Last month, when calls to “defund the police” were popularized by the “Black Lives Matter” movement, politicians and pundits on both sides of the aisle quickly understood just how controversial and consequential of an idea it was.
After all, the common understanding of “defund” can be echoed by simply Googling the word: “prevent from continuing to receive funds.”
Even in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, and the identification (and public condemnation) of serious race-related problems within a number of police forces, it’s difficult to think of a more societally irresponsible and politically suicidal measure than removing all police funding. Such a move would effectively end law enforcement as we know it, and just about everyone understands that to be a colossally bad idea.
So, people on the political right understandably (and fairly) jumped on the slogan and exploited it (along with some empathy expressed for the sentiment by liberal leaders) as a testament to just how radical the left has become. In turn, people on the political left worked diligently (and comically) to redefine the very meaning of the word “defund.”
The clean-up effort was pretty exhaustive. In fact, if you go back on over to Google (I swear I’m not a company stockholder) and search on the phrase “defund the police,” you’ll find a seemingly endless list of columns by left-leaning writers explaining what those calling for the action “really” mean.
The liberal-commentary consensus: “defund the police” represents a less crazy directive: redirecting a portion of police budgets to social programs not directly tied to law enforcement, but rather poverty, mental illness, homelessness, etc.
Of course, that’s not the proper usage of “defund,” as righties continued to point out while mocking the left’s tap-dancing on the issue.
More prominent Democratic leaders have steered clear of the rhetorical contortionism on this matter. Presidential candidate Joe Biden has stated outright that he doesn’t want to “defund” the police, but work toward reform. Bernie Sanders has surprisingly taken a similar stance.
Yet, on Fox News last Sunday, President Trump insisted to Chris Wallace that Biden does indeed support defunding and even abolishing the police. When Wallace pushed back against the assertion, Trump cited a “charter” Biden had put together with Bernie Sanders. The president was referring to a document on Biden’s campaign website titled “Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force Recommendations.” In dramatic fashion, he even called for an aide to hand him a copy of it, which he then thumbed through.
There was just one problem: nothing in the 100+ page document supported Trump’s assertion. It was an embarrassing moment for the president, who couldn’t uphold the words that had just left his mouth. Perhaps more damaging was that his team had been running campaign ads promoting the narrative.
Trump and Wallace moved on, but quite a few pro-Trump folks in the media didn’t, electing instead to try and save their guy some face by suddenly adopting the left’s alternate, previously ridiculed definition of “defund.”
Here’s Charlie Kirk from Turning Point USA, citing a recent Biden interview:
Chris Wallace says Joe Biden doesn’t want to defund police
“Can we agree that we can redirect some [police] funding”
Joe Biden “absolutely” wants to defund police
RT so Chris can’t ignore! pic.twitter.com/rcXZyeDunC
— Charlie Kirk (@charliekirk11) July 20, 2020
And here’s Byron York from the Washington Examiner:
“In interviews with liberal activists, Biden has presented a much more nuanced position on defunding the police, suggesting he supports redirecting police funding toward other purposes, like mental health counseling and affordable housing. Such redirection would be, in fact, defunding police.”
They (and many others) are mostly right about what Biden has been saying in recent interviews. The presumptive Democratic nominee has indeed entertained the idea of redirecting some police funding to social programs. I emphasize the word “some” because York forgot to include it in his framing of the argument.
So now, the right-wing media and left-wing media seem to have found bipartisan agreement that “defund” actually means the redirection of a portion of funds. In other words, they’ve finally discovered an issue on which they agree.
Celebrate good times, come on!
But now I’m even more confused. Because if that’s what “defund” means, didn’t President Trump defund the U.S. military when he directed some of their funding to the construction of the border wall?
I don’t know about the rest of you, but I find it kind of horrifying (in these linguistically challenging times) that the 2020 presidential election is now a “binary choice” between defunding the police and defunding the military.
And by horrifying, I mean, “causing horror; extremely shocking,” not whatever dopey, intellectually flexible definition the political class decides to come up with.