Reason Roundup

Kamala Night at the DNC: The Party Anoints Harris and Brags About Biden's Crime Bill

Plus: Court rules for Robert Kraft in massage parlor video case, Trump talks QAnon, and more...


Crowning Kamala Harris. Former President Barack Obama stole the show on the third night of the Democratic National Convention, reminding Americans that while his words might sometimes be empty, he is very, very good at delivering them. Obama was initially supposed to offer the night's closing speech after Vice Presidential Nominee Kamala Harris talked, but the former president chose to speak before Harris as a symbolic "passing the torch" gesture. The media and the Democratic base have been eating it up.

"It's Kamala's party now," declared Politico.

Hold on tight—with Harris' history of flip-flopping to suit voter moods, it's going to be a bumpy and unpredictable ride.

As it stands, Harris is currently painting herself as a criminal justice reformer. Last night, a voiceover introducing Harris even described her as having fought "to end mass incarceration."

That would be news to the countless Californians she fought to lock up or keep locked up. As we noted last year, Harris's record as a "progressive prosecutor" is one of continually cracking down harder on "quality of life crimes" like drug use, prostitution, and truancy.

Criminal justice confusion

Overall, Democrats seem confused about which way they want to go on law and order issues.

The 2020 convention has seen some nods to "racial justice," policing, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Black Lives Matter, but only in a prop sort of way. There's been no substantive talk on criminal justice policy and policing reform, and no indication that a Biden-Harris administration would be anything different than business as usual on that front. Even as Democrats make nods to change, Harris, Biden, and other prominent party members speak of new arrest and incarceration regimes they want to put in place—for guns, for speech, for sex, and more.

Out of one side of their mouths, they talk of ending racist and discriminatory policing and our over-reliance on jails and prisons to solve social problems—and almost certainly would support some minor but still important reforms on this front. But out of the other side of their mouths, they push policies that would lead to more surveillance, more legal tools to use against Americans, more ways to extract fines from people and cage them, more reason for contact between law enforcement and those they're policing, and more opportunities for violence, abuse, and targeted harassment of ethnic, racial, religious, and sexual minorities, and others who historically have borne the brunt of U.S. criminal law.

(The quintessential example of this is how anti-"hate crime" statutes are now being used to escalate punishments against people who commit an offense against police or their property, even inadvertently, or vandalize something with an anti-police message.)

Joe Biden and the Violence Against women Act

During Wednesday's night's DNC proceedings, various voiceovers and speakers mentioned Joe Biden's role in the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act—widely considered one of the biggest policy disasters in modern U.S. history and a huge driver of our country's mass incarceration problem. Of course, they didn't mention the crime bill by name, just one specific part of it: The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). But despite its nice-sounding intentions, several aspects of the VAWA were just as problematic as the rest of the cursed legislation.

Along with the Jacob Wetterling Act, a component of the '94 crime bill that required the creation of sex offender registries, the VAWA "laid the foundation of the current, overwhelmingly carceral—and increasingly overwrought—response to sexual violence," write Judith Levine and Erica Meiners in their new book, The Feminist and the Sex Offender. It "answered feminist demands for more law enforcement but ignored their pleas for more services for survivors, funding the former over the latter two to one," and "married anti-violence feminists to the violent state."

Among VAWA's "chief provisions were mandatory arrest in domestic violence situations—including dual arrests if the cops couldn't figure out who the aggressor was—and 'no drop' prosecution, which prohibited the alleged victim from retracting charges," they point out. "In some jurisdictions, the district attorney began to subpoena women to testify against their partners or jails them until they comply. By 2013, a Queens, New York, prosecutor told Time magazine that less than a quarter of victims cooperated. Moreover, child protective services sometimes charge mothers with neglect or 'failure to supervise' for allowing the children to witness their mother's abuse."

Before domestic-violence specific bills came into fashion in the 1980s and '90s, people who abused their spouses and partners were simply arrested and prosecuted under general battery and assault laws. There was probably room for improvement (though the idea that sexist cops simply didn't care is way overblown). But the need to Do! Something!—driven by faulty research, well-funded feminist campaigners, and a whole lot of moral panic—led to massive new interventions in people's lives even when they didn't want it and to more abuse victims being arrested and jailed along with their abusers. There's also strong evidence that policies promulgated by VAWA were likely to lead to more abuse, especially for already disadvantaged groups.

(Aya Gruber's new book, The Feminist War on Crime, is a great place to read more about all this. I also plan to write about the failures of the VAWA in more detail at Reason very soon.)

Biden's heart was probably in the right place here. But like so many "helpful" '90s crime laws, his policies ended up putting more people in danger and shuffled more Americans into the state's web of surveillance and control. And while the VAWA may make Democrats feel all warm and fuzzy, their choice to repeatedly highlight it (not just last night but as part of Biden's whole campaign) shows neither Biden nor the rest of them have learned much since the 1990s.

powerful Pandering and—Perhaps—a Small signal of positive change

Joe Biden, Protector of Women fits in well with the general theme of last night's spectacle, which was full of generic odes to the Power of Women while simultaneously portraying the government as their necessary and true protector.

Speakers including Harris highlighted how hard U.S. women had to fight to be allowed to vote (codified in the 19th Amendment 100 years ago this week) and ways in which the government—long ago and still today—have been the biggest oppressors of women and minorities. I guess the DNC expects us to believe Biden-Harris will be the exception. But we've seen no indication of that from their long political pasts.

In any event, last night's DNC—which was hosted by actress Kerry Washington and included speeches from Hillary Clinton and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.)—was thin on substance but rife with generic pandering to women. But a few moments of non-schmaltz did manage to eek through, including heartfelt videos featuring children and families caught up in Trump's crackdown on immigrants.

Of course, Democrats, including the Obama administration, have a lot to answer for on immigration policy, too—and the DNC immigration videos were also a reminder of this. One featured 11-year-old Estela, whose mom was deported in 2018, reading a letter to Trump. But Estela's mom "was first deported during the Clinton administration, then flagged for deportation again under the Obama-Biden administration," notes the Washington Times.

But maybe, just maybe, the Trump administration's unending exposure of our immigration system's horrors and progressives' growing concern about them could actually lead to growth here.

"The issue where it was apparent Democrats have come the farthest in four years was immigration—the policy area that might be least hospitable to abstractions after four years of Donald Trump," notes Slate.


Politics 2020:

• "The 2020 election represents an ongoing demonstration that America's governing apparatus is trapped in the embrace of the rotting corpses of once-dynamic political organizations," writes J.D. Tuccille. "Democratic and Republican Party hearts and minds may have died, but they refuse to loosen their grip on political office—and on voters."

• Jeb Bush wants the president to "kick Q'anon supporters' butts."

• Here's what Trump had to say about the sex-trafficking conspiracy theorists:

• A number of anarchist pages and accounts were reportedly kicked off Facebook yesterday:

• Facebook is also cracking down on Q-Anon accounts.

• For Reason TV, Qinling Li talks to transgender activists fighting for sex work decriminalization in Washington, D.C., and New York City.

• School reopening decisions are being driven by teachers unions and politics, not public health, writes Reason's Corey A. Deangelis.

• An appeals court said Florida can't use secret surveillance recordings against Patriots owner Robert Kraft and other workers and customers caught up in 2019 massage parlor prostitution stings.

• Reason Senior Editor Brian Doherty casts doubt on Democrats' latest round of gun control dreams.