The speech our President should make.
Democrats have been bludgeoning the Reagan Administration
with “the fairness issue” since 1981. The fairness issue covers a
variety of sins, generally falling under the headings of rewarding
the rich and cutting programs for the poor. For those who have been
raising the clamor, citing specifics has often seemed unnecessary.
Every fair-minded person should be able to see, we are given to
believe, that the Administration has been palpably, obviously
The people in charge of making the Administration’s case have never quite made up their minds how to respond to these allegations. The President usually takes the line that the cuts in social programs affected only those who didn’t need the benefits anyway; the truly needy were not hurt. I have listened to other Republican officials point proudly to how much money the government continues to spend, arguing that the Reagan Administration is spending unacknowledged and unappreciated billions to help the poor, even more than the Democrats spent.
Perhaps these are politically astute responses for an election year. But, astute or not, they do not ring true. Benefits were taken away from some people, and some of those people were hurt. That’s what happens when people at almost any level of income suddenly have less income. And while the Reagan Administration surely does continue to spend large sums on the poor, it would be spending much less if the Democrats had let it.
Why be so defensive? Why be so disingenuous? Why do conservatives shy away from making the honest, compelling argument so readily available to them that the social policy toward the poor that Reagan inherited (and has changed very little) has been desperately unfair and destructive for the poor? The reason such policies must be reformed is not that there is a budget crisis. It is not to get rid of welfare cheats. It is not to benefit the middle class that pays the bills. The real reason is that the reforms of the 1960s and thereafter have been bad for the people who most deserve our consideration. I hereby offer the Administration, free and clear, the speech I think Ronald Reagan ought to be making about “the fairness issue” and a few of the numbers behind the rhetoric.
MY FELLOW AMERICANS. Tonight, I wish to speak to that great multitude of Americans, of whom I am one, who are comfortable. Some of us are rich; most are not. But what we share in common is enough money to live more or less where we wish, in a style that is pleasant by any standard and luxurious by most. We have the resources to raise and educate our children. We have pensions and security for our old age.
I wish to speak to you of the plight of millions of other Americans who are less fortunate. No, tonight I am not talking about the destitute. I am not talking about the chronically unemployed. I could talk about them; their plight is no less grievous. But tonight I refer instead to another population that has been strangely ignored: millions of ordinary American parents who work steadily and work hard but, because of little education or because of other disadvantages or simply because their abilities are limited, work at menial, low-paying jobs. These are people who are never going to be rich. They have gone about as far as they can go. But their instinct is to keep working, raise their children right, and hope their children have a better life. In other words, they are the kind of people that most of us had for parents or grandparents or great-grandparents, and to whom we owe much of our own present prosperity.
My proposition is that in the last twenty years, we comfortable people, in the name of fairness and generosity, have ravaged their lives.
How can this be, when the last twenty years have seen an explosion in spending on behalf of such people? To see why, let us begin by ridding ourselves of a curious condescension that takes hold whenever my middle-income opponents talk about what the government is doing for low-income working people. They count up the extra income in food stamps or housing subsidies or the welfare check, and judge fairness in terms of increase in the dollar total — when it would not occur to them to measure their own lives in such terms. Tonight, think for a moment how differently “fairness” for the poor looks if you ask yourself what most worries you as a parent, and then make one assumption: The poor are not so different from you and me.
You worry about crime. You have chosen the neighborhood where you live in part because it is safe. Some of you have deliberately stayed away from urban neighborhoods where you would like to live because they adjoin the ghetto, and you are unwilling to put yourself and your spouse and especially your children at risk.
Parents who live in the ghetto fear for themselves and their children too. But they have no option about where to live. They cannot afford to move away from troubles; they must endure them. Do you know what happened to the crime problem in their neighborhoods in the last twenty years? It went through the roof. Yes, we affluent people have our tales of being mugged or burglarized that we tell one another at cocktail parties. But the increased risks for us are nothing compared to the increased risks run by people in poor neighborhoods.
In the seven years from 1965 to 1972, the number of black males who were victims of homicide increased by 30 per 100,000. During the same period, white male victims per 100,000 rose by 3. From 1965 to 1979, the annual number of low-income blacks who were victims of robbery rose by 1,266 per 100,000. Among middle-income whites, the increase was 359. Proportionately, the increase in victimization among white and middle-income populations was high, but in terms of actual risk of being a victim, poor blacks suffered far more.
Think of it this way. Suppose that the government, for some obscure reason, decided it wanted to take a daily busload of the inner-city’s muggers and burglars and aggravated assaulters who are returned to the streets — the ones the courts will not put in jail or keep in jail because it is only their first (or second or third) offense, or because they are only juveniles, or because prison doesn’t help, or because of one of the many other arguments based on fairness and compassion — and let them hang out in your neighborhood instead of the ones they come from. You as a resident of this neighborhood are given no choice in the matter. But the government offers you compensation. How much must you get to make your life whole again? How much money will make what the government has done to your life … . fair?
YOU WORRY ABOUT EDUCATING your children. So when you chose where to live you gave a lot of attention to the quality of the public schools. Many of you, especially in the cities, send your children to private schools. For us comfortable people, the deterioration of public education during the last twenty years has been an irritation and something we’ve had to work around. Have you considered what it was like to be the parents of a child in the inner city during the 1960s and 1970s if you desperately wanted your child to get a decent education but had to rely on the public schools?
You couldn’t expect an especially bright child to be pushed to his or her potential, because tracking systems were elitist — forbidden by school policy and even by law in many of our largest cities. You couldn’t expect the teacher to maintain an orderly learning environment, because teachers were at professional risk of lawsuits if they tried to enforce discipline — and increasingly at physical risk as well. You couldn’t expect a challenging curriculum and strict standards for achievement — the whole school system was at risk of lawsuits and cutoff in federal assistance if it paid too much attention to “culturally biased” measures of achievement. The results for students in the worst of our public schools — blacks living in the urban core — were disastrous.
In 1980, the Defense Department administered its “Armed Forces Qualification Test,” a carefully designed and standardized test of basic skills, to a nationally representative sample of over 9,000 youths. The mean score among blacks with a high-school education was less than half the mean score among whites with the same level of education.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?