The Goodie Exchange

This week has been rich in political drama, as politicians give a big push to revive the crime bill defeated so stunningly last week. On one end of Pennsylvania Avenue the president has been acting out wonderfully effective political theater in favor of the crime bill. He has embraced victims of crime, spoken passionately in a black church about the terror of crime in the streets, and accused opponents of the bill of not caring about the plague of bloodshed in the inner cities. But on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, a much different scene is being played out. Lawmakers are engaging in a cynical and manipulative last-minute game of exchanging goodies to buy votes. As a result, the crime bill is laced with pork. The most dramatic illustration was a proposal slipped in at the last minute to give $10 million to Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas, to endow a center to study crime. Why Lamar University, you may wonder. Was it chosen for its high reputation in the field? For its long list of distinguished scholars? No, its only claim to fame is that it is the alma mater of House Judiciary Chairman Jack Brooks—whose vote happens to be strategic in passing the crime bill. This is just one illustration of the goodies being doled out-at taxpayer expense—to get this bill passed. But let's pray that neither the goodies nor the president's grandstanding will work. The public has seen through this crime bill, and they know it isn't a crime bill at all. Many of the programs in the bill are little more than sixties-style social programs: The most notorious is $40 million for midnight basketball leagues. Then there's $630 million for so-called "child-centered activities," which include arts and crafts programs, recreational activities, and even dance programs. There's $10 million for public housing, as though the Department of Housing and Urban Development's $30 billion a year were not enough. There's also money allotted for inner-city activity programs, urban parks, health education, "conflict resolution" training, programs to coordinate social workers and schools, and even gender-sensitivity training for judges. The dirty little secret is that the much-touted crime bill has less to do with crime than with social welfare. A Senate Judiciary staffer who helped write the bill gave the secret away: "We figured this was the only piece of social legislation we'd pass this year," the staffer said, "so we threw everything in." Americans do want to get tough on crime. But lawmakers are playing on our fear of crime to fund a host of social programs. Christians are called to respect those in authority, but it's getting harder to do when we see such crass politicking on a crucial issue like crime. Call your representatives and tell them to keep thumbs down on this bill when it comes up for a vote again later this week. Otherwise politicians will just keep using crime as a cover-up . . . as they dip their hands into the public till.  


Chuck Colson


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