One of the signal achievements of the Clinton-Gore administration has been to shake off Democrats' well-earned reputation, starting in the anti-Vietnam War era of the 1960s, for being soft on crime.
Such permissiveness was one of the reasons Democrats were kept out of the White House from 1968 to 1992, except for Jimmy Carter's 1976-80 tenure growing out of Richard Nixon's Watergate scandal. Recall how Nixon first got elected in 1968? He ran against the party of amnesty, acid and abortion.
Well, Democrats have come a long way since then, beginning with Bill Clinton's support for the death penalty in his successful 1992 White House bid. But even then, and in 1996 as well, strong anti-crime policies were not reflected in the party's generally leftist platform. This year, however, it is.
Democrats promise to be just as tough on crime as Republicans. The change is welcomed, but there are some problems with the platform's anti-crime text.
It not only continues the Democrats' call for "hate crime" legislation, which requires that criminals who commit deadly or injurious violence receive harsher punishment if they were motivated by racial or gender hatred than if they did it for greed, jealousy or other reasons.
Why should that matter? Murder is still murder.
Another way of looking at this strange edict is that if your neighbor kills you because he hates your personality he'll be given a softer sentence than if he kills you because he hates the color of your skin or your ethnic heritage. How this curbs violent crime - or makes sense, for that matter - has never been adequately explained by liberals.
Now the Democrat platform wants to expand the peculiar doctrine to include the elderly. Beating up and robbing a person of 65 would carry a harsher prison term that beating up and robbing a 55-year-old.
This still doesn't make sense, but it does point up how Democrats divide Americans into different groups and then play them off against one another to win votes. "Hate legislation" appeals to minorities and by including the elderly, Democrats are looking for the senior vote.
But this does a grave disservice to the nation's criminal justice system and someday may very well be struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court for violating the Constitution's equal protection clause.