Journalist and political commentator E.J. Dionne Jr. began his Washington Post Op-Ed of June 15, 1993 by chronicling the recent success of then-elect mayor of Los Angeles, Richard Riordan. Elected on the promise that he was “tough enough to turn L.A. around,” Riordan talked an awful lot about crime and business confidence. Despite his Republican status, Dionne haled Riordan for his “back to basics” approach to crime control and urban policy, suggesting that Democrats would do well to follow suite. “Democrats and liberals who want to maintain their power in urban areas” wrote Dionne, needed to respond with a similar program of their own. What the cities needed quipped Dionne, were “Kojak Liberals”. Liberals that could think, talk, and act “tough as nails” all while maintaining a “heart of gold”—much in the model of Kojak, the quintessential TV cop played by Telly Savalas (and soon, Vin Diesel in a theatre near you).
In the future, Kojak Liberals would be wise to return to “the things government knows how to do,” such as, “putting cops on the street” and “keeping the parks clean,” all the while cutting spending on the “things it doesn’t know so much about”—namely, “a range of social service programs.” After all, according to Dionne, “Social service spending has mostly benefited the urban poor and—perhaps at least importantly—the providers (social workers, health administrators and the like) who served them. In the cities, the poor are disproportionately African American and Latino.” Following the desperately needed demographics lesson, Dionne speculated that more efficient, equitable spending on “basic services” (like enforcement and incarceration) “help all classes,” because “rich and poor alike benefit from more cops on the beat and safer public parks.”
Sounding increasingly like Oscar Lewis, Richard Nixon, or perhaps, Mitt Romney, Dionne railed on: “for now, the biggest problems confronted by the inner city poor are created by rising violence and lawlessness.” All other problems were secondary. First, these dangerous districts needed to be controlled in an effort to “take back the streets” as high crime rates had made “life miserable for the law-abiding majority among the poor.” Lest there be any confusion, Dionne made the future priorities of Kojak Liberalism very clear: “Kojak Liberals are unabashed in saying when it comes to priorities, law-enforcement and crime prevention get top billing.” Unfortunately, somewhere along the way law enforcement learned that high-volume arrests created the illusion of progress and sound police work in the Drug War. As such, this quickly became the standard practice, crime prevention receded from view. By 1990, Drug Czar William Bennett happily gloated that “a massive wave of arrests” was now “top priority for the War on Drugs.” Indeed.