Commentary Magazine


Topic: Jim Crow

Race, Reparations, and the Idea of America

Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Atlantic cover essay making the case for reparations has something for everyone to like and to dislike, because a wise and serious depiction of the subject–which Coates provides–scrambles ideological predispositions. Conservatives will be hesitant toward this essay because they are generally accused of racial animus at the drop of a hat. But conservatives should give the essay a chance, not only because of the parts they will agree with but because of the parts of the essay that challenge them.

Conservatives who decry the corrosive power of welfare-state institutions to insinuate poisonous effects into the fibers of family and community are often right, but they tend to forget how much more poisonous, yet less visible, are the generational effects of slavery and Jim Crow. A good explanation of this comes from the political scientists Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson in their bestseller Why Nations Fail. In a chapter on the “vicious circle” of extractive institutions, they write that the South’s economic doldrums caused by its reliance on slavery should have been shaken off after abolition. Instead:

A continuation of extractive institutions, this time of the Jim Crow kind rather than of slavery, emerged in the South. … These persisted for almost another century, until yet another major upheaval, the civil rights movement. In the meantime, blacks continued to be excluded from power and repressed. Plantation-type agriculture based on low-wage, poorly educated labor persisted, and southern incomes fell further relative to the U.S. average. The vicious circle of extractive institutions was stronger than many had expected at the time.

Political and economic institutions must be reformed and rerouted, not just declared over, if they are to be undone. Slavery was obviously a system that needed to be undone, and it was–but the broader economic framework of exploitation and aristocratic elitism in the South was not. Conservatives are right to want a political system that doesn’t play favorites at all. But they’re wrong to think that such a system is all that’s needed to erase the stain of Jim Crow.

However, in the course of arguing for reparations (and its attendant “national reckoning”) Coates makes an extremely important point about black poverty:

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Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Atlantic cover essay making the case for reparations has something for everyone to like and to dislike, because a wise and serious depiction of the subject–which Coates provides–scrambles ideological predispositions. Conservatives will be hesitant toward this essay because they are generally accused of racial animus at the drop of a hat. But conservatives should give the essay a chance, not only because of the parts they will agree with but because of the parts of the essay that challenge them.

Conservatives who decry the corrosive power of welfare-state institutions to insinuate poisonous effects into the fibers of family and community are often right, but they tend to forget how much more poisonous, yet less visible, are the generational effects of slavery and Jim Crow. A good explanation of this comes from the political scientists Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson in their bestseller Why Nations Fail. In a chapter on the “vicious circle” of extractive institutions, they write that the South’s economic doldrums caused by its reliance on slavery should have been shaken off after abolition. Instead:

A continuation of extractive institutions, this time of the Jim Crow kind rather than of slavery, emerged in the South. … These persisted for almost another century, until yet another major upheaval, the civil rights movement. In the meantime, blacks continued to be excluded from power and repressed. Plantation-type agriculture based on low-wage, poorly educated labor persisted, and southern incomes fell further relative to the U.S. average. The vicious circle of extractive institutions was stronger than many had expected at the time.

Political and economic institutions must be reformed and rerouted, not just declared over, if they are to be undone. Slavery was obviously a system that needed to be undone, and it was–but the broader economic framework of exploitation and aristocratic elitism in the South was not. Conservatives are right to want a political system that doesn’t play favorites at all. But they’re wrong to think that such a system is all that’s needed to erase the stain of Jim Crow.

However, in the course of arguing for reparations (and its attendant “national reckoning”) Coates makes an extremely important point about black poverty:

Liberals today mostly view racism not as an active, distinct evil but as a relative of white poverty and inequality. They ignore the long tradition of this country actively punishing black success—and the elevation of that punishment, in the mid-20th century, to federal policy. President Lyndon Johnson may have noted in his historic civil-rights speech at Howard University in 1965 that “Negro poverty is not white poverty.” But his advisers and their successors were, and still are, loath to craft any policy that recognizes the difference.

It may not be intended as such, but this is, in reality, a stern rebuke to the leftist tendency to hijack the black struggle and tether African Americans to their preferred policy aims. The left does this with regard to women and other minorities as well–the old joke about the New York Times reporting the apocalypse: World Ends, Women and Minorities Hardest Hit. But the struggle of African Americans was and is different; the left’s insistence that the issue of the day–climate change, inequality, environmental regulations–can or should be reduced to a “black issue” is precisely the act of ignoring African Americans’ history in the service of white liberals’ power.

