The bill coincided with an economic boom, the cresting of the crack-cocaine wave and, according to one notorious theory, the unintended benefit of legalized abortion eliminating thousands of would-be criminals before they had a chance to be born.
But economic growth has no obvious correlation with crime (homicide rates fell during both the Great Depression and the Great Recession). Property crimes have continued to fall despite the current opioid epidemic. And the abortion theory runs afoul the questionable hypothesis that unwanted pregnancies, if brought to term, are likelier to produce criminally disposed kids.
What really changed after 1994 was that we hired more cops, incarcerated more offenders, and, most importantly, policed our streets a lot better. That year’s crime bill wasn’t the only reason those changes took place, or perhaps even the main one. What it did do, however, was move the country, with fractious but bipartisan support, in the right direction: of more policing and tougher enforcement and a powerful refusal to continue defining criminal deviancy down in the face of those who said we just had to take it. It was an act of moral clarity married to political possibility, which is what statesmanship is all about.