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Think anew,” exhorted Barack Obama. The old ways simply can’t meet the challenges of today and tomorrow.” That’s been a campaign theme of the president-elect’s repeated, welcome calls for innovation on foreign policy, budget reform, and energy and an end to Washington’s stifling groupthink.”

But does Obama propose to extend this refreshing imperative to evolve new thinking America’s century of disastrously failed policies on crime, violence, drug abuse, and related social ills? After all, guns, drugs, and AIDS have killed 30 times more Americans in the last decade than all the world’s terrorists combined. Even when the United States’ economy is booming, our social statistics look many times worse than those of other Western democracies. When poverty and unemployment rise, our miseries can take on Third World proportions.

The new president’s initial appointments are not encouraging. Obama’s vice president, Joe Biden of Delaware, is a hard-line drug warrior who has consistently pushed criminal sanctions as the first resort. The incoming chief of staff, Rahm Emannuel, is known for cynical Democratic campaign strategy leadership that sought to exploit public fears of young people and crime. There is little in Obama’s campaign record to indicate new ideas on crime and related social issues that Democrats of the past have sacrificed to forge popular get tough” images on family values.” The few and vague positions on Barackobama.com’s website invoke troubling rhetoric on the dangerous cycle of youth violence,” largely unworkable clichés on guns, and virtually nothing to confront the epidemic of drug abuse driving family and community crime.

Since, according to the latest FBI report, youth account for fewer than 6% of all homicides and 10% of violent crime, Obama’s biggest innovation would be to firmly end America’s disgraceful tradition of demographic scapegoating” that singles out each particular era’s most feared young, poor, minority, and/​or immigrant populations to blame for drugs and crime and, instead, to broaden policy discussion to include the new crisis of drug abuse and offending by older, mainstream groups. New strategies to treat burgeoning drug abuse rather than mass criminalization and imprisonment are a crucial component of crime reduction. Most important, Obama’s strategies to boost lower and middle class incomes, invest in improving poorer schools, and reduce concentrated poverty hold great promise… but presidents have routinely promised these before. If the new President-elect is to fulfill the hope of a distinct break with past futility, his social policies will have to rise to the same level of seriousness that now characterize his fiscal ideas.