Politics, et Cetera
A publication from The Political Forum, LLC
Tuesday, May 5, 2015
They Said It:
Pluralist society is free society exactly in proportion to its ability to protect as large a domain as possible that is governed by the informal, spontaneous, custom-derived, and traditionsanctioned habits of the mind rather than by the dictates, however rationalized, of government and judiciary. Law is vital – formal, statute law – but when every relationship in society becomes a potentially legal relationship, expressed in adversary fashion, the very juices of the social bond dry up, the social impulse atrophies. The genius of the English common law lies not only in the social and communal roots of this law, as these are to be seen in the history of England during the Middle Ages, but also in its tacit concern, repeatedly expressed in judicial decision, that as little as possible be transferred from the nonlegal, nonpolitical lives of human beings living in a social order to the necessarily legal and political lives of the same human beings conceived as subjects of the sovereign. Nothing, it would seem, so quickly renders a population easy prey for the Watergate mentality of government as the dissolution of those customs and traditions which are the very stuff of morality and, hence, of resistance to oppression and corruption.
Robert Nisbet, “The Restoration of Authority,” (chapter 5), Twilight of Authority, 1975.
NIGHTTIME ON THE CHARM CITY.
Just over six years ago, in his first major speech as the newly confirmed Attorney General of the United States, Eric Holder called his fellow countrymen “essentially cowards” on the matter of race and demanded that the American people be willing to have an honest “conversation” about racial matters. Of course, over the remainder of his term in office – which ended just last month – Mr. Holder did little to advance this “honest” discussion, choosing to broach the subject of race only when it suited his purposes or those of his boss. Mostly, he spent his six years as the nation’s top cop complaining about how his race, rather than his lawlessness and contempt of Congress, made his life unbearably difficult.
We cowards continue to wait for the honesty and the forthrightness that we were led to believe was imminent. But as we wait, we have decided that it might be worthwhile to undertake our own examination of the issue, with the understanding, of course, that Holder, Obama, and their toadies believe that they and they alone have the right to set the terms of the conversation.
You see, the truth is that those fearless political leaders who claim the racial moral high ground don’t really want a dialogue on race. Rather, they want us to remain silent while they lecture us about our own complicity in the nation’s complicated racial milieu. Their attitude is that on the subject of race, as in other all matters, they know best. And the sooner we realize this, the sooner we will be able to move on in the direction of racial harmony and peace.
The problem with this blinkered notion of a dialogue – other than its obvious anti-democratic nature – is that the very people who wish to lead the nation in resolving our current racial problems, also happen to be the people most responsible for exacerbating these problems. To turn the discussion over to them exclusively would be a little like letting Bull Connor lead the conversation on desegregation and Jim Crow.
This is not to say that the contemporary Left created the racial problems we see. As any schoolboy knows, this nation’s racial history is not only long, but very sordid. When the political leaders and professional agitators complain that the unrest in the black community today is the result of 400 years of oppression, they have a point. Within the lifetimes of many of you, gentle readers, and half of us at The Political Forum, black Americans were denied their God-given rights and treated as second-class citizens, not merely by custom, but by the force of law as well.
That said, it is also true that many of the problems faced by the current generation of blacks in America’s urban areas today can be traced directly to a combination of a vast and seemingly willful ignorance of the basics of human nature; the smug, paternalistic racism of low expectations; and a mania for reckless social engineering schemes, all of which are hallmarks of the Democratic Party’s formula for dealing with black Americans.
Now, we are told that these efforts are aimed at improving the life of these individuals, but given their obvious and horrible consequences over the last half century, one could be forgiven for viewing them as just more of the same from the Democratic party, merely the latest iteration of the Democratic Party’s longstanding social engineering effort to enfeeble minorities and to keep them ever more dependent on government. Indeed, the current programs for dealing with race and racial disparities in urban areas remind us of nothing more than Margaret Sanger’s infamous “Negro Project.” Sanger, a Democratic Party icon and the founder of Planned Parenthood, explained her project (rather indelicately, if we do say so) as follows in a letter to Dr. Clarence Gamble, dated December 19, 1939. (Congressional Record 111th Congress, Vol. 155 – Part 7, p. 9251.)
We should hire three or four colored ministers, preferably with social-service backgrounds, and with engaging personalities. The most successful educational approach to the Negro is through a religious appeal. We don’t want the word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population, and the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members.
