Monday, September 19, 2005

The Uniter

Donna Brazile managed Al Gore's presidential campaign in 2000 so she's no fan of George Bush, or at least she wasn't until last Thursday night. Bush always said he wanted to be a uniter, not a divider, but unfortunately his political opposition wouldn't go along. As soon as he proposed anything or tried to accomplish anything the opposition took exception to it and claimed that their disagreement with the president was proof that he was dividing the nation.

That sort of silliness is going to be hard to maintain after Thursday night, and Donna Brazile's column is a good illustration of why that is so.

As Mississippi and Louisiana are, like Lazarus, raised up from their devastation it will be hard not to remember who was primarily responsible for it. As long as the president doesn't bankrupt the nation in the doing of it, he will surely be remembered, despite the political tensions of our time, as the man who united the nation to rebuild the Gulf coast and New Orleans.

A Call For Balance

Byron Borger, a dear friend and valued critic of occasional posts on Viewpoint has taken exception to some of what I wrote here and here. His comments can be found in the Feedback forum. My reply follows with passages from Byron's critique in block quotes:


Thanks for your criticisms of my view of poverty in America. I know that the opionions I express are controversial and that some will find them offensive. Nevertheless, I stand by them as I think them to be largely correct insofar as they describe the situation of a significant percentage, perhaps even a majority, of the chronically poor in this country.

Those who are poor in the U.S. have suffered from the influence of a culture that has seduced them into adopting behaviors that are guaranteed to keep them poor, a prevailing social science that has provided excuses for them to rationalize their poverty, and government policies (like some welfare programs) which have encouraged values that lead to trans-generational poverty.

You wrote that:

[My kids] spent some time this summer on a church mission trip doing some renovation in a very rural and poor part of Appalachia. Unbelievable lack of local resources and no jobs. No tax revenue, poor schools, little opportunity. The cycle of poverty and the ensuing social deterioration causes an ethos and environment...well, I don't have to tell you. Or do I? I think you are way, way off the mark here.

I do not doubt that those who dwell in such regions have few resources and job opportunities. That doesn't mean that there are no opportunities for them anywhere. In the 18th and 19th century millions of Irish in even worse situations than those in Appalachia emigrated at great hazard to themselves and their families to this country to find or create opportunities to improve their lives. During the 1930s "Dust Bowl" hundreds of thousands of "Okies" and others migrated from the mid-west to the west coast to find or make opportunities for themselves. Today one of our most serious problems and perhaps Bush's greatest failure is the problem of illegal immigration brought about by the fact that millions of poor know that there are jobs in this country that will allow them to provide for their families if only they are able to get to them and are willing to work them. And so they come.

Just because there are no jobs in one's town or neighborhood does not mean there are no jobs at all. People are faced with a trade-off. They can move, perhaps with great difficulty, to where work is or stay where they feel they have roots. It's their choice to make. One choice gives them a chance, one doesn't.

But to just blame poverty on poor choices is not matching up with my (albeit) limited experience. And it sure doesn't square with what the Bible says are the causes of poverty (personal immorality or poor choices being only one of the less mentioned causes.)

Poverty in Biblical times was not like poverty today. It was, in fact, completely different. Biblical poverty was more like what people endured in this country during the Great Depression when there really weren't any jobs. In Biblical times the masses were poor and a small minority were well off, usually because they exploited the poor. Today's poor live in the wealthiest country with the largest middle class, the greatest opportunity for socio-economic mobility, the greatest economic freedom, and one of the most just societies in the history of the world.

In terms of health care, comforts like refrigeration, air conditioning, heat, entertainment, and transportation, today's poor are rich beyond the wildest dreams of anyone living in a Biblical culture. They have access to public libraries and public schools, they are eligible for government programs that buy their groceries, pay their energy and medical bills, and subsidize their housing. To compare the causes of American poverty today to the causes of poverty in Biblical times, or even the poverty that exists in modern times throughout much of the rest of the world, is to compare apples and oranges.

You also say:

These drastic statements though, that will sound less than charitable to those that work or live among the poor, will just turn them off.

A lot of these sorts of people, though maybe not a majority of them, if they know they can speak freely and not be hooted down, would agree with what I'm saying. I've talked to people who do social work, who are police officers in poor neighborhoods, who are teachers in poor schools, and pastors who counsel poor people. Their experience has made them some of the most discouraged people I know. They do their jobs with compassion and professionalism, but they feel their task is like trying to bail the water out of the Titanic with a bucket because the culture of poverty is so ingrained in people that they will simply not make the choices they have to make to rise out of it.

You then write:

That post about the debate in England between some wild and crazy lefties who then had even crazier people in the audience. Have you EVER met anybody anywhere who would say "who cares?" about helping people in Afghan?...Which makes me (a) worry a bit about the veracity of the report and (b) wonder why you post such stuff....Anybody that is that hard, hard left is just so much on the fringe that they do not deserve to be given the time of day..

