Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Could Bush Be Right About This War Too?

As the left squirms at developments in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Lebannon, and Israel, it's worth looking at the domestic battlefield. Paul Krugman supplies the typical whine today:

...over the past three decades the lives of ordinary Americans have become steadily less secure, and their chances of plunging from the middle class into acute poverty ever larger. Job stability has declined; spells of unemployment, when they happen, last longer; fewer workers receive health insurance from their employers; fewer workers have guaranteed pensions.

Some of these changes are the result of a changing economy. But the underlying economic trends have been reinforced by an ideologically driven effort to strip away the protections the government used to provide.

Hmmm. "Over the past three decades", should give one pause. So, let's refresh our memories with Myron Magnet:

Taken together, compassionate conservatism's elements added up to a sweeping rejection of liberal orthodoxy about how to help the poor, which a half century's worth of experience had discredited. If you want to help the poor, compassionate conservatives argued, liberate them from dependency through welfare reform; free their communities from criminal anarchy through activist policing; give them the education they need to succeed in a modern economy by holding their schools accountable; and let them enjoy the rewards of work by taxing their modest wages lightly--or not at all.

For the worst-off--those hampered by addiction or alcohol or faulty socialization--let the government pay private organizations, especially religious ones, to help. Such people need a change of heart to solve their problems, the president himself deeply believed; and while a clergyman or a therapist might help them, a bureaucrat couldn't.

In fact a welfare-department worker might do harm even beyond providing money to fuel self-destructive behavior. Rather than understand that an inner transformation is what such a person needs, the welfare worker might well try to persuade him that his plight stems from an unjust economy, which provides him insufficient opportunity, or even purposely keeps a fraction of the population unemployed, so as to hold down the wages of those who are working. His problem thus is the result of vast, impersonal forces, of which he is the victim (and doubly the victim if he is black in racist America). In other words, capitalism is inherently defective and unjust, and therefore we need a welfare state to mitigate its harshness.

President Bush entered the White House with no patience for such a view. What he understood was that the War on Poverty--an array of LBJ-era legislation that boosted welfare benefits and established other programs for the poor, including Medicaid--created its own form of depression, as women long dependent on welfare became so convinced of their own inferiority that they could hardly present themselves without trembling at a job interview.

And, as a far worse psychological consequence, the sense of victimization and of entitlement to government support that the War on Poverty fostered created a corrosive self-pity and resentment among the children of its beneficiaries, and their children's children. The self-pity led to drink and drugs; the resentment to crime and violence; and both together to a perpetuation of irresponsibility, dysfunction, and failure over the generations.

The first-line antidote, in Mr. Bush's view, would be the intervention of a counselor, preferably faith-based.

But if there was a permanent class of poor, the cause was not a failure of capitalism but of the War on Poverty, which reinforced such self-defeating attitudes. Clearly, as the administration understood, American capitalism was a dynamo of job creation and opportunity.

.... as a Texan, Mr. Bush had seen waves of Mexican immigrants flooding in to take jobs no one previously knew existed--still more evidence that there was no crisis of opportunity--while in the cities, a new wave of immigrant-run greengroceries, nail salons, construction firms, even commercial fish farms in Bronx basements, gave the lie to the failure-of-capitalism theory.

This is the real reason for the shrieks from the attack-of-the-vapors-lady-scientists, L.A. Times Op-ed keep-us-in-Estriches-gal-writers, and...Meet the Press-NY Times-Princeton Economists.

They want to continue to live in the failed past of the mid-twentieth century. Not in the brave new 21st.

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