Seamanship Quotation

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.”
— from Michael Oakeshott's
Political Education” (1951)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Racial discord: two intellectuals prepare to ride it out

Walter Russell Mead and Peggy Noonan offer cold-eyed assessments of the spectacular violence in London and increasing racial incidents in American cities. They seem to want Americans to pay attention, but not to lift a finger. 
Walter Russell Mead in “American Tinderbox” states:
“Even taxing “millionaires and billionaires” to the eyeballs won’t manage out of control entitlements — much less inaugurate yet another “Marshall Plan for the cities.
“The United States badly needs a workable and affordable post-Great Society approach to the inner cities. Unfortunately, we don’t have this yet and it is quite possible that we will face some testing times as a result.
“. . . Whites as well as Blacks have lost faith in the government and the intellectual and cultural elites. Some whites resent what they see as excessive privilege for Blacks reflected in affirmative action.”
Peggy Noonan in her tender-hearted way is more emphatic, writing, “Apr├Ęs le Deluge, What: Riots and flash mobs have root causes that government can’t reach.”
“The normal, old response to an emerging problem such as this has been: The government has to do something. We must start a program, create an agency to address juvenile delinquency. But governments are tapped out, cutting back, trying to avoid bankruptcy. Which means we can't even take refuge in the illusion that government can solve the problem. The churches of America have always helped the young, stepping in where they can. That will continue. But they too are hard-pressed these days.
“Where does that leave us? In a hard place, knowing in our guts that a lot of troubled kids are coming up, and not knowing what to do about it. The problem, at bottom, is love, something we never talk about in public policy discussions because it's too soft and can't be quantified or legislated.”
It can’t be a very serious problem to a public intellectual if the first and last thing to be said is that there’s nothing that government can do. Furthermore, there’s a strange logic to the argument that government—when it tries to heal social divisions—is impotent and corrupting at the same time.
Their stoicism is daring and unprecedented.
In the Sixties and Seventies, when American society was in far deeper trouble, conservatives didn’t argue that government should simply enforce the law and moralize. In 1970, Daniel Patrick Moynihan unintentionally launched the conservative critique of the interventionist Great Society with the term “benign neglect.” Here is what he said, in context:
“The time may have come when the issue of race could benefit from a period of "benign neglect.". . . The subject has been too much talked about. We may need a period in which Negro progress continues and racial rhetoric fades. The Administration can help bring this about by paying close attention to such progress—as we are doing—while seeking to avoid situations in which extremists of either race are given opportunities for martyrdom, heroics, histrionics, or whatever.”
The Great Society was not a pie-in-the-sky, top-down solution to problems of the heart. On the ground, it was a scrambling effort to find ways to encourage and assist young Blacks and poor kids generally, enter a middle class society. Mistakes were made. But no more money was wasted on investing in kids at that time than is wasted today in Medicare services for the affluent.
Nixon did let the “Great Society” fade. However, his expectations for a more open and less divided society were as ambitious and as dewy-eyed as any mainstream progressive today.
In 1970, the US unemployment rate was approximately 5%. Today, it’s over 9%. (Today, unemployment among young black men is almost twice as bad as well.) In the sixties and seventies, the challenge was to help blacks integrate into an expanding economy. Without an expanding economy now, it’s preposterous to talk about waiting out the festering social problems in America’s cities.

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