liability for Democrats, the race is on to retroactively condition you to believe the idea that no serious person ever advocated such a boneheaded scheme. Only the most ideologically committed progressive could persuade themselves to believe that sort of nonsense. And while it is heartening to hear a Democratic president imply that so many members of his party are addlebrained paranoiacs, it’s not at all reassuring that so many of them occupy positions of power.