National Review’s Kevin Williamson, perhaps the most creative and eloquent conservative writing about politics today, recently described the nature of the stranglehold that the Democrats have on the cities and resultant power they have over the citizens. He put it this way:
St. Louis has not had a Republican mayor since the 1940s, and in its most recent elections for the board of aldermen there was no Republican in the majority of the contests; the city is overwhelmingly Democratic, effectively a single-party political monopoly from its schools to its police department. Baltimore has seen two Republicans sit in the mayor’s office since the 1920s — and none since the 1960s. Like St. Louis, it is effectively a single-party political monopoly from its schools to its police department. Philadelphia has not elected a Republican mayor since 1948. The last Republican to be elected mayor of Detroit was congratulated on his victory by President Eisenhower. Atlanta, a city so corrupt that its public schools are organized as a criminal conspiracy against its children, last had a Republican mayor in the 19th century. Its municipal elections are officially nonpartisan, but the last Republican to run in Atlanta’s 13th congressional district did not manage to secure even 30 percent of the vote; Atlanta is effectively a single-party political monopoly from its schools to its police department.
American cities are by and large Democratic-party monopolies, monopolies generally dominated by the so-called progressive wing of the party. The results have been catastrophic, and not only in poor black cities such as Baltimore and Detroit. Money can paper over some of the defects of progressivism in rich, white cities such as Portland and San Francisco, but those are pretty awful places to be non-white and non-rich, too: Blacks make up barely 9 percent of the population in San Francisco, but they represent 40 percent of those arrested for murder, and they are arrested for drug offenses at ten times their share of the population. Criminals make their own choices, sure, but you want to take a look at the racial disparity in educational outcomes and tell me that those low-income nine-year-olds in Wisconsin just need to buck up and bootstrap it?
Last week, in his comments about Baltimore, its racial issues, and the resultant riots, Barack Obama, turned to the shopworn talking points used by the by Democratic Party’s plantation operators since the 1960s, blaming Republicans for blocking “investment” in cities like Baltimore. Investment, he suggested, would ease racial tensions and make the world a better place. Of course, he knows that simply throwing money at the problem will do nothing to alleviate the conditions in urban areas. But he also knows that his constituents expect him nevertheless to make the plea. It’s all just part of the job, part of being the world’s most powerful and best known “community organizer.”
The truth is that Kurt Schmoke, the former mayor of Baltimore, who served three terms ending in 1999, dumped tens of millions of dollars into various poor neighborhoods in Baltimore, building affordable housing, community centers, and all of the other institutions that are part of the Left’s tireless efforts to use the plight of poor black Americans to funnel money to their friends, the “developers.”
Sandtown-Winchester, the neighborhood in which the late Freddie Gray grew up, was one of the most generously plied areas of the city, receiving almost immeasurable public and private investment. And today, it remains among Baltimore’s poorest, most violent, and most crime-ridden. Who knew?
As such, it comes as no surprise to anyone, least of all Barack Obama himself, that some five decades after the Civil Rights victories of the Johnson administration and the concomitant War on Poverty, America’s cities remain as bad as if not worse than ever. We’d argue, moreover, that this is not the result of policy failure. Rather, it is the result of a highly successful effort on the part of the Democrats to keep urban populations dependent on them and on government, and to mine their troubles for political power and money.
Twenty years ago, you may recall, a man named Marion Barry was the Democratic Party boss in Washington, D.C. He had been part of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s and became the first major player in the movement to be elected to run a major city. His first three terms, from 1979-1991, were plagued with corruption. He rewarded friends and cronies with lucrative contracts. He turned government business into a slush fund for friends and campaign donors. He leveraged his power and “heroic” past, turning the District of Columbia into his own personal fiefdom. While Barry served as mayor, the city’s real estate market boomed, creating a massive budget that Barry used to create jobs with no purpose and to increase city payrolls to the point where even city officials had no clue how many people “worked” for them. Finally, in 1990, Barry was famously (infamously?) caught on video in an FBI sting operation smoking crack in a hotel room. He was tried, convicted, and sent to prison.
Two years later, upon his release from prison, Barry was again elected to the DC city Council. Two years after that, he was again elected mayor of the city. Throughout the country, people assumed that the residents of DC were nuts. And maybe they were a little nuts, but certainly they didn’t go crazy on their own.
