The Democratic Party’s left flank, including Rep.-elect Cori Bush of St. Louis, is pushing back at former President Barack Obama for his suggestion that the party should ditch the phrase “defund the police.” Bush and others should listen to the party’s most popular figure — and heed the lessons of Nov. 3, when moderate voters nervous about perceived left-wing radicalism thwarted what otherwise could have been a Democratic landslide in Congress.
The defund movement gained national prominence following the police killings of George Floyd and other Black citizens. What the phrase means depends on who is doing the talking, which is part of the problem. At its least radical, it means addressing the root causes of crime by diverting some public funding away from traditional policing and toward poverty relief, social programs, mental health interventions and other efforts.
That isn’t an unreasonable approach to crime, but doing it at the expense of police funding threatens to further victimize residents of high-crime areas. And the “defund the police” slogan itself, however it’s defined, scares political moderates and gives fuel to right-wing demagogues — especially when coupled with other radical ideas such as Bush’s “defund the Pentagon” tweet.