Lamenting Leftism

To Be Above Blind Partisanship

Everyone worries about political divisions, yet few can acknowledge a good idea if it’s not from their side.

From “the wall” to war to COVID vaccines and beyond, America seems more politically divided than ever.

I’m as aware of this as anyone, and yet I was nonetheless surprised at the community’s response to the Albuquerque mayor and state attorney general’s announcement of an initiative to crack down on Organized Retail Crime.

“Lack of police presence is one of the main reasons for crime in this city,” one person wrote. “Watch: clowns who created problems think of new ways to avoid fixing it,” said another.

It’s not that some of the criticisms weren’t valid. Folks pointed out that it’s “too little too late” and noted the curious timing of the announcement, coming as it did four months before Mayor Tim Keller’s re-election campaign. 

With Albuquerque on track to post a record homicide rate, Keller’s re-election campaign will likely minimize his leadership failures on crime, dismissing it as part of a national trend — which, indeed it is — and point to the ORC crackdown as proof that he has focused his efforts in the right places.

The thing is, regardless of whether he hasn’t done enough or isn’t equipped to make this initiative successful, the plan itself isn’t a bad one.

For many Democrats, all that matters is that a Democrat announced it. They will ignore the failures, focus on the intent, and shift blame to Republicans.

This doesn’t mean another mayor couldn’t do better. It’s only to say that to oppose a step in the right direction because it’s politically motivated or “too little too late” is to commit the same fallacy that Conservatives get so frustrated by when the Left does it.

The fact is, petty shoplifting funnels billions of dollars a year into more violent criminal enterprises, from drugs to human trafficking, both of which contribute heavily to the rise in national murders. 

Conservatism is supposed to be about principles. We lament how politics has become about personality and identity, gender and race, rather than policy and values and the best man or woman for the job. And yet when a politician of the opposite party presents a plan that by any objective measure could have a positive effect on crime, we play the same partisan game.

If we’re going to claim to be principled, we have to judge policies on their merit. 

PARTISAN TEST

The best way to check your bias is to put your party at the podium. 

If a Republican mayor had introduced the ORC initiative — four months before his re-election or not — most Republicans would defend it. They would argue against Democrats who criticized it for being politically motivated, they would cite national statistics linking ORC to more violent crime, and they would herald the effort as a step in the right direction. 

And they would be right, because on merit, at least in theory, the plan makes sense:

If violent crime is the problem and petty crime is funding violent crime, cracking down on petty crime will help reduce violent crime.

That doesn’t mean the initiative will work. Attorney General Hector Balderas and ABQ Police Chief Harold Medina both acknowledged that the ORC partnership with private industry will only work if the state legislature passes laws that increase sentencing for repeat shoplifters and judges deny bail for those working as part of a larger criminal network.

Whether or not they will apply that pressure is yet to be seen. By November, we will have several months to see not only if they have made those efforts to lobby the legislature, but also if the initiative itself has been successful in reducing crime. 

At that time, we should judge the results of the policy with the same objective eye we would judge the result of any policy, regardless of party: by merit. But to oppose something at the outset that you would support if it were a Republican who proposed it is to commit the same hypocrisy that Conservatives so often accuse the Left of. 

CASE IN POINT

In a letter to the editor on July 12, Albuquerque resident Jerry Stauffer wrote, that the difference between Republican and Democrat positions on renewable energy versus fossil fuel is a matter of scope. 

“It seems to me that the real difference, at least with regards to weapons, energy, jobs and the like, between left and right is just how far away they are looking. The right is nearsighted. The left is farsighted. Both are seeing reality, just from different distances.”

While he presented himself as a seer of all sides, it turned out Stauffer fell into the same partisan trap he claimed to be maneuvering around.

“I guess the question is, do you want things to be good for the next few years and then go to Hell, or do you want to do uncomfortable, difficult things now for the sake of a much better world in a decade or two?”

Under the pretense of understanding both sides, Stauffer fails to consider the position of the rational majority, which is that average New Mexicans want both. If renewable energy proves to be more efficient, safer, and better for the environment, few would oppose it.

(screenshot from PNM.com)

While a U.S. Energy Information Administration claims a quarter of New Mexico energy comes from renewable sources, PNM’s energy tracker has recently shown renewables contributing as low as 8% of the state’s energy.

Roughly a third of the state’s budget is funded by oil and gas revenue. Not only would ending oil and gas now leave 75% of the state’s energy needs unmet, but it would kill thousands of good paying jobs and bankrupt the state almost immediately.

A reasonable person looking to sell their house would first make sure they have somewhere else to live before signing over the deed. When it comes to energy, transition away from fossil fuels if we must, but don’t stop drilling until we have enough infrastructure in place to keep the lights on and pay for the basic state services that oil and gas funds.

FAIR SUMMATION

If we’re as concerned about the future as everyone claims to be, a good place to start a conversation about the path forward is to attempt to accurately summarize the opposition’s argument. If we make straw man arguments out of extremist positions that average folks never said and probably don’t believe, we will spin our wheels and never make any real progress.

There are reasons to dislike Mayor Keller or the attorney general, but the ORC crackdown isn’t one of them. It’s good policy, which is why it has been embraced by Conservatives and Liberals alike in states such as Utah, California, and New York. To dismiss a reasonable approach to crime because of partisanship is to throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water.

BE BETTER

If we want better than the current political environment, we have to be better as individuals. We should air our grievances — it’s a free country after all, at least for now — but we should do it honestly.

Critique the political timing, argue that Keller’s leadership is lacking, advocate for a replacement at the ballot box if you believe someone else could do better, but if you would support the initiative if it were proposed by a Republican, don’t pretend it isn’t a step in the right direction just because Keller is a Democrat.

It’s blind partisanship, after all, that has contributed to the sharp divisions that everyone seems so concerned are tearing this country apart — to say nothing of the violence it has caused.

“I’m against dismissing an idea that might help because it isn’t my idea.” 

— Primary Colors (1998)

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