Will Any Real Change Come From Ferguson?

Douthat fears that “from the point of view of actual persuasion, as opposed to just mobilization — of reaching people who don’t follow these issues closely, or who might generally incline toward a different narrative, more pro-cop or just more pro-status quo — Ferguson is turning into a poor exhibit for the policy causes that it’s being used to elevate”:

My worry, therefore, which I tried to get at in the column, is that because the facts on the ground don’t clearly fit the policy narrative they’re being tied to, and may not fit at all, Ferguson and its aftermath are going to be too polarizing to effectively serve the kind of meliorist consensus — uniting a lot of religious conservatives and libertarians with liberals and the left — that’s been gradually emerging around criminal justice, drug policy, and related issues over the last five or ten years.

Digby highly doubts that bipartisan cooperation on criminal justice was ever in the cards:

The bill that seems to have everyone feeling so positive about bipartisan comity is the Smarter Sentencing Act, which has the backing of such disparate groups as the ACLU and the Heritage Foundation.

Ted Cruz says he’s for it too. It basically will give courts more discretion in sentencing and lower the daft mandatory sentences for drug crimes from 20-, 10- and five-year mandatory minimums to 10, five and two years. Considering the tremendous overcrowding in federal prisons this seems like a no-brainer.

Unfortunately, there are a few roadblocks. Sen. Chuck Grassley thinks mandatory minimums are an important crime-fighting tool. And for reasons of their own, Sens. John Cornyn and Jeff Sessions are likewise opposed. But perhaps the biggest obstacle to any kind of bipartisan criminal justice reform (that makes any sense) is the fact that the Republican base is not only strongly opposed to it, GOP political consultants would be deprived of one of their most potent lines of attack. (And, just as likely, Democratic challengers would cynically use it against them.)

When push comes to shove, this is the evergreen Republican go-to election attack. We saw it just recently in the fall campaign.

John Dickerson, meanwhile, wants a GOP presidential contender to give a speech about Ferguson:

As my colleague Jamelle Bouie pointed out on the Slate Political Gabfest, the most effective speech any politician could give in the wake of the Ferguson verdict might be one given by a Southern Republican. If a Republican, whose party benefits from the overwhelming support of white voters, could serve as a witness, at some level, to the feelings of distrust and anger within the black community, it might contribute to the conversation so many people say we should be having. It would not require abandoning values or offending their core constituency. Such a speech could even eclipse whatever President Obama says on a visit to Ferguson, given that he is hemmed in by the responsibilities of his office and the political crust of the past six years.

Of course, a potential GOP presidential candidate might choose an entirely different path. Instead of offering an example of bridge building, he might decide that the requirement after Ferguson is to defend the police force against a media that has convicted an officer trying to do his job in a brutal environment and speak up for the 61 percent of Republicans who in August thought race was getting more attention than it deserved, according to a Pew poll. Whichever route a candidate takes, such a speech would certainly distinguish him, and almost every future candidate wants that right now.