July 21, 2004


On its 40th anniversary, Myron Magnet re-examines the War on Poverty:

It played such a decisive role in the formation of the underclass because it was one of the principal channels through which the new worldview got transmitted to the worst-off Americans who fell into that class. At the heart of the War on Poverty was the utterly debilitating message that the worst-off were victims: that the larger society, "the system," rather than their own behavior, was to blame for their poverty, their crime, their failure. Either, as War on Poverty architects Lloyd Ohlin and Richard Cloward implausibly argued, there really was no opportunity in the inner city, or, as the much subtler Michael Harrington contended—in a book that greatly influenced President Kennedy to devise the War on Poverty—the vast gulf between the worst-off and the prosperous causes the poor to lose heart, to become too demoralized to grasp the opportunity that lies all around them, even to become self-destructive. In the view of President Johnson, the black poor found themselves so “crippled” by three centuries of racism that they required special help and a different set of standards. As he put it in a speech a year after he launched the War on Poverty on a much more grandiose scale than President Kennedy ever contemplated: "You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, 'you are free to compete with all the others,' and still justly believe that you have been completely fair."

As Gore Vidal knows, you can't wage war on an abstract noun.

(From the latest edition of City Journal)

UPDATE. Tony Blair is also dissing the ‘60s:

Tony Blair yesterday put a tough new stance on law and order at the heart of Labour’s agenda for the next election, publicly denouncing the 1960s-style liberalism still cherished by many of his own party.

"We are shifting from tackling the offence to targeting the offender," Mr Blair said in a speech in London.

Posted by Tim Blair at July 21, 2004 02:36 AM

Thanks for bringing this article to our attention, Tim. As a psychometrician who blogs about standardized testing, I am constantly amazed at the tenacity of the myth that all tests are biased, and that minority youth should be held to lower standards on exit exams, the SAT, and so forth, because we just can't expect them to have overcome their hardships to be able to read, write, and do math at the same rate as other students.

Usually I'm tactful, but sometimes I'm aggravated enough to point out to a "liberal" that advocating lower test standards for black students is just the kind of thing the KKK would approve of. And yes, I've lost friends that way.

Posted by: Kimberly at July 21, 2004 at 03:10 AM

One way Britain can reduce crime is to not prosecute people who defend their homes and persons with deadly force. I was blown away when I first learned that self-defense is illegal in Britain.

Posted by: Dave S. at July 21, 2004 at 04:04 AM

Excellent article.

We've been reaping the harvest of 'poor victims' for a while now. Multiple generations of families on welfare/dole, whose children have no family role models of hard work. Heck, no family role models of going to work at all be it hard or easy (work).

I am in favor of helping people so they have food, clothing, a place to live and health care. However, unless a person is unable to work, or is elderly, I want all benefits given by the government to be given in exchange for work. I.E.: For X number of work units provided by the recipient, they receive X number of food, clothing, etc. units.

I don't want to abolish welfare entirely, but I want to rid people of the notion that the government (taxpayers) will give you something for nothing. Only if you provide X hrs. work, will you receive X amount of benefits. If someone won't work, or won't work to a set of standards and do good work, that person gets no benefits.

(I haven't described all of the features I'd like to see, just a rough outline.)

Posted by: Chris Josephson at July 21, 2004 at 04:21 AM

All I can say is, it's about damn time people woke up.

Posted by: Rebecca at July 21, 2004 at 04:27 AM

politicians alwasys talk tough on crime but never ever do anything about it in practice (except in the US of course). In Australia and the UK the conservative side of politics has been just as responsible for this sort of behaviour as the left...even more so because they are more inclined to talk tough on crime...oh and then do nothing.

Posted by: mike. a at July 21, 2004 at 06:50 AM

Tony Blair, in concert with Blairs everywhere, posesses honesty and integrity. He will do what he perceives to be the right thing.

Up to the Iraq war he was famous for trying to achieve (and often attaining) consensus (that whole 'Third Way' thing). After the firestorm the Beeb and its buddies put him through he is less inclined to talk, more inclined to act.

Mark Latham is miles away (to the left) from this guy.

Posted by: Robert Blair at July 21, 2004 at 11:01 AM

About bloody time, now all he has to do is to rescind all the drivel like `race dsicrimnation laws' which stop police apprehending crooks, for frear of being prosecuted on such counts and, as dave says, stop prosecting those who defend themselves in their onw homes: in OZ that includes rescinding the stupid `gun laws'.

Posted by: d at July 21, 2004 at 11:18 AM

As a 'centrist' it is telling that Labour's Tony Blair receives praise from unlikely points of the political compass. Lefties on the other hand seem incapable of affording equally centrist - but nominally right-wing - politicians similar analysis.

Posted by: ilibcc at July 21, 2004 at 02:32 PM

Recommendations from the Upper House committee are about to be released soon about the Redfern riot.
Whats the bet the long suffering law abiding local community will be once again shafted,abandoned,forgotten by T.Blair's Australian compatriot Bob Carr and his Upper house flousy Merrideth Burgman.
Approximately 60 agencies fix,counsell,instill a victim mentality into the 200 approx Aboriginal people in Redfern.In the meantime this week I have personally seen police tend to one stabbing and a bag snatch(90% of crime in Redfern approx committed by Aboriginal people).Of course if the perps are caught they will be straight out on the streets to finish off their interupted money grab and up to the block to get heroin and a free needle from the needle van.
This Labor Government have abandoned Redfern to the worst elements. Perhaps T.Blair wants to migrate to OZ.I'll chip in 10 quid if he gets rid of the white saviours

Posted by: gubbaboy at July 21, 2004 at 04:04 PM

Given the disproportionate success of black athletes in the US, Lyndon Johnson's well-known sporting analogy has always struck me as wildly inappropriate and 'proving', if an analogy ever proves anything, the opposite of his intended message.

Posted by: Kiwi Dave at July 21, 2004 at 10:07 PM