You see, as manifestly and undeniably corrupt as Barry was, he was nevertheless the guy who had the support of the Democratic machine. He was the guy whom the political establishment supported and propped up because they saw him as the means to retain power, to retain the city’s “historic,” civil-rights connection. He was the guy who could, without question, defeat the feisty “outsider” Carol Schwartz.
In his first stint as mayor, Barry’s personal and political corruption was well known. Yet the party establishment looked the other way, in order to keep “their guy” in office. He delivered the nominating speech for Jesse Jackson at the 1984 Democratic National Convention. He was endorsed by the Washington Post, despite the paper’s knowledge of problems within his administration. Upon his release from prison, he ran for city council using a slogan that not only captured the key details of his life story, but captured the Democratic Party’s approach to urban politics throughout country, i.e. “He May Not Be Perfect, But He’s Perfect for D.C.”
It’s not just DC, of course. And it’s not just Marion Barry. The Democratic Party’s approach to urban politics over the last half century has been remarkably stable. Not only is corruption of municipal officials not considered problematic, it is as much as part of the system as horses are to the Kentucky Derby.
As long as the guy or gal is loyal and dedicated to the expanse of the party apparatus, he or she will have the full and uncritical support of the party establishment. After all, as long as loyal Democrat is in charge, the reach of government and the number of those dependent on government will grow. Not perfect, but perfect for the urban centers that the Democrats claim as their own.
Nearly ten years ago, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, we wrote what may be our best remembered piece in a long time, from which we borrowed the quote used in the “They Said It” section above (http://thepoliticalforum.com/members/articles/2005/090605.pdf). The piece was circulated far and wide – with our approval. In it, we argued that the terrible disaster that befell the city of New Orleans in the wake of the hurricane was a political tragedy more than anything. Near the end of our comments, we argued that the sort of racial politics we are seeing in Baltimore now – and saw in DC in over the last couple of decades – not only exacerbated the problems in New Orleans, but ensured that such tragedies would only be repeated in the future. Specifically, we put it this way (and again, please forgive the extended quote):
Though some on the right have tried their best to downplay the issue of race in this catastrophe, there is little doubt that the storm disproportionately affected black people, who will almost certainly comprise the overwhelming majority of the estimated 10,000-plus dead. The question here isn’t whether this storm affected blacks unduly; that much is obvious. The question is why.
To hear the “civil rights establishment” and other activist-types tell the story, blacks suffered the brunt of this storm because of racism, presumably on the part of President Bush and the Republican Party. As is usually the case, the “Reverend” Jesse Jackson was among the first to cry racism, when he declared last week that President Bush was unconcerned about the plight of black people in the wake of the hurricane and insisted that the absence of blacks among the ranks of disaster relief coordinators was incontrovertible proof of this racially motivated lack of concern.
Jackson was, naturally, followed in due course by the “Reverend” Al Sharpton, who accused the media of portraying the innocent “taxpayers” of New Orleans as violent thugs; by Randall Robinson, who declared that America is a fraud and that this fraudulence had forced black people, in the wake of the disaster, to resort to cannibalism; by rapper Kanye West who declared on network television that Bush “doesn’t care about black people,”; and by CBS news contributor Nancy Giles, who declared (again on network television) that “If the majority of the hardest hit victims of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans were white people, they would not have gone for days without food and water, forcing many to steal for mere survival. Their bodies would not have been left to float in putrid water. They would have been rescued and relocated a hell of a lot faster than this. Period.”
As we said, there is no question that blacks were disproportionately affected by Hurricane Katrina, but the reasons for this have nothing to do with President Bush and some sort of latent conservative racism and everything to do with the likes of Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and the type of wild, accusatory excuse-making detailed above. The fact of the matter is that the reason blacks suffered disproportionately from Katrina is because they suffer disproportionately from the factors we’ve mentioned that exacerbated the hurricane, namely corruption, the breakdown of social institutions like the family, and over-reliance on government.
Certainly race was a crucial variable in determining one’s chances of surviving Hurricane Katrina, but it was not a causative variable. Those who died and suffered unduly in the aftermath of this storm did so principally because they were poor, not because they were black. Of course, it just so happens that most of the poor were black, but here again, race was not the determinative variable. What precipitates poverty, particularly in cities like New Orleans, Detroit, Washington, D.C., and East St. Louis, is corruption, the breakdown of the family, and what has become known as “the culture of dependency.” And what precipitates those factors is the civil rights and liberal establishments’ tolerance for such things, their absolute and steadfast refusal to acknowledge that there are problems plaguing the black community that are entirely unrelated to white racism.