Coates’s essay also highlights the tendency of well-intentioned liberal initiatives that end up exacerbating black economic dislocation and discrimination instead of alleviating it. For example, Coates discusses residential segregation, redlining, block busting, federally blessed “restrictive covenants,” and other methods of housing discrimination whose effects are still felt especially in or near major cities. This made them particularly vulnerable to predatory lending and the housing bubble. Here’s Coates:

Plunder in the past made plunder in the present efficient. The banks of America understood this. In 2005, Wells Fargo promoted a series of Wealth Building Strategies seminars. Dubbing itself “the nation’s leading originator of home loans to ethnic minority customers,” the bank enrolled black public figures in an ostensible effort to educate blacks on building “generational wealth.” But the “wealth building” seminars were a front for wealth theft. In 2010, the Justice Department filed a discrimination suit against Wells Fargo alleging that the bank had shunted blacks into predatory loans regardless of their creditworthiness. This was not magic or coincidence or misfortune. It was racism reifying itself.

The government’s involvement in efforts to sell mortgages to uncreditworthy black potential homeowners in such areas was supposed to be the antidote to redlining, a major historical correction. But in many cases lenders were pressured by the government to ignore the creditworthiness of minority applicants, and the result is something like: Housing Bubble Ends, Minorities Hardest Hit.

Aside from a cautionary tale about government intervention in the marketplace, this geographic isolation would also seem to argue for ways not only to help improve minority neighborhoods but also to get kids from those neighborhoods into better schools. The current government monopoly on such education, supported by the unions and Democrats at the highest levels including President Obama, guarantees the promulgation of an effective segregation and the breathing of life into a particularly insidious legacy of the Jim Crow era that the Great Migration could have, but did not, undo.

And that brings us back to the issue of reparations (to close the “wealth gap,” as Coates says) and the reason Coates wants to have this “national reckoning.” He writes:

A nation outlives its generations…. If Thomas Jefferson’s genius matters, then so does his taking of Sally Hemings’s body. If George Washington crossing the Delaware matters, so must his ruthless pursuit of the runagate Oney Judge.

Should the slaveholding of the Founders be as relevant as their political ideas in understanding the founding philosophical underpinnings of our nation’s identity? Coates seems to think so; later he writes that “white supremacy is not merely the work of hotheaded demagogues, or a matter of false consciousness, but a force so fundamental to America that it is difficult to imagine the country without it,” adding: “And so we must imagine a new country.”

Which opinions of the Founders must we carry as an addendum to the Constitution? Slavery was a violation of our founding principles. But the case for abolition was not just a moral one; it was also an economic one. This is what Acemoglu and Robinson show, and it’s what the historian David Brion Davis notes in his latest book, The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Emancipation. He writes of Connecticut abolitionist Leonard Bacon’s argument that slavery was a long-term strain on the American economy:

Even apart from the desire for racial homogeneity, most American commentators shared this republican conviction that slavery subverted the nation’s prospects for balanced economic growth and prosperity, at least in the longer term.

Bacon wasn’t claiming that the institution of slavery didn’t provide economic benefits to those who practiced it, of course. But he, like many of his age, understood slavery as a betrayal of the American system, not just a moral failing. It was a bug, not a feature.

So yes, a tremendous amount of wealth was built up in America from the subjugation and plunder of black slaves. But to argue that the American identity and the country’s conception of self is not separate at all from its history, to argue that the idea of America is inseparable from the idea of racism and oppression, requires its own selective reading of America’s past and produces a false rendering of the American project.

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Martin Luther King Jr.

On this holiday honoring his birth, it is worth reminding ourselves why Martin Luther King Jr. deserves the place he holds in the American imagination.

Dr. King was — with Jefferson, Madison, and Lincoln — our nation’s most effective advocate for the American ideal. How he became so is itself a fascinating story.

King graduated from Morehouse College in 1948 with a degree in sociology. He was unhappy with his major, however, complaining about the “apathetic fallacy of statistics.” While at Morehouse, King decided to change his field of study. He entered Crozer Theological Seminary, where he absorbed the writings of political philosophers “from Plato and Aristotle,” King wrote, “down to Rousseau, Hobbes, Bentham, Mill and Locke.”

In a beautiful tribute to King, delivered at Spellman College in 1986, then secretary of education William Bennett explained why King turned to the liberal arts. In Bennett’s words:

Martin Luther King turned to the greatest philosophers because he needed to know the answers to certain questions. What is justice? What should be loved? What deserves to be defended? What can I know? What should I do? What may I hope for? What is man? These questions are not simply intellectual diversions, but have engaged thoughtful human beings in all places and in all ages. As a result of the ways in which these questions have been answered, civilizations have emerged, nations have developed, wars have been fought, and people have lived contentedly or miserably. And as a result of the way in which Martin Luther King eventually answered these questions, Jim Crow was destroyed and American history was transformed.

