About six weeks ago, which may have already been too late, Democrats in Congress pushed through four outstanding anti-crime bills.

The bills were notable for acknowledging we have a public safety crisis, which it hasn’t been easy to get Democrats to do. The bills also formed a sophisticated, not knee-jerk, reaction to a complex problem.

One bill gave grants to fund detectives and forensic equipment specifically targeting violent, not petty, crime. Another ramped up spending on violence-prevention programs. A third provided seed money for cities to stand up teams of social workers to go on mental health and drug calls. And the fourth, the one that got the most votes, gave grants to boost smaller police departments.

So it added up to a mix of policing and prevention programs — exactly what experts say is needed to start tackling the pandemic-era crime epidemic. All four of the bills also got at least some Republican votes.

Then: nothing.

The bills went over to the U.S. Senate, and have not been heard of again.

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It’s maybe no shock the Senate didn’t pass them. Republicans have been filibustering most Democratic bills and would have no interest in giving the liberal party a win on one of the GOP’s biggest fall campaign issues. Cynical, but that’s politics.

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It’s political malpractice though that Democrats themselves have barely said a word about the effort.

“Some Democrats don’t want to talk about crime,” wrote Paul Begala, who I met back in the day when he was a political adviser for Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign. “They hope most voters’ righteous outrage about the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade will overshadow crime as an issue. I think they’re wrong.”

One of these Democrats is our own U.S. senator, Patty Murray. She is being blamed by her GOP opponent Tiffany Smiley for everything from murders in King County to a Starbucks closing on Capitol Hill. These are not Murray’s direct purview — she’s a U.S. senator, not a mayor or police chief. But politics at its most primal level, as Bill Clinton would tell you, is about feeling your pain. It’s showing you’re engaged.

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Violent crime in her state’s biggest city rose this summer to 25-year highs, and now the news is that shootings in King County are on track to have doubled since before the pandemic and continue to rise. You’d barely know it from Murray. The “issues” page at her Senate website covers 14 topics, none related to public safety. Murray is a very active senator, taking to the Senate floor frequently to comment on a range of issues, from abortion rights to veterans benefits to the baby formula shortage earlier this year. Crime here at home didn’t rate a mention, according to C-SPAN’s speech tracker.

The one exception is gun control. Murray has highlighted gun control issues several times this year, especially after the mass shooting at a school in Uvalde, Texas. Murray, slammed for ignoring crime, in return slams Smiley for ignoring guns.

The point here isn’t to single out Murray. As Begala above notes, Democrats nationwide are skittish about crime issues. Their own voter base is fractured about it. As Pew Research points out in a new national study released Monday, 82% of Black Democrats view violent crime as a “very important” voting issue this year. But only 33% of white Democrats do. (I hear from these white Democrats every time I write about crime, liberal-splaining how statistically it’s not as bad as it was in the 1980s, so I should chill.)

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If Democrats underperform in next week’s election, this will be a large part of why. It’s like the pandemic itself: Republicans struggled in 2020 largely because they didn’t take the pandemic seriously enough. Donald Trump would probably still be president if he’d simply stood out there wearing a hard hat, pretending to be in charge of shipping masks, ventilators and COVID tests to far-flung regions of the nation. Instead he treated a major disease outbreak like a political inconvenience. So voters canceled him.

Crime is not as shocking as a global pandemic. But it is a sort of social contagion. This current crime wave was likely caused by the pandemic. Yet it’s the pandemic-denial party that’s flogging it, while strangely the party that took the pandemic seriously is now the one out of touch with reality.

Democrats are obviously conflicted — about the role of police, about GOP demagoguery of urban areas, about acknowledging that something’s gone wrong on their turf. As pollster Stuart Elway told me, it’s “gotten to the point that if Republicans are going to be saying crime is a huge problem, then the Democrats are going to say it’s not. Even if it is.”

That’s why it was such a breakthrough when the party momentarily overcame all this and passed those four bills. (Democratic Rep. Kim Schrier, of Sammamish, co-sponsored two of them, so kudos to her.)

But then to let it all drop? Why not hold news conferences and demand a Senate vote. Why not force the bills onto the Senate floor, and make Republicans block them if that’s what they want to do. Why not push it like you mean it?

At least then voters might conclude the concern was more than just a hollow stunt.

For more information about voting, ballot drop boxes, accessible voting and online ballots, contact your county elections office. Ballots must be postmarked by Election Day, Nov. 8, or put in a drop box or returned in person to your county elections department by 8 p.m. that day. Be sure to sign the ballot envelope.

For more information on your ballot, in any county, go to: myvote.wa.gov

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