President Bush has a phrase that many conservatives detest which he uses in conjunction with his education policies, “the soft bigotry of low expectations.” This phrase more than any other captures the liberal establishment’s attitudes toward predominantly black cities in this country. For reasons I can’t even begin to imagine or understand, the liberal and civil rights establishments are willing to tolerate conditions in predominately black municipalities that they would not tolerate elsewhere, despite the fact that the people who suffer most from of these conditions are themselves black.
By Mayor Nagin’s own estimation, anywhere from a third to just under half (33%-44%) of New Orleans residents over the age of 16 are functionally illiterate. This as much as anything that happened in the last week is a disgrace and represents a serious and unqualified threat to the city’s black population. But instead of worrying about how this utter failure of the city’s public school system contributes to the creation of a permanent underclass, or how it almost certainly contributed to the failure of many residents to heed the evacuation orders, folks like Jackson and Sharpton are out caterwauling about the lack of quotas at FEMA and making excuses for violent armed thugs who terrorized the city for the better part of a week.
Moreover, anyone who questions the accepted orthodoxy on these issues is immediately branded a racist, which means that no one of any standing will even think about doing so. And so it will remain the case that the state of America’s biggest and most predominantly black cities is the predominant threat to the health, well-being, and economic prospects of its black residents.
Baltimore today is probably not as bad off as New Orleans was in 2005, but that’s not for lack of trying. New Orleans rivals Chicago for most endemically corrupt city in American history. Many of Baltimore’s politicians are crooked. Some of its public officials are on the take. And of course, its police force is riddled with its own list of perversions. Again, Kevin Williamson provides the details:
Would any sentient adult American be shocked to learn that Baltimore has a corrupt and feckless police department enabled by a corrupt and feckless city government? I myself would not, and the local authorities’ dishonesty and stonewalling in the death of Freddie Gray is reminiscent of what we have seen in other cities. There’s a heap of evidence that the Baltimore police department is pretty bad.
This did not come out of nowhere. While the progressives have been running the show in Baltimore, police commissioner Ed Norris was sent to prison on corruption charges (2004), two detectives were sentenced to 454 years in prison for dealing drugs (2005), an officer was dismissed after being videotaped verbally abusing a 14-year-old and then failing to file a report on his use of force against the same teenager (2011), an officer was been fired for sexually abusing a minor (2014), and the city paid a quarter-million-dollar settlement to a man police illegally arrested for the non-crime of recording them at work with his mobile phone. There’s a good deal more.
Scour the world-wide web, if you dare, and try to find even one example of a prominent Democrat – at any level of government – who has called for the resignation of Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. Try to find just one instance of a well-known liberal calling for the Baltimore police union to be disbanded. Try to find anything, anywhere offered by anyone left-of-center that might conceivably promote holding the people responsible for Baltimore’s sad state accountable. You’ll not have much luck if you do. Trust us.
In a normal world, anyone who is or was connected to Baltimore municipal government over the last 50 years would currently be too embarrassed to show his or her face in public. In a normal world, the people responsible for creating the conditions that exist in the poor neighborhoods of Baltimore – which, let’s be honest, is almost ALL of Baltimore – would be doing some soul-searching. In a normal world, they’d all be trying to figure out what they did wrong, what could have been done differently, and how to make amends for their mistakes.
Of course, as we’ve said more times than we can count, this is NOT a normal world. And so, instead, we find Martin O’Malley running around the country, touting his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination as the only legitimate “alternative” to Hillary Clinton, raising money, picking off key supporters and donors here and there. O’Malley, for the record, just completed two terms as the Governor of Maryland. And before that, as you may know, he served two terms as . . . the Mayor of Baltimore.
O’Malley claims that he is going to make Baltimore the center of his campaign for the nomination. To a novice, this might sound crazy, given what a disaster Baltimore is. But to anyone who has paid attention to Democratic politics since at least LBJ, this might be a shrewd move. Indeed, while O’Malley may have exacerbated his city’s police problems, insisting on greater police presence and greater police visibility and aggressiveness, he managed nevertheless to keep the Baltimore unanimously Democratic. And in the end, is there any greater accomplishment than this? Certainly he did better at maintaining the existing power structure he inherited than Hillary and her priapic husband did during their first go ‘round in the White House.