In combating segregation, King could easily have gone in a different direction than he did (nonviolent civil disobedience). There were, after all, many competing philosophies within the black community about which way to go: Booker T. Washington’s gradualism, Marcus Garvey’s “Back to Africa” movement, Malcolm X’s appeal to black nationalism, A. Philip Randolph’s direct-action campaigns, the NAACP’s legal strategy, and W.E.B. Du Bois’s “Talented Tenth” approach among them.

Dr. King’s liberal-arts education helps explain why he chose the path he did. And so, too, did his Christian faith.

While Malcolm X declared that nonviolence was the “philosophy of the fool,” in a sermon in 1956, King argued the opposite:

Always be sure that you struggle with Christian methods and Christian weapons. Never succumb to the temptation of becoming bitter. As you press on for justice, be sure to move with dignity and discipline, using only the weapon of love. Let no man pull you so low as to hate him. Always avoid violence. If you succumb to the temptation of using violence in your struggle, unborn generations will be the recipients of a long and desolate night of bitterness, and your chief legacy to the future will be an endless reign of meaningless chaos. Read More

On this holiday honoring his birth, it is worth reminding ourselves why Martin Luther King Jr. deserves the place he holds in the American imagination.

Dr. King was — with Jefferson, Madison, and Lincoln — our nation’s most effective advocate for the American ideal. How he became so is itself a fascinating story.

King graduated from Morehouse College in 1948 with a degree in sociology. He was unhappy with his major, however, complaining about the “apathetic fallacy of statistics.” While at Morehouse, King decided to change his field of study. He entered Crozer Theological Seminary, where he absorbed the writings of political philosophers “from Plato and Aristotle,” King wrote, “down to Rousseau, Hobbes, Bentham, Mill and Locke.”

In a beautiful tribute to King, delivered at Spellman College in 1986, then secretary of education William Bennett explained why King turned to the liberal arts. In Bennett’s words:

Martin Luther King turned to the greatest philosophers because he needed to know the answers to certain questions. What is justice? What should be loved? What deserves to be defended? What can I know? What should I do? What may I hope for? What is man? These questions are not simply intellectual diversions, but have engaged thoughtful human beings in all places and in all ages. As a result of the ways in which these questions have been answered, civilizations have emerged, nations have developed, wars have been fought, and people have lived contentedly or miserably. And as a result of the way in which Martin Luther King eventually answered these questions, Jim Crow was destroyed and American history was transformed.

In combating segregation, King could easily have gone in a different direction than he did (nonviolent civil disobedience). There were, after all, many competing philosophies within the black community about which way to go: Booker T. Washington’s gradualism, Marcus Garvey’s “Back to Africa” movement, Malcolm X’s appeal to black nationalism, A. Philip Randolph’s direct-action campaigns, the NAACP’s legal strategy, and W.E.B. Du Bois’s “Talented Tenth” approach among them.

Dr. King’s liberal-arts education helps explain why he chose the path he did. And so, too, did his Christian faith.

While Malcolm X declared that nonviolence was the “philosophy of the fool,” in a sermon in 1956, King argued the opposite:

Always be sure that you struggle with Christian methods and Christian weapons. Never succumb to the temptation of becoming bitter. As you press on for justice, be sure to move with dignity and discipline, using only the weapon of love. Let no man pull you so low as to hate him. Always avoid violence. If you succumb to the temptation of using violence in your struggle, unborn generations will be the recipients of a long and desolate night of bitterness, and your chief legacy to the future will be an endless reign of meaningless chaos.

King went on to say this:

In your struggle for justice, let your oppressor know that you are not attempting to defeat or humiliate him, or even to pay him back for injustices that he has heaped upon you. Let him know that you are merely seeking justice for him as well as yourself. Let him know that the festering sore of segregation debilitates the white man as well as the Negro. With this attitude you will be able to keep your struggle on high Christian standards.

King concluded his sermon this way:

I still believe that standing up for the truth of God is the greatest thing in the world. This is the end of life. The end of life is not to be happy. The end of life is not to achieve pleasure and avoid pain. The end of life is to do the will of God, come what may.

I still believe that love is the most durable power in the world. Over the centuries men have sought to discover the highest good. This has been the chief quest of ethical philosophy. This has been one of the big questions of Greek philosophy. The Epicureans and the Stoics sought to answer it; Plato and Aristotle sought to answer it. What is the summum bonum of life? I think I have discovered the highest good. It is love. This principle stands at the center of the cosmos. As John says, “God is love.” He who loves is a participant in the being of God. He who hates does not know God.

One of the things we learn from Martin Luther King Jr.’s life, then, is that he saw great injustice and sought to confront it within the American tradition and his Christian faith rather than outside them. In that sense, King was very much like Lincoln, who consistently urged Americans to return to the truths of the Declaration of Independence and “take courage to renew the battle which [the founding] fathers began, so that truth, and justice, and mercy, and all the humane and Christian virtues might not be extinguished from the land.”

