Crime Plunged in '90s Because Clinton Raised Taxes, Opines Libtalker Thom Hartmann

Give the man credit, he keeps setting new standards for delusion.

It was only weeks ago that liberal radio host Thom Hartmann was offering the most novel theory yet for the US-led invasion of Iraq, that it was a Rube Goldbergesque plot to privatize Social Security. (audio clips after page break)

Hartmann unleashed an equally fanciful claim on Tuesday while talking about the fatal shooting of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin by a neighborhood watch volunteer (audio) --

You know, right now, we're actually safer than we've been at any time since the end of the Reagan administration. Murder rates started to spike when Ronald Reagan came into office as the economy crashed, and they actually reached a peak in 1991, about three years after Reagan left office, before Bill Clinton was able to turn it around with, you know, by raising taxes.

I've heard plenty of theories over the years to explain dramatic reductions in crime across the nation during the '90s -- a rising economy, aging population, mandatory-minimum sentencing and higher rates of incarceration, the "Freakonomics" claim of Roe v. Wade eliminating untold numbers of would-be criminals, etc. -- but this is the only time I've heard it attributed to Clinton raising taxes.   

Hartmann repeated his second dubious assertion, that of crime worsening under Reagan, while talking with another caller about "institutional racism" in media (audio) --

HARTMANN: I would add to that that we have a media that makes a lot of money off of fear and a lot of money off scaring people. And I have never seen a news story that points out that murder, the murder rate in the United States has been on a steady decline since the second or third year of the Bill Clinton administration. And right now, you know, I mean, it had hit a peak of around 700 per 100,000 or 700 per million, or whatever it is, 700, and it's now in the 400 range per whatever it is. And, and, you know, it's just very, very low. And, it's like, nobody's saying, hey, we're safe, you know, everything's cool.

CALLER: But that was the same thing that they were pushing, though, back in, you know, the '80s and the '90s when Reagan was talking about how crime was going up and up and up, in reality it was going down but they had to have the perception of an increase of violence in the country to get the fear ...

HARTMANN: Well, actually crime was going up during the Reagan administration and I would submit to you that it was going up because he had destroyed the economy. And, and, you know, a lot of people felt that that was the only option that they had was, you know, to steal something or whatever the crime may be.

There's a good reason why Hartmann hasn't seen that story about the murder rate starting its two-decade decline in the "second or third year" of Clinton's presidency -- that's not when it began.

Indeed, Hartmann contradicts himself on this point with his remark earlier in the show about the murder rate peaking in 1991. But he is flat-out wrong in claiming the rate "started to spike" after Reagan took office in 1981. In fact, the rate declined during the 1980s, from 98 murders per million people in 1981 to 87 per million in 1989, according to FBI Uniform Crime Reporting data. It did increase over the next two years, to 98 murders per million people in 1991 -- but this can hardly be considered an increase over the preceding decade when it was the same rate in 1981.

While we're on the subject, how about the decade preceding Reagan taking office, 1971 to 1981? The murder rate rose from 86 victims per million people to 98 per million -- nearly 14 percent -- compared to remaining flat between 1981 and 1991 when Hartmann claims it "started to spike."

While the FBI data for rape shows a 17 percent increase from 1981 to 1991 (from 360 per million to 423) the decade prior to this saw an increase nearly fivefold worse, of 75 percent (205 to 360). For the two decades between 1961 to 1981, the surge in reported rapes was staggering -- from 94 per million people to 360. That the so-called sexual revolution occurred during the same era, with use of artificial contraception becoming commonplace and abortion legalized, is no coincidence. Both rendered sex far less consequential.

Hartmann contends that because Reagan "destroyed" the economy, many Americans were forced to steal. That's not what the FBI data shows. In 1981, the property crime rate was 52,565 per million people. As of 1991, it had dropped to 51,402 per million -- about 2 percent less.  But for the decade before Reagan took office, property crime soared nearly 40 percent. (37,688 per million to 52,565).

As to be expected, Hartmann also overlooks Reagan's greatest achievement in eradicating lawlessness -- as principal catalyst in the demise of the Soviet Union, the most violent, corrupt regime in history. 

For hard-core leftists like Hartmann, this was Reagan's greatest crime.

Jack Coleman
Jack Coleman
Ex-liberal from People's Republic of Massachusetts