America's Death Penalty: Between Past and Present

By David Garland; Randall McGowen et al. | Go to book overview

6
Interposition
Segregation, Capital Punishment, and the
Forging of the Post–New Deal Political Leader

JONATHAN SIMON


Introduction: From the New Deal to the
“Crime Deal” via the Politics of Race

Historians and political scientists have long viewed Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal,” as a watershed period in American political development that created a fundamental new political order, one that dominated politics and transformed American governance for at least forty years from roughly 1936 to 1976.1 More recently sociologists of punishment have suggested that the roots of America’s turn toward hyper-punitive mass incarceration policies since 1980 mark the emergence of a post–New Deal political order, formed in large part around fear of crime.2 Crime, or fear of crime, became a key construct, and the crime victim, a key figure, around which the fragmenting political contradictions of the New Deal order could be realigned and reframed.

Perhaps the most famous of these contradictions was race. The New Deal coalition had held together in the Democratic Party by subordinating the issue of racial inequality to the issues of economic opportunity. Once the Civil Rights movement pushed the national government for effective action on civil rights, first through the courts and then through Congress and the presidency, this coalition began to come apart. At the national level President Lyndon Johnson understood that signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 probably lost the South for the Democratic Party for a generation, whereas Republican politicians like Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan saw these opportunities to pick up votes by signaling a willingness to soften civil rights enforcement. At the same time leading supporters of Jim Crow segregation policies in the South saw in fear of crime, and demands for tough “law and order” policies, a way to recast their opposition to federal policies, from a southern-only defense of segregation to a national defense of citizens against crime.3

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