We celebrate Dr. King’s birth because he was among the greatest men America ever produced, his words among the most powerful and evocative ever written. They changed the trajectory of American history for the better, and only a handful of others can make the same claim.

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Saving Private Pelosi: Nancy’s Spielberg Makeovers

The Washington Post reported today that film director Steven Spielberg may soon be serving as a consultant to former Speaker Nancy Pelosi as she attempts to “rebrand” House Democrats after a historic defeat in which they lost 61 seats to the Republicans. Though Spielberg’s spokesperson attempted to throw cold water on this item, as the Post noted, it was a “classic non-denial denial.”

Spielberg is well known to be a loyal Democrat who has in the past helped raise money and promote the candidacies of Bill and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. But the idea that the famed moviemaker can pull something out of his hat — other, that is, than some more Hollywood cash — to change America’s mind about one of the least-liked political figures of the day may be asking a bit too much. Though Spielberg is not unfamiliar with epic disasters, such as his famous flop 1941, attempting to “rebrand” a shrill, unlikeable ideologue like Pelosi is a daunting task.

What advice could Spielberg offer to Pelosi? Changing the public’s mind about a woman whose unpopularity was a greater factor in this year’s GOP victory than the virtues of her opponents will require Spielberg to tap deep into his archive of film hits. In the hope of providing some insight into the machinations of this liberal brain trust, here are some possible previews of Spielberg-inspired TV commercials and short films that will air in the future in battleground states:

Saving Private Blue Dog: A picked squad of Democratic House members led by Pelosi venture deep into a Red State in order to extricate a beleaguered member from a GOP-dominated district, climaxing with the wounded Speaker urging the lost Democrat to “earn this” as she expires.

E.T.: The Sequel: The famous cuddly alien is about to be waterboarded by Republicans but is rescued by Pelosi, who makes off with him on her bicycle as the two discuss immigration reform.

Close Encounters with Democrats: A random group of Americans find themselves inexplicably drawn to gather at the Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming to attend an indoctrination session with Pelosi about supporting ObamaCare.

Raiders of the Lost Democrat: Pelosi leads a multi-continental search for the lost copy of the Bill of Rights. After being captured by Dick Cheney and his band of evil Republicans, Pelosi witnesses the opening of the ark, which contains what is believed to be the artifact. Cheney and the GOPniks melt, but when Pelosi reads the artifact, it turns out to be merely a memo from Rahm Emanuel about earmarks.

Jaws V: The Democrats’ Revenge: Pelosi attempts to save the population of a beach community endangered by a ruthlessly pro-business Republican town council in cahoots with a shark believed to be responsible for an oil spill. Pelosi, Harry Reid, and Richard Dreyfuss (as himself) take to the sea to catch the shark. Pelosi and Dreyfuss swim to shore after the battle, determined to make peace in the Middle East.

Jurassic Park: The Lost World of Politicians: An attempt to clone famous Democrats of the past at a theme park goes tragically wrong as the reincarnated Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, and Woodrow Wilson attempt to reimpose Jim Crow on an unwilling America. Pelosi is forced to join forces with Republicans as they bring back Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt to counter the Dem icons. The conclusion is a sermon on bipartisanship.

Happy holidays to readers of all persuasions and parties!

The Washington Post reported today that film director Steven Spielberg may soon be serving as a consultant to former Speaker Nancy Pelosi as she attempts to “rebrand” House Democrats after a historic defeat in which they lost 61 seats to the Republicans. Though Spielberg’s spokesperson attempted to throw cold water on this item, as the Post noted, it was a “classic non-denial denial.”

Spielberg is well known to be a loyal Democrat who has in the past helped raise money and promote the candidacies of Bill and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. But the idea that the famed moviemaker can pull something out of his hat — other, that is, than some more Hollywood cash — to change America’s mind about one of the least-liked political figures of the day may be asking a bit too much. Though Spielberg is not unfamiliar with epic disasters, such as his famous flop 1941, attempting to “rebrand” a shrill, unlikeable ideologue like Pelosi is a daunting task.

What advice could Spielberg offer to Pelosi? Changing the public’s mind about a woman whose unpopularity was a greater factor in this year’s GOP victory than the virtues of her opponents will require Spielberg to tap deep into his archive of film hits. In the hope of providing some insight into the machinations of this liberal brain trust, here are some possible previews of Spielberg-inspired TV commercials and short films that will air in the future in battleground states:

Saving Private Blue Dog: A picked squad of Democratic House members led by Pelosi venture deep into a Red State in order to extricate a beleaguered member from a GOP-dominated district, climaxing with the wounded Speaker urging the lost Democrat to “earn this” as she expires.

