Wall Street Journal lies when it says what happened in Baltimore is about the failure of liberal government

The Wall Street Journal has devoted a lot of column inches lately to advocating the truly odious idea that liberal/progressive government programs, and not racism, are to blame for what happened in Baltimore.

The Journal fronted this non-reality based opinion in an editorial a few days back, and now it is publishing an article by regular columnist, former Bush II speechwriter, William McGurn, that says the same thing.

The Journal and its factotums build the theory that progressive government has led to the crisis in Baltimore on a big lie, a bunch of little lies and a conflation of motivations.

The big lie of course is that Baltimore has been under progressive or liberal rule for the past 50 years, or as McGurn puts it, “It’s about the consequences of 50 years of progressive misrule.”

Last time I checked, the United States took a turn towards the right in about 1975, which accelerated precipitously when Reagan assumed the presidency in 1981. Since then, with few exceptions, federal, state and local governments have been in the hands of rightwingers and centrists looking right, with the occasional centrist peeking left like Obama and Baltimore’s Martin O’Malley. So for at least 35-40 years of the past 50, we have not lived with progressive rule of any sort, but rather, rightwing misrule.

McGurn states that the proof that racism is not at the heart of what has happened in Baltimore is that progressive programs such as welfare, food stamps, jobless benefits, school subsidies, Head Start and Social Security have not helped the poor in predominately white areas such as the Appalachia.

McGurn has to tell a lot of little lies to pretend that these programs don’t work. Imagine how much worse our recent recession would have been if millions of people had not received food stamps and unemployment insurance. The recent The Public School Advantage: Why Public Schools Outperform Private Schools by Sarah Theule Lubienski and Christopher A. Lubienski does the math that proves that (heavily-unionized) public schools outperform private schools, when we correct for family wealth and disabled pupils. Where would the elderly be today without Social Security, which is essentially a fiscally strong program that would be funded for decades if we merely removed the cap on earnings assessed by the Social Security tax?

What McGurn forgets is that these programs have been cut to shreds during the past 35 years.  He forgets that wages have stagnated during that time, especially the minimum wage, which has lost approximately 40% of its purchasing power. He forgets that governments everywhere have retreated from support of public and higher education. He forgets that privatization and anti-unionism have transferred income from the many who are employees to the few who employ.

Progressive ideology has nothing to do with the Draconian prison sentences of the past 35 years, virtually everywhere imposed more heavily and frequently on African-Americans, often for victimless crimes. This system of “mass incarceration” has destroyed families and communities in Baltimore and elsewhere. No one would aver that imposing stiffer penalties is a progressive idea.

Let’s not forget that Baltimore was one of the very first cities to see its middle class and rich inhabitants abandon it for the suburbs, destroying the tax base. There was no “separate but equal” applied by white-flighters in the Baltimore metropolitan area, just irrational racism.

The conflation that McGurn proposes involves the racism in the criminal justice system and the economic problems of many poor Baltimore residents. He never says it, but his reasoning must be as follows: If Baltimore were thriving economically, the killing of another innocent black man in police custody would not have caused riots. It sounds like he’s channeling Phil Ochs’ old song, “Outside a Small Circle of Friends,” in which a group of friends show no concern about their fellow humans as long as they themselves are happy, well-fed and prosperous. Kind of like the politics of selfishness, isn’t it?

In fact, there have not been riots over police brutality in poor white areas for the simple reason that the police don’t single out whites for harsh treatment. Nowhere does racial profiling identify whites. Nowhere do whites get arrested at higher rates than minorities. Nowhere do they get stiffer jail sentences. Only a fool would spit into a typhoon of facts and try to deny that our criminal justice system is inherently racist.

All over the country, people of all races and colors are angry about the increasing inequality in wealth and income distribution in the United States—stagnant wages, an inadequate minimum wage, the high cost of college. But McGurn and the Wall Street Journal misinterpret this anger in two ways, ignoring two key facts:

  1. It was 35 years of rightwing rule that engendered the anger.
  2. Minorities are also rightfully angry about their mistreatment in the criminal justice system.

To bang the final nail in the coffin in which we should bury the idea that racism isn’t behind what happened in Baltimore, let’s engage in two thought experiments. First imagine that Baltimore became an economic utopia in which everyone made a great living, ate well, sent their children to college and had a viable retirement plan, but nothing else changed. Right-minded people would still be angry about the repeated deaths of African-American men at the hands of the police.

The other thought experiment is to imagine what would happen if whites were the victims of discrimination and violence by the police and courts. Would decades of organized violent suppression of those of European background lead to riots and other sudden outbursts of community rage? Anyone who thinks it wouldn’t hasn’t studied the American or European labor movements in the 19th and early 20th century.


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