Kent warned this morning about our slide back to insecurity -- back to a country where ordinary people will bear a heavier burden of wondering about their safety and the security of their children, homes and property. I would like to elaborate, to note that our country seems to be in the grasp of a poisonously short-sighted trend in which we sacrifice tomorrow's well-being for today's fleeting succor.
This is most obvious in criminal law in the accelerting trend, in California and many other states, to save money on the current budget by releasing prisoners before their sentences are complete.
Even if one could trust the easy assurances that these will be only much-fabled "low level, non-violent" sort of prisoners (have you ever heard the defense bar reference anything but the "low level, non-violent" prisoner?), we would still be in for more crime. The quiet -- very quiet -- premise of these release plans is that, hey, we can afford a bit more crime.
This all depends, of course, on what is meant by "we," "can afford," and "bit."
Let's just take the first question. Who exactly is the "we?" Is it going to be the state legislators and other bigshots who concoct these plans? Not exactly. As Kent has pointed out, the people disproportionately most likely to suffer from increased crime are the people disproportionately suffering from it now. This is not, in case you're wondering, the upper middle class.
But it's not the skewed shouldering of the price to be paid that is most worrisome. It's the blase', almost snoozing, acceptance of the increased crime.
We have come to take for granted the low crime rates we have now. This is a big mistake. Those rates did not come about by magic, and they will not continue by magic. They came about because as a nation we resolved that we would no longer tolerate the increasingly dangerous and chaotic society that, in the sixties and seventies, we were headed towards becoming.
We acted on that resolution. We adopted mandatory minimum sentencing, for one thing. We became realistic about what rehabilitation could actually achieve. We were willing to spend the money to build prisons for people who wanted the easy buck, either by stick-up, swindle or sales of dangerous drugs.
Increased incarceration is not the complete answer to the question why crime has fallen to 1950's levels. But it is, by sober and informed accounts, the single most important reason. When we walk away from it, we will pay a price.
It is human nature to become complacent, and that's what's happening now. It's also part of human nature, especially among those humans who run for office, to reach for a "solution" that features quick and well-publicized benefits, while intentionally making the costs harder to see and shuffling them off to the future, when someone else will have to deal with them.
This is the path upon which we have embarked. On the national scene, it's evident in the proposed massive cuts to the military. The money will be saved now and next year. The price, in shrinking American influence and reduced ability to protect ourselves and our interests -- including our interest in defeating terrorism -- will take longer to show itself. The politicians who pride themselves today on having saved the money will very likely be out of office when the possibly gruesome consequences of their what-me-worry short-sightedness come home to roost.
Exactly the same is true of the states' increasingly numerous early release programs. Future crime victims cannot be identified by name today. Their number, and the human and financial costs of the crimes that will be visited upon them, are easy to push off into the fog. But to do so is worse that deceptive and irresponsible. It is, in my opinion, immoral.
July 4 is a reminder of what the American people can do when they summon the courage, strength and foresight to step up. In an age in which so many of our citizens are tempted by complacency to step down, let's use this day to remember that we can still choose the way of our forebearers.