E.T.: The Sequel: The famous cuddly alien is about to be waterboarded by Republicans but is rescued by Pelosi, who makes off with him on her bicycle as the two discuss immigration reform.

Close Encounters with Democrats: A random group of Americans find themselves inexplicably drawn to gather at the Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming to attend an indoctrination session with Pelosi about supporting ObamaCare.

Raiders of the Lost Democrat: Pelosi leads a multi-continental search for the lost copy of the Bill of Rights. After being captured by Dick Cheney and his band of evil Republicans, Pelosi witnesses the opening of the ark, which contains what is believed to be the artifact. Cheney and the GOPniks melt, but when Pelosi reads the artifact, it turns out to be merely a memo from Rahm Emanuel about earmarks.

Jaws V: The Democrats’ Revenge: Pelosi attempts to save the population of a beach community endangered by a ruthlessly pro-business Republican town council in cahoots with a shark believed to be responsible for an oil spill. Pelosi, Harry Reid, and Richard Dreyfuss (as himself) take to the sea to catch the shark. Pelosi and Dreyfuss swim to shore after the battle, determined to make peace in the Middle East.

Jurassic Park: The Lost World of Politicians: An attempt to clone famous Democrats of the past at a theme park goes tragically wrong as the reincarnated Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, and Woodrow Wilson attempt to reimpose Jim Crow on an unwilling America. Pelosi is forced to join forces with Republicans as they bring back Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt to counter the Dem icons. The conclusion is a sermon on bipartisanship.

Happy holidays to readers of all persuasions and parties!

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Diversity Matters Only on the Left

As the New York Post‘s editors remind us:

Remember the “angry, racist Tea Party?” For months, that was the line pushed by Democrats, the NAACP and much of the mainstream media. Funny, though: The Tea Party-inspired wave that produced historic Republican wins also revealed a substantial diversity in the movement.

Two African-Americans — Tim Scott from South Carolina and Allen West from Florida — won election to the House of Representatives, the first black Republicans to serve there in eight years. In a victory showing how far his state has come, Scott’s road to Congress included a GOP runoff win over the son of the late Strom Thurmond — once the face of Jim Crow racial intolerance.

Those new office holders also include Nikki Haley, the second Republican governor of Indian descent and the first woman governor of South Carolina, as well as “America’s first Latina governor in New Mexico’s Susana Martinez; Nevada’s first Latino governor, in Brian Sandoval; Texas Rep.-elect Francisco ‘Quico’ Canseco and, yes, the breakout Tea Party superstar of the campaign — Florida’s Sen.-elect Marco Rubio, a son of Cuban exiles.” New Hampshire has a new woman senator, Kelly Ayotte. Republican Mary Fallin was elected Oklahoma’s first woman governor, and Jan Brewer was elected in Arizona.

You missed the cheering from MALDEF and the NAACP? You didn’t hear the howls from NOW when Christine O’Donnell and Sharron Angle were defeated by their male opponents? You see, “diversity” is only an election issue for the left when the right is short on it. And indeed, as with Justice Clarence Thomas and Miguel Estrada, these conservatives don’t really “count” as minorities, and the women aren’t “real” women in the eyes of the left; they are sellouts or worse. Because they don’t spout the victimology mantra and are not devotees of big government, they are not “authentic.”

Aside from helping to shed the GOP’s image as a “white male only” party, the election of these individuals — in addition to the views and attributes they will bring to their jobs — have performed an important service. They will, one suspects, mute the obsessive diversity chatter that treats candidates as representatives of racial or ethnic groups rather than of the people they serve. After all, Nikki Haley isn’t actual the Indian-American governor; she’s the governor of South Carolina. And that’s exactly as it should be. Unless, of course, the point is not diversity but the endless churning of racial grievances.

As the New York Post‘s editors remind us:

Remember the “angry, racist Tea Party?” For months, that was the line pushed by Democrats, the NAACP and much of the mainstream media. Funny, though: The Tea Party-inspired wave that produced historic Republican wins also revealed a substantial diversity in the movement.

Two African-Americans — Tim Scott from South Carolina and Allen West from Florida — won election to the House of Representatives, the first black Republicans to serve there in eight years. In a victory showing how far his state has come, Scott’s road to Congress included a GOP runoff win over the son of the late Strom Thurmond — once the face of Jim Crow racial intolerance.

Those new office holders also include Nikki Haley, the second Republican governor of Indian descent and the first woman governor of South Carolina, as well as “America’s first Latina governor in New Mexico’s Susana Martinez; Nevada’s first Latino governor, in Brian Sandoval; Texas Rep.-elect Francisco ‘Quico’ Canseco and, yes, the breakout Tea Party superstar of the campaign — Florida’s Sen.-elect Marco Rubio, a son of Cuban exiles.” New Hampshire has a new woman senator, Kelly Ayotte. Republican Mary Fallin was elected Oklahoma’s first woman governor, and Jan Brewer was elected in Arizona.