George Galloway is very far to the left, but he's not that far that he's of no consequence. You might remember that he's the British politician that somebody at Gideon's blog said he admired for his anti-war stance, and you and I had an exchange about it. Galloway is one of the most prominent critics in England of Tony Blair and the Iraq war, and has a large following. Christopher Hitchens is one of the most well-known journalists in the United States among intellectuals. They may be wild and crazy (though I wouldn't say that about Hitchens, as much as I disagree with him), but they are men of consequence and their debate was widely reported on. That's why I post such stuff.

As for whether I've ever met anyone who would say "who cares" about the people in Afghanistan (or Iraq), the answer is that I've read about lots of them and talked with a few. Almost everyone who says we need to pull out of Afghanistan (or Iraq) right now is tacitly saying "who cares about those people," we've got to look out for ourselves. Everyone who has said that our involvement there is costing too much money and that we should be spending that money at home is tacitly saying "who cares about those people."

Has the left adequately protested brutal leftist regimes? Not adequately, although you are historically wrong to suggest that they haven't at all. (Whether they've reached your ears is not quite the issue, really.) Has the right adequately protested brutal rightist regimes? Not adequately. either. So what is your point? That the left never really cares but the right wing does? Hmmmm.

Nice put down, By, although I don't recall making myself the issue. I simply meant to say that if leftists have been seriously critical of leftist states, other than the obligatory acknowledgments that "of course, Kim Il Sung is a despot, but..." sort of thing, it hasn't been particularly obvious. The issue is that the left sees anyone who is an enemy of the U.S. as their friend (See Paul Berman's book Terrorism and Liberalism) or at least has a hard time seeing him as an enemy. I do not dispute that the right suffers, mutatis mutandis, from a similar blindness, but the fact of the matter is, as your own examples attest, one has to go back 20 to 25 years to come up with an example of a tyrannical rightist government that conservatives were not critical of.

Or the silence of the American conservatives on those scores doesn't get your goat the way it does mine?

Perhaps if I had had my blog going 25 years ago there would have been occasion to condemn the lack of outrage at some of the atrocities committed by our Central American surrogates. As it is, you might remember from our years of discussing these things that I was very much opposed to many of the horrific rightist governments around the world and supported measures to defeat them. I opposed South African apartheid, I supported Britain's war against Argentina and Clinton's war against Milosevic as well as Clinton's and others' attempts to end fascism in Haiti. I also supported Bush '41 when he went to war against the fascist Hussein and Bush '43 when he went to war against the extremely conservative Islamo-fascist Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein's socialist fascism (a sort of Arab naziism) again in 2003.

I think most conservatives, with the exception of many paleo-cons, also supported these actions. In fact, I think the conservative record against rightist tyranny is a lot stronger than the left's record against leftist tyranny, and has been ever since liberals changed their mind about Vietnam.

(And here is another concern: the liberals whose silence about human rights abuses on the left didn't cause it, really, as if you can blame red diaper babies for Stalin, or Jane Fonda for the Khmer Rouge. But you can blame those who voted for Mr. Reagan, say, for the contras brutalities in villages in Nicaragua. You can blame U.S. magazines on the right for advocating and getting financial support for Pinochet, for the horrors of the Shah, for passing bills that funded military support of dictators like Marcos and the torture chambers of apartheid era South Afriica....But when you fail to offer similiar critique of the right who really could have spoken out against their own guys, the ones they sent arms to your imbalance becomes disconcerting.

I think your premise is mistaken. To the extent that the left crippled American administrations and hindered them from taking strong action against communist tyrants, they encouraged them in their tyranny. Every time anti-war protestors marched or Jane Fonda called American soldiers war criminals, it gave hope and encouragement to the communists in Hanoi. The failure of the leftist dominated media to speak out strongly against Stalin's crimes and instead to apologize for them, emboldened him to commit new ones. Every time some naive leftist returned from Havana or Managua to tell the rest of us what wonderful people the Castroites and the Ortegans were and what a wonderful society they were building, it just stripped the Armando Valladares of the world, languishing in their filthy gulags, of hope.

I do not deny that conservatives have, sometimes for good reasons, sometimes not, found themselves in bed with unsavory people, but the fact that such things happened 25 years ago is no reason not to call to account people who are hopping into bed with unsavory people today, and today it's almost exclusively the left who is doing it. Nor do I feel that I have to qualify my criticisms of this by saying "I know that conservatives have done this in the past, too." That's the same sort of silliness that afflicts people who feel they have to preface every discussion of race by acknowledging that there's still lots of racism around to be condemned. I don't think it's necessary in addressing the difficulties of the world we face in the 21st century to revisit the arguments we had in the 1970s and 80s over whether we should have been supporting the contras and in what fashion. That argument is interminable.

If you want to cite an example from the contemporary world of how conservatives are behaving abominably and ask me why, in the interest of balance, I don't post on that I'll certainly examine it as sincerely as I can.

BTW, the one example of execrable behavior on the right that I can think of offhand was Pat Robertson's call to assassinate Hugo Chavez. I wrote several very critical posts on that. Perhaps you missed them.