Civility Watchdog: Joe Biden Proves Too Much?

Vice President Joe Biden has suggested that Republican opposition to President Barack Obama’s jobs bill — which includes funding for police — displays a lack of concern for victims of crime. On October 12, 2011, Biden said:

“In 2008, when Flint had 265 sworn officers on their police force, there were 35 murders and 91 rapes in this city. In 2010, when Flint had only 144 police officers, the murder rate climbed to 65, and rapes — just to pick two categories — climbed to 229. In 2011, you now only have 125 shields. God only knows what the numbers will be this year for Flint if we don’t rectify it. And God only knows what that number would have been had we not been able to get a little bit of help to you.”

Then, on October 18, 2011, Biden said:

“The other thing I’ve hear from my friends who oppose this — this whole jobs bill, and this — that this is just temporary. Well, let me tell you, it’s not temporary when that 911 call comes in and a woman’s being raped, if a cop shows up in time to prevent the rape. It’s not temporary to that woman. It’s not temporary to the guy whose store is being held up and there’s a gun pointed at his head, if a cop shows up and he’s not killed. That’s not temporary to that store owner. Give me a break! Temporary! I wish these guys who thought it was temporary, I wish they had some notion of what it was like to be on the other side of a gun, or a 200-pound man standing over you, telling you to submit. Folks, it matter, it matters.”

The following day, Biden had this exchange with Human Events editor Jason Mattera:

Mattera: “Do you regret using a rape reference to describe Republican opposition to the President’s bill?”
Biden: “I didn’t use — no, no, no, what I said — let’s get it straight, guys. Don’t screw around with me. Let’s get it straight.”
Mattera: “You didn’t use a rape reference?”
Biden: “No, let me expl — listen to me.”
Mattera: “I’m listening.”
Biden: “I said rape was up three times in Flint. They’re the numbers, go look at the numbers. Murder is up, rape is up, and burglary is up. That’s exactly what I said.”
Mattera: “And if the Republicans don’t pass this bill, then rape will continue to rise?”
Biden: “Murder will continue to rise, rape will continue to rise, all crimes will continue to rise.”
Mattera: “Do you think it’s appropriate for the Vice President to use language in such a way?”

At this point, Biden and his staff walked away, ending the interview.

Now, there are a few problems with Biden’s argument. First, there’s some question regarding the numbers he cites. Second, Democrats have also opposed Obama’s jobs bill, Biden’s criticism has to apply equally to, say, Sens. Ben Nelson (D-NE) and Jon Tester (D-MT). Third, crime sometimes goes up or down without an obvious cause.

Just suppose, though, that Biden is right, and that more cops does mean less crime. Biden takes this point to argue that, by not supporting Obama’s jobs bill and the hiring of more cops, Republicans are saying they don’t care about victims of murder and rape.

But this argument could just as easily be turned against Biden and Obama. After all, if they supported a spending increase that would put a police precinct and a fire station on every block of every community in the country, even more murders, rapes, burn victims, fire deaths, etc., would be prevented, right? By not supporting such spending, aren’t Biden and Obama basically saying they don’t care about those victims? Should they be put “on the other side of a gun” in order to kick-start their empathy?

No, of course not. Refusing to fund a precinct on every corner isn’t a result of their not caring about crime victims, it’s the result of a cost-benefit analysis of how much good each extra precinct will do and how much we can afford. And — even though it would definitely reduce crime to quadruple the number of cops in the country — Biden and Obama know that we can’t afford such spending right now.

But the Republican position is based on the same type of reasoning. It’s not that they don’t care about victims of rape and murder, as Biden suggests, it’s just that they’ve also made a judgment — a different one — about what benefit more cops will have versus what we can afford. Naturally, Biden wants to describe the situation as one in which Republicans don’t care about human suffering and injustice while Democrats do. But that’s just name-calling, caricature, and all the usual demonizing that runs rampant in politics. If Biden wants to stick with his invective, then it’s fair to apply the same to him: We get to say that his and Obama’s refusal to quadruple the number of cops means they don’t care about the lives it would save.

But it would be better to just oppose all such derisive distortions. Biden should retract his insinuation that Republicans don’t care about crime victims.

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