You missed the cheering from MALDEF and the NAACP? You didn’t hear the howls from NOW when Christine O’Donnell and Sharron Angle were defeated by their male opponents? You see, “diversity” is only an election issue for the left when the right is short on it. And indeed, as with Justice Clarence Thomas and Miguel Estrada, these conservatives don’t really “count” as minorities, and the women aren’t “real” women in the eyes of the left; they are sellouts or worse. Because they don’t spout the victimology mantra and are not devotees of big government, they are not “authentic.”

Aside from helping to shed the GOP’s image as a “white male only” party, the election of these individuals — in addition to the views and attributes they will bring to their jobs — have performed an important service. They will, one suspects, mute the obsessive diversity chatter that treats candidates as representatives of racial or ethnic groups rather than of the people they serve. After all, Nikki Haley isn’t actual the Indian-American governor; she’s the governor of South Carolina. And that’s exactly as it should be. Unless, of course, the point is not diversity but the endless churning of racial grievances.

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RE: James J. Kilpatrick, R.I.P.

I agree with J.E. Dyer that James Kilpatrick was an important conservative political writer as well as an admirable stylist and an engaging if crotchety television talking head. But however much we are inclined at this moment to remember his principled writing on a great many topics, we ought to resist the impulse to rationalize his writing on the one issue that made his name and reputation in his early years: segregation.

One need not be a foe of federalism, at whose “unmarked grave” my colleague eloquently mourns, to understand that the purpose of the states’ rights arguments employed by Southern intellectuals like Kilpatrick in the 1950s and 60s was a defense of a system that was racist. It may well be that there was a time when belief in segregation was respectable. But it never deserved that respectability, and it is a blot on the honor of those conservatives who supported it. Kilpatrick lived long enough to understand that he had been wrong. But unlike those intellectuals who supported Marxism in their youth but eventually went on to become its greatest foes, Kilpatrick’s later comments about his having provided an intellectual facade for the “Jim Crow” South were more wistful than contrite.

The rise of American conservatism in the late 20th century was the result of it having transcended the racism and anti-Semitism that had once characterized so much of the traditional right. If there is a “victor’s monument” to be placed on the memory of Kilpatrick’s long defense of segregation, it is one that properly marks the transition of a movement away from the prejudices of a bygone era that are rightly unlamented.

I agree with J.E. Dyer that James Kilpatrick was an important conservative political writer as well as an admirable stylist and an engaging if crotchety television talking head. But however much we are inclined at this moment to remember his principled writing on a great many topics, we ought to resist the impulse to rationalize his writing on the one issue that made his name and reputation in his early years: segregation.

One need not be a foe of federalism, at whose “unmarked grave” my colleague eloquently mourns, to understand that the purpose of the states’ rights arguments employed by Southern intellectuals like Kilpatrick in the 1950s and 60s was a defense of a system that was racist. It may well be that there was a time when belief in segregation was respectable. But it never deserved that respectability, and it is a blot on the honor of those conservatives who supported it. Kilpatrick lived long enough to understand that he had been wrong. But unlike those intellectuals who supported Marxism in their youth but eventually went on to become its greatest foes, Kilpatrick’s later comments about his having provided an intellectual facade for the “Jim Crow” South were more wistful than contrite.

The rise of American conservatism in the late 20th century was the result of it having transcended the racism and anti-Semitism that had once characterized so much of the traditional right. If there is a “victor’s monument” to be placed on the memory of Kilpatrick’s long defense of segregation, it is one that properly marks the transition of a movement away from the prejudices of a bygone era that are rightly unlamented.

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The Crisis Bullies Are Losing

For months we’ve heard the Democrats rail against opponents of ObamaCare as “defenders of the status quo.” The current system is “unsustainable” or “unacceptable,” we were told, and those dirty dog Republicans want to keep things the way they are. Republicans denied the charge. “No, we want change too!” they retorted. “Who’s in favor of the status quo? Not us!” Well, now it turns out that the public likes the status quo better than what’s coming out of Congress.

As Megan McArdle observes:

You can argue that voters aren’t educated enough and that you can generate good poll numbers for individual components of the plan, but that’s not really relevant. You can generate support for nearly any program, if you poll it without mentioning the associated costs. When voters think about the health care plan, they’re not thinking public option + medicare advantage cuts + etc.  They’re making a judgment about what the entire package will mean. And the entire package has risks as well as benefits:  higher taxes, less generous health coverage for the majority of Americans who already have it.