To those of you who live near and work on Wall Street, this will be an easy question: What is, by far, the safest major city in the country and one of the Top 10 safest cities in the world? New York City, obviously.
And what differentiates New York from other cities in the country, cities like Atlanta, Detroit, Baltimore, Washington DC, Chicago, and so on? What is it that has made New York – once the crime capital of the nation – so different from its American counterparts? What makes it safer?
Again, the answer is obvious. Unlike any of the other cities mentioned, New York has had a Republican mayor in recent memory. Indeed, New York had a Republican or pseudo-Republican mayor for 20 of the last 21 years. And these two mayors were not intimidated by party bosses, unwilling to cave to party functionaries, and unwilling to play the games that the party-indebted mayors and city council members in other major cities are all too willing to play. The Republican mayors of New York understood that their job was to protect the people of their city – not just the politically connected and powerful people, mind you – but ALL the people, white, black, Latino, Asian, or otherwise. And they knew that in order to do so, they would have to break from past administrations, break from past practices, and implement some difficult and easily mischaracterized policies.
We will be the first to admit – and regular readers will note that we have done so in these pages before – that we’re not especially big fans of overzealous and overaggressive police behavior. We tend to believe that most individual law enforcement officers are noble, brave, and honorable. At the same time, we believe that they are, nonetheless, utilized by the political powers that be as the ground troops in Big Government’s war against . . . well . . . anything and everything. Freddie Gray was arrested for running away from police for the crime of “making eye contact.” Eric Garner was killed by police for the crime of selling “loosies,” loose, single cigarettes. As government gets bigger, crimes against that government grow more plentiful, by definition. As crimes grow more plentiful, contact between police and the public also increases. And as contact between police and the public increases, opportunities for mistakes, carelessness, or overzealousness also increase. Big Government leads, inevitably, to greater opportunity for police violence against citizens. It’s simple math.
Of course, what the Republicans in New York (Giuliani and Bloomberg) did transcended mere expansion of the municipal police presence. It transcended the simple math. Giuliani and Bloomberg also implemented reforms in police policy and police techniques, none of which would have been possible if they had been beholden to the usual Democratic forces enmeshed in urban politics. The fact that they were not Democrats was enough to give them the chance to make the reforms necessary to turn their city around and to keep it moving in the right direction.
While the mainstream media and the left-of-center political establishment focus on the potential harm done to New York’s minority population by such things as the “stop-and-frisk” policy, the fact of the matter is that the quality life in New York today is better than it has been in decades. And the primary beneficiaries of that increase in quality of life are those populations who would otherwise have their lives more disrupted and more threatened by crime, that is to say the poor and, quite often, minority populations. Giuliani and Bloomberg – the Republicans – made life better for all New Yorkers, in short, but for minorities in particular.
Ten years ago, when we wrote our piece on New Orleans and Katrina, we ended by lamenting that the conditions that had made a relatively mild hurricane a major disaster would not be rectified any time soon. The political powers, we wrote, were too entrenched and stood to gain too much from the status quo. And so the “response” to Hurricane Katrina would be largely unresponsive to the real problems in New Orleans and Louisiana more broadly.
Sadly, we expect the same is true in the case of the Baltimore riots. We will hear a great deal over the next few days and weeks about what should be done to rectify the situation in the Charm City. We will hear calls for federal oversight of local police departments. We will hear calls for police to be disarmed or, at the very least, to be relegated to the background in urban daily life. We will hear calls for increased investment in cities and increased “infrastructure” spending. And of course, we will hear calls for Americans – and white Americans in particular – to examine their consciences and to be honest with themselves about their privilege and their attitudes regarding race.
Unfortunately, none of these things will make life any better for the people who have the grave misfortune to live in one of this country’s major metropolitan areas. And some of them would, if implemented, actually make their lives worse.
We don’t pretend to have all of the answers to fixing this country’s cities and especially the fractured relationship between those cities’ police and their residents. In fact, we don’t claim to have any of the answers. What we do know, though, is that none the usual pap served up by the political establishment is going to do anything except exacerbate the situation. All the usual suspects are running around this week, their hair on fire, screaming about how “bigotry” is responsible for the tragedy of Freddie Gray. That may be true, to some extent, but it’s the soft bigotry of low expectations that is most responsible here, the bigotry that has forced urban black populations to accept corruption and incompetence under the pretense that Democratic corruption and incompetence is better than anything anyone else could offer.
That’s sad, of course. But it was also utterly predictable.