Selling reform to the uninitiated

Christopher Keelty
4 min readNov 3, 2022

Last night I watched the latest episode of John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight, in which he did a deep dive on bail reform and the massive right-wing outcry against it. As always, Oliver presented a cogent, well-researched, and even entertaining video essay on the topic, and it’s worth watching if you haven’t already.

The alarmist pushback on bail reform initiatives have been alternately frustrating and infuriating. It’s something I have seen in my own semi-rural community near NYC: When people talk about the rise in crime, someone almost always blames the state’s recent bail reform, despite abundant evidence that New York’s bail reform did not increase crime at all.

In large part this is because of the NYPD. Police are, after all lying liars who only tell lies. Since New York State passed bail reform measures, the police have done nothing but talk about how it increased crime. As we know, this proves it did no such thing, because police only lie, and if a police officer says something is true then we know it is false. Unfortunately, too few people acknowledge the First Law of Policing.

But what I got thinking about during Oliver’s segment was how we could win broader public support by reframing the way we talk about the issue. Reformers talk a lot about the injustice of the cash bail system, and how it violates the rights of those accused of crimes. That is the way Oliver frames his own argument in favor of bail reform measures. But this, unfortunately, only appeals to the segment of our population who care about the rights of people accused of crime — a segment that is, unfortunately, often drowned out by those who equate accusation with conviction, and conviction with dehumanization.

I can’t help wondering if we could take a lesson from the Inflation Reduction Act and reframe progressive reforms so they appeal to people who don’t necessarily share progressive values.

We’re never going to win the support of the hardcore “lock-em-all-up” conservatives, who only care about the rights of accused people when those accused people are white January 6 rioters. But there’s a huge portion of the public that is neither far right nor progressive, and those people tend to fall for…

--

--

Christopher Keelty

Writer, cartoonist, and nonprofit pro. I have too many interests, but let’s focus on culture & politics. Bisexual, cis. He/him, please. | Twitter: @keeltyc.