In other words, the Democrats’ schemes for massive taxes, Medicare cuts, and government “advisory” boards (think about the mammogram guidelines) are going to make things worse for those who have care, without doing anything on the bend-the-cost-curve side. Americans’ support for the existing health-care system is at an all-time high. Why? They realize they might lose it and are scared that what is coming is going to be worse for them specifically and the country generally.

Backers of a government takeover of health care have been trying, not unlike the environmental hysterics, to tell us that we are in a dire crisis. For if one is in a crisis, something must be done. And in a crisis, one tends to be predisposed to accept all sorts of eye-popping power grabs and unbelievable statistics, because it’s a crisis after all. Alas, the public isn’t buying it. It sure doesn’t seem like a health-care crisis to most Americans. The vast majority of voters have insurance and like it. So the bullies holler louder. Now Harry Reid says that those who object are like those who defended slavery and Jim Crow. (That’s when the status quo really was unacceptable.)

What’s coming out of ObamaCare supporters sounds to ordinary voters not soothing or helpful but very expensive, scary, and most of all, arrogant. As Sen. Lamar Alexander explained:

“This bill is historic in its arrogance—arrogance that we in Congress are wise enough to take this complex health system, that is 17 percent of our economy and serves 300 million Americans, and think we can write a 2,000-page bill and change it all. … It’s arrogant to dump 15 million low-income Americans into a medical ghetto called Medicaid that none of us or any of our families would ever want to join.”

So perhaps it’s time to defend the status quo. The crisis mongers and bullies insist we must reinvent the entire health-care system. They are wrong, of course. The current system is not perfect, but the alternative is far worse. The president says we can keep the insurance we have? Yes, if the monstrous government takeover plan is defeated. That would suit most voters just fine.

For months we’ve heard the Democrats rail against opponents of ObamaCare as “defenders of the status quo.” The current system is “unsustainable” or “unacceptable,” we were told, and those dirty dog Republicans want to keep things the way they are. Republicans denied the charge. “No, we want change too!” they retorted. “Who’s in favor of the status quo? Not us!” Well, now it turns out that the public likes the status quo better than what’s coming out of Congress.

As Megan McArdle observes:

You can argue that voters aren’t educated enough and that you can generate good poll numbers for individual components of the plan, but that’s not really relevant. You can generate support for nearly any program, if you poll it without mentioning the associated costs. When voters think about the health care plan, they’re not thinking public option + medicare advantage cuts + etc.  They’re making a judgment about what the entire package will mean. And the entire package has risks as well as benefits:  higher taxes, less generous health coverage for the majority of Americans who already have it.

In other words, the Democrats’ schemes for massive taxes, Medicare cuts, and government “advisory” boards (think about the mammogram guidelines) are going to make things worse for those who have care, without doing anything on the bend-the-cost-curve side. Americans’ support for the existing health-care system is at an all-time high. Why? They realize they might lose it and are scared that what is coming is going to be worse for them specifically and the country generally.

Backers of a government takeover of health care have been trying, not unlike the environmental hysterics, to tell us that we are in a dire crisis. For if one is in a crisis, something must be done. And in a crisis, one tends to be predisposed to accept all sorts of eye-popping power grabs and unbelievable statistics, because it’s a crisis after all. Alas, the public isn’t buying it. It sure doesn’t seem like a health-care crisis to most Americans. The vast majority of voters have insurance and like it. So the bullies holler louder. Now Harry Reid says that those who object are like those who defended slavery and Jim Crow. (That’s when the status quo really was unacceptable.)

What’s coming out of ObamaCare supporters sounds to ordinary voters not soothing or helpful but very expensive, scary, and most of all, arrogant. As Sen. Lamar Alexander explained:

“This bill is historic in its arrogance—arrogance that we in Congress are wise enough to take this complex health system, that is 17 percent of our economy and serves 300 million Americans, and think we can write a 2,000-page bill and change it all. … It’s arrogant to dump 15 million low-income Americans into a medical ghetto called Medicaid that none of us or any of our families would ever want to join.”

So perhaps it’s time to defend the status quo. The crisis mongers and bullies insist we must reinvent the entire health-care system. They are wrong, of course. The current system is not perfect, but the alternative is far worse. The president says we can keep the insurance we have? Yes, if the monstrous government takeover plan is defeated. That would suit most voters just fine.

Read Less

Heston, Obama, and Race in America

I saw Michael Moore’s 2002 “documentary” Bowling for Columbine in a packed movie theater on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. In the movie’s most painful sequence, Moore badgers the aged and ailing Charlton Heston about gun violence in America. Watching the impact of Moore’s disingenuous sucker punch criticisms on Heston’s face was enough to make me turn away from the screen. But not so my right-thinking co-audience members.

