Root Out the “Root Causes”

Just a brief riff today about Democrats, urgency and “root causes.”

“Root causes,” is a favorite phrase among Democrats. They want to find the root causes of crime, of inflation, of poverty, of everything.

Vice President Kamala Harris wants to discover the root causes of the immigration problem at the southern border. When she visited Central America this summer she said: “My trip . . . was about addressing the root causes. The stories that I heard and the interactions we had today reinforce the nature of these root causes. . . . So the work that we have to do is the work of addressing the cause—the root causes.”

Columnist Peggy Noonan had a fair take on that: “Studying “root causes” is a way of saying you want to look busy while you do nothing.”

Now, that’s not entirely fair. I think most Democrats really do want to get to the heart of a problem. The trouble is that Noonan is right in that this is disastrous political language. Talking about the root causes sounds to voters like you’re punting, like you lack a sense of urgency, like you’re not taking seriously a problem they feel acutely.

People are right to be concerned about crime. Shootings are up 30%. Democrats want to talk about how it’s caused by social isolation and stress due to the pandemic. Maybe it is, but how does that effect public policy? It’s pretty clear by now that COVID isn’t just going away. Like climate change, it needs to be both directly attacked and managed.

But since COVID can’t be eliminated as the root cause of the crime problem, you’ve got to deal with crime head on. That means hiring more cops and locking up the bad guys. Pushing to eliminate cash bail, as is the official position of the Democratic Party, actually isn’t an entirely bad idea based on research, but it’s a horrible idea based on politics. So just stop talking about that and instead emphasize all the cops that got hired or were able to stay on the job because of the $1.9 trillion package the Democrats passed early this year, and talk about the expansion of the COPS program that is in the Build Back Better plan.

Same goes for immigration. The Biden Administration should address the reasons people are fleeing to the U.S. It would be better if their home countries were safe, democratic and offered them a chance at a better life. But for now voters want to see them keeping a flood of immigrants out of the country.

My in-depth research indicates that Congressional elections are held every two years. Further digging has revealed that there is another one of those in about 11 months. Talking about your plan to reduce crime or slow immigration over the next decade won’t cut it. I’m not saying that long-term solutions shouldn’t be pursued. I’m saying Democrats shouldn’t lead with those policies or neglect the tough stuff that needs to be done right now.

The thing about roots is that they’re underground and invisible. People see the plant, and if they notice it withering they want to do something to bring it back to life now.

Democrats need to stop talking like academics and start talking like politicians. Politicians who hear the voters and take their problems seriously.

Welcome to the 295th consecutive day of posts here at YSDA. Thanks for reading and have a good weekend.


Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

7 thoughts on “Root Out the “Root Causes”

      1. That’s a problem for sure. But you’re talking about bail jumping. If people are jumping bail isn’t that just indication that bail isn’t working to get the accused back into court?


  1. “If people are jumping bail isn’t that just indication that bail isn’t working to get the accused back into court?” Exactly my point! The corollary is that b/w 56% and 60% of accused felons are being released on signature bond ranges see in Dane County.

    An 18 year old is caught with a loaded firearm at Verona high school in November. Had been free on signature bond, under court order to be unarmed. After the Verona incident, Dane County judge re-releases mope on signature bond, again orders to remain unarmed. How about the State Street fugitive subdued after gunfire in October with three felony and one misdemeanor bail jumpings already on his rap sheet. Rinse & Repeat.


    1. I don’t disagree with your fundamental point, David. We need to keep dangerous people locked up. But I’ve got two caveats. The first is that the presumption of innocence still applies. You can’t use bail in Wisconsin to keep people behind bars; only to make sure they show up in court. The second is that there is some validity to the argument that keeping people in jail who are not a risk lowers their chances of turning their lives around. What might be needed is a state constitutional amendment to allow jail to be used to protect the public in certain cases. My point is that, if an accused person really presents a big risk to the public there should be no bail at all. They should remain locked up. And if the person doesn’t represent a risk, there also should be no bail at all. They should be allowed to be free until their next court date. It doesn’t look to me like bail is working in either direction.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. When most sane people talk bail reform we are not talking about serious offenders. Wisconsin’s weird bail laws have been around forever and have nothing to do with the reform movement. Which by the way has a lot of support from the Libertarian side of politics, the Koch Brothers have pushed this for years. No one should be on bond or bail, or in jail for that matter, for misdemeanors or non violent felonies. I would support making it harder for domestic abusers to get out on bond.


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