Robert Knight

Government’s most essential function is to protect citizens. All other services are secondary. Camden, New Jersey is one of the most dangerous cities in the nation, according to FBI statistics analyzed by CQ Press. In fact, Camden was rated the “most dangerous city in America” in 2003, 2004, and in 2008, just missing the top spot in 2009 (St. Louis edged it out).

Camden has neighborhoods that aren’t safe in broad daylight, much less at night.

So what did the city fathers of Camden do when faced with a $25.5 million budget deficit? On Thursday, they voted to lay off 200 police and firefighters along with 200 other city workers..

Council President Frank Moran suggested that citizens’ concerns about the soon-to-be even more mean streets be directed toward Trenton and fiscal conservative Gov. Chris Christie.

“We didn’t put a price tag on public safety. Unfortunately, the governor of the State of New Jersey put that price tag on it,” he said at the meeting.

It’s the typical liberal gambit: having loaded the public rolls with unionized government employees doing all sorts of non-essential things, the politicians go for the jugular to get the public’s attention.

Laying off police and firefighters guarantees that lives will be lost in Camden because of the council’s gamesmanship. But this kind of thing works. Hit the public where it hurts.

Bill Clinton used a similar tactic when facing down the Newt Gingrich-led Republican House during the federal shutdown in 1995. Of all the hundreds of thousands of federal workers, the White House decided to furlough the ones who run the national parks and museums, thus giving tourists a smack in the chops. It’s called the Washington Monument Game.

I recall going to the Smithsonian that week with out of town visitors, driving past acres and acres of enormous federal buildings full of tens of thousands of paper-pushing bureaucrats, only to find the castle locked and dark. Out at Yellowstone, I think they even locked up Yogi Bear and Boo Boo in order to disappoint picnickers.

It worked, of course. On the drive home, we all exclaimed, “Wow, we are so undertaxed! They had better raise our taxes right away so we can see the Wright Brothers’ plane and Archie Bunker’s chair again!”

Camden is a microcosm of liberal government’s manipulative ways. CBS News reported that, “After the vote, council members and Camden Mayor Dana Redd avoided reporters by going into their offices.”

Of course they did. Why answer tough questions about why you would put public safety at risk to make a political point?

Robert Knight

Robert Knight is an author, senior fellow for the American Civil Rights Union and a frequent contributor to Townhall.