At one point in the action, however, this thoughtful New York City bunch decided they had had enough. After Moore makes his case against America and her historic bloodlust, Heston tries to wind down the interview: “Well, it’s an interesting point, which can be explored and you’re good to explore it at great lengths, but I think that’s about all I have to say on it.”

Not satisfied, Moore presses on:”You don’t have any opinion, though, as to why that is, that we are the unique country,the only country, that does this, that kills each other on this level, with guns?”

Heston’s response: “Well, we have, probably, more mixed ethnicity than other countries, some other countries.”

The collective gasp of the audience nearly robbed the theater of air. It was the kind of animated disgust that trailed on in snickers and hisses for half a minute, which is why most of them probably missed what followed.

Moore: You think it’s an ethnic thing?

Heston: No, I don’t. It’s…I wouldn’t go so far as to say that. We had enough problems with civil rights in the beginning.

For a man under that kind of fire, ill or not, he made, I think, an excellent double-point. A) America’s unique ethnic history is a factor in violent crime, but B) to label it an “ethnic thing” is to distort the issue and risk the health of the discussion.

Someone will have to tell me how that’s less honorable than the sentiment of these words taken from Obama’s “A More Perfect Union” speech:

We do not need to recite here the history of racial injustice in this country. But we do need to remind ourselves that so many of the disparities that exist in the African-American community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.

When Charlton Heston said that the history of race in the U.S. is a factor in analyzing some of America’s domestic conflicts, liberal Americans hissed him into oblivion. When Obama said it, he was heralded as a bold speaker of truths willing to level with Americans like adults.

There is, however, a telling difference between the sentiments of the two men. Charlton Heston wanted to drop the subject, so that his words wouldn’t be used to “tackle race only as spectacle,” as Obama put it. Obama himself, however, did in fact go on to “recite here the history of racial injustice in this country,” in order to create a diversion that distracted people from the jam he was in.

In any case, the movie manipulation worked and Charlton Heston—a genuine civil rights activist—was portrayed as a racist by Michael Moore—the man who said that if more blacks had been on the hijacked planes, the 9/11 attacks would have been thwarted. As for Obama, Moore should put the question to him. The anti-Americanism in his church: “You think it’s an ethnic thing?”

I saw Michael Moore’s 2002 “documentary” Bowling for Columbine in a packed movie theater on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. In the movie’s most painful sequence, Moore badgers the aged and ailing Charlton Heston about gun violence in America. Watching the impact of Moore’s disingenuous sucker punch criticisms on Heston’s face was enough to make me turn away from the screen. But not so my right-thinking co-audience members.

At one point in the action, however, this thoughtful New York City bunch decided they had had enough. After Moore makes his case against America and her historic bloodlust, Heston tries to wind down the interview: “Well, it’s an interesting point, which can be explored and you’re good to explore it at great lengths, but I think that’s about all I have to say on it.”

Not satisfied, Moore presses on:”You don’t have any opinion, though, as to why that is, that we are the unique country,the only country, that does this, that kills each other on this level, with guns?”

Heston’s response: “Well, we have, probably, more mixed ethnicity than other countries, some other countries.”

The collective gasp of the audience nearly robbed the theater of air. It was the kind of animated disgust that trailed on in snickers and hisses for half a minute, which is why most of them probably missed what followed.

Moore: You think it’s an ethnic thing?

Heston: No, I don’t. It’s…I wouldn’t go so far as to say that. We had enough problems with civil rights in the beginning.

For a man under that kind of fire, ill or not, he made, I think, an excellent double-point. A) America’s unique ethnic history is a factor in violent crime, but B) to label it an “ethnic thing” is to distort the issue and risk the health of the discussion.

Someone will have to tell me how that’s less honorable than the sentiment of these words taken from Obama’s “A More Perfect Union” speech:

We do not need to recite here the history of racial injustice in this country. But we do need to remind ourselves that so many of the disparities that exist in the African-American community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.

When Charlton Heston said that the history of race in the U.S. is a factor in analyzing some of America’s domestic conflicts, liberal Americans hissed him into oblivion. When Obama said it, he was heralded as a bold speaker of truths willing to level with Americans like adults.

There is, however, a telling difference between the sentiments of the two men. Charlton Heston wanted to drop the subject, so that his words wouldn’t be used to “tackle race only as spectacle,” as Obama put it. Obama himself, however, did in fact go on to “recite here the history of racial injustice in this country,” in order to create a diversion that distracted people from the jam he was in.

In any case, the movie manipulation worked and Charlton Heston—a genuine civil rights activist—was portrayed as a racist by Michael Moore—the man who said that if more blacks had been on the hijacked planes, the 9/11 attacks would have been thwarted. As for Obama, Moore should put the question to him. The anti-Americanism in his church: “You think it’s an ethnic thing?”

Read Less




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