Democrats and Republicans Can Be Bedfellows

Post Date: March 19, 2014

(CNN Opinion: Eric Liu) — You may not have noticed it, but in the midst of all the usual finger-pointing and polarization, a bit of actual problem-solving is underway in American politics.

A coalition of unlikely allies has coalesced in recent months to advance criminal justice reform. These strange bedfellows — from liberal Democrats such as Sen. Dick Durbin to tea party darlings such as Sen. Mike Lee, from the NAACP to Americans for Tax Reform — are all proposing reductions in mandatory minimum sentences.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s calls for such reductions have been cheered by some of the same Republicans who otherwise want to impeach him. In Texas, a conservative group called Right on Crime has led the way on prison and sentencing reform — earning plaudits from, among others, California progressives.

Why this rash of consensus?

Well, for the right, it’s mainly about getting control of big government — prisons now consume a quarter of the Justice Department’s budget, and state prison spending has been on a multidecade boom with little corresponding “return on investment.”

For the left, it’s mainly about social justice — the disparity in criminal sentencing for crack versus powder cocaine has a long-documented racial dimension, and blindly filling the “school-to-prison pipeline” has seemed misguided and cruel.

Democrats and Republicans agree the metastasis of the prison-industrial complex is unhealthy. But for each side there are also benefits to acknowledging the other side’s rationale. In a GOP sometimes perceived as intolerant, Rand Paul’s embrace of sentencing reform lets him to show his concern for minorities. Civil rights Democrats, meanwhile, get to embrace fiscal responsibility. Read more