If you lie enough, people (especially Republican voters) will believe you

Terrific post from Yglesias on how Republican politicians– like Ed Gillespie’s “evil Hispanic gangs are going to get you if you elect a Democrat” campaign for governor– just lie and lie to credulous Republican voters and how bad that is for American politics.  Read all of it!  That said,

Establishment Republicans mystified by the party’s grassroots activists and rank-and-file members, in short, should consider taking a look at their own campaigns and policy rhetoric. [emphases mine]

Jeb Bush ran for president on the theory that tax cuts would generate 4 percent economic growth. Marco Rubio argued that Barack Obama was deliberately trying to damage the United States. Ed Gillespie claims that sanctuary cities that don’t even exist are responsible for the rise of a violent international criminal organization. The same congressional Republicans who swore for years that growing debt was the biggest threat to the country are lining up behind a budget that will authorize more than $1 trillion in new borrowing to finance tax cuts for the rich.

The difference between these guys and the new crop of kooks — between a respected colleague like Bob Corker and a feared soon-to-be-colleague like Marsha Blackburn — as I understand it, is that the establishment politicians are aware that they are lying. Nobody at Republican Governors Association headquarters, in other words, actually thinks that Gillespie believes a crackdown on Virginia sanctuary cities (which, again, don’t exist) will reduce the risk of MS-13 violence. He’s not an ignorant maniac, in other words; he’s just working with ad guys and conservative media to promote ignorance and mania in the general population.

The goal of these Gillespie ads, of course, is to persuade swing voters. But the universe of partisans is larger than the universe of swing voters. And, naturally, communications from party leaders feel more persuasive to party loyalists than to floaters. So while Gillespie’s ignorant demagoguery may or may not sway the tiny slice of swing voters he needs to persuade to win, it will definitely persuade the large mass of GOP loyalists — people whose views on abortion or gun regulation would lead them to back Gillespie no matter what he said or did — that a crackdown on fake sanctuary cities is what the state needs to stay safe.

Long story short, if party leaders say ridiculous things, your party’s rank and file will believe ridiculous things. If they say that news outlets that try to puncture the bubble of ridiculousness are exhibiting “liberal bias,” your party’s rank and file will learn to dismiss credible sources of information.

And last but by no means least, if they lie about what their policy agenda will do, your rank and file will develop an accurate sense that they are being repeatedly betrayed by their leaders.

And, no Democrats do not do this, too (or if they do, it’s at a 2 or 3 where Republicans are at a 10).  We do have a big problem in contemporary American politics, but it’s not “party politics” or “the system” it is quite literally, “The Republican Party.”

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Reform criminal justice? Start with the plea bargains

Okay, start with the way over-punitive laws.  But then the plea bargains.  Last month’s Atlantic had a terrific feature article by Emily Yoffe on how the excessive use of plea-bargaining is undermining actual justice (onto the next Criminal Justice Policy syllabus).  The headline and subhead capture the gist well: “Innocence Is Irrelevant:
This is the age of the plea bargain—and millions of Americans are suffering the consequences.”

This is the age of the plea bargain. Most people adjudicated in the criminal-justice system today waive the right to a trial and the host of protections that go along with one, including the right to appeal. Instead, they plead guilty. The vast majority of felony convictions are now the result of plea bargains—some 94 percent at the state level, and some 97 percent at the federal level. Estimates for misdemeanor convictions run even higher. These are astonishing statistics, and they reveal a stark new truth about the American criminal-justice system: Very few cases go to trial. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy acknowledged this reality in 2012, writing for the majority in Missouri v. Frye, a case that helped establish the right to competent counsel for defendants who are offered a plea bargain. Quoting a law-review article, Kennedy wrote, “ ‘Horse trading [between prosecutor and defense counsel] determines who goes to jail and for how long. That is what plea bargaining is. It is not some adjunct to the criminal justice system; it is the criminal justice system.’ ” …

Because of plea bargains, the system can quickly handle the criminal cases of millions of Americans each year, involving everything from petty violations to violent crimes. But plea bargains make it easy for prosecutors to convict defendants who may not be guilty, who don’t present a danger to society, or whose “crime” may primarily be a matter of suffering from poverty, mental illness, or addiction. And plea bargains are intrinsically tied up with race, of course, especially in our era of mass incarceration…

As prosecutors have accumulated power in recent decades, judges and public defenders have lost it. To induce defendants to plead, prosecutors often threaten “the trial penalty”: They make it known that defendants will face more-serious charges and harsher sentences if they take their case to court and are convicted. [emphases mine] About 80 percent of defendants are eligible for court-appointed attorneys, including overworked public defenders who don’t have the time or resources to even consider bringing more than a tiny fraction of these cases to trial. The result, one frustrated Missouri public defender complained a decade ago, is a style of defense that is nothing more than “meet ’em and greet ’em and plead ’em.”
According to the Prison Policy Initiative, 630,000 people are in jail on any given day, and 443,000 of them—70 percent—are in pretrial detention. Many of these defendants are facing minor charges that would not mandate further incarceration, but they lack the resources to make bail and secure their freedom. Some therefore feel compelled to take whatever deal the prosecutor offers, even if they are innocent.
Megan McArdle also out with a fine take on the matter:
The most obvious way to begin repairing this broken system is to spend more money building courtrooms and hiring judges, so that defendants actually do have a chance at their constitutionally guaranteed right to a speedy trial. We should also take a long, hard look at the number of things that are crimes, and the sentencing laws that require many crimes be requited with very harsh penalties.

Most our mass incarceration problem is a sentencing problem, driven by both mandatory minimums and prosecutors who are rewarded for being “tough on crime.”1 These factors aggravate the flaws of the plea-bargaining system. Prosecutors can threaten to prosecute on draconian charges, which carry draconian sentences — and all but force a defendant, even an innocent one, to take a plea bargain, with a lesser charge and a lesser sentence. Defendants (guilty and innocent alike) usually conclude that the risk of going to trial is simply too great. And the plea bargains, in turn, keep the machine from choking on the volume of cases being run through it. Instead it grinds out a very poor substitute for justice.

Reducing the number of laws and reducing the ability (or requirement) for prosecutors to secure serious jail time for so many offenses would reduce mass incarceration and start to unclog our court system. We should do these things. Unfortunately, they won’t be enough.

More sensible laws and more money to actually make our system provide justice, rather than a high-speed assembly line of presumed guilt.  Alas, I don’t see this happening any time soon.  On the bright side, more smart people from across the political spectrum are becoming aware of the problem, and that’s a good start.

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