He's the latest media darling, possibly moving into John McCain's place in the spotlight. The Wall Street Journal referred to him as the most handsome of possible presidential candidates. He is a good-looking guy, the kind that soccer moms like. He's been called an extraordinary orator; he's been called a skilled interlocutor. And most interestingly, he's been called a tough-on-crime-Democrat.
North Carolina’s John Edwards certainly lives up to some of the hype. No doubt he really is a skilled orator; after all, he's a politician and a trial lawyer. The whole nation is now familiar with the excruciating casuistry of trial attorneys in office after l’affair Clinton. Edwards’ rhetorical acumen is no doubt considerable.
However, the 'tough-on-crime Democrat' label is something different, and bears closer examination. The idea of a Democrat crimefighter — and one who is a former trial lawyer at that — seems counterintuitive. Indeed, I would argue that the term is oxymoronic. Trial lawyers are the civil jurisprudence equivalent of criminal defense attorneys. These are the kind of lawyers who, during their convention in Las Vegas one year, networked with one another about the nuances of obtaining acquittals for their guilty clients.
But one never knows what is possible in this world. There actually may be a legitimate, tough-on-crime Democrat, who is a trial lawyer, regardless of how incredible that may seem. But is John Edwards a living example of such a thing? We may be able to ascertain what his attitudes are about crime and law enforcement by reviewing his voting record, his rating by special interest groups, and any policy initiatives he may have about crime.
Senator Edwards recently made a speech about a crime policy he would like to implement. On June 12, 2002 Edwards spoke to the Senate detailing his proposal. What was Edwards’s innovative policy? It was nothing more than an almost verbatim recital of a Manhattan Institute monograph published in August, 1999 called Transforming Probation Through Leadership: the Broken Windows Model. This monograph called for a probation model that resembles the community-policing model now used by various departments throughout the country.
Whether community policing has been effective is the subject of debate among criminologists. However, I believe the consensus is that it is effective. Regardless of whether the policy itself is valid, the fact is that Edwards’ proposal is a three-year-old policy that he is repackaging as his own.
During this same speech, Edwards called for community leaders — especially religious leaders — to supervise former offenders while helping them. Incredibly, Edwards publicly worried that President Bush might not support this proposal.
Let me be the first to nominate Senator Edwards for the Joseph Biden speechwriting award.
Edwards is an advocate of capital punishment. Yet, according to VoteSmart, on the votes that the Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants (CURE) considered to be the most important in 1999-2000, Senator Edwards voted their preferred position 63 percent of the time.
CURE is a liberal group that opposes capital punishment. Among CURE’s policy issues are:
This is not an organization that one would consider particularly tough on crime.
- Repeal of the death penalty in all states and the federal government. No more executions should take place.
- States should develop comprehensive and restorative sentencing options, including, but not limited to: (1) diversion-from-prison programs; (2) community-corrections programs — including residential facilities with rehabilitation programs - such as alcohol and drug treatment, education, mental health services, job-skills development and job placement; and (3) post-release assistance.
Judging by the sophistry of Edwards’ "reinventing probation and parole" policy recommendation and his faith-based-initiative, his claim to being tough on crime appears to be more a matter of convenience than conviction. And judging by the rating of liberal criminal justice special interest groups, his claim doesn't seem to pass muster.
What about his voting record? Well, he has made some "tough-on-crime" votes. But more revealing are the votes he did not make: specifically, those votes confirming judges nominated by President Bush.
As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Edwards has indicated he is more than willing to prevent judges who impose stiff penalties from being appointed to the federal judiciary. He has been instrumental in thwarting two of the president’s nominees from being appointed to the District Court.
While Edwards’ advocacy of more money for law enforcement seems consistent with a crimefighter label, it may be more of a sop to government employee unions than anything else. What will be more indicative of Edwards are his votes to confirm those judges that do not possess the liberal criminal justice attitudes that the Democratic party normally confirm.