Twenty five years ago I had a program on a local talk radio station: The Steve Shultis Saturday Show. It was a whole lot of fun, but being a left wing voice on talk radio in the nineties, even in Massachusetts, was not a winning plan. They offered me a morning slot…if I would stick to comedy and avoid politics but teaching paid better, had better benefits, and offered greater stability than small market broadcasting so I declined.
One issue which was being debated at the time has always stuck in my memory, not for its import, its significance, or its profundity, but rather for the way in which it illustrated the fundamental problem with political debate: that there rarely is an honest debate. The issue was the school lunch program. The talking points from the Democrats were that the evil Republicans wanted to cut funding to the program. The talking points from the Republicans were that the assertion that they were seeking cuts was a lie meant to cover that Democrats were being fiscally irresponsible by wanting to throw more money at another social program.
The truth was, not surprisingly, somewhere in between. The program was being exactly level funded, but with inflation and increasing numbers of students becoming eligible for the program the result of level funding was that there was less money per child. Adherence to the talking points then, obfuscated precisely the issue which needed to be debated: GIVEN THAT MORE CHILDREN ARE QUALIFYING FOR THIS PROGRAM SHOULD WE TAKE OUR LIMITED RESOURCES AND PUT MORE OF THEM TOWARDS THIS EFFORT.
That’s the debate. That’s the argument. Resources ARE limited. More children DO fall into the parameters of concern addressed by this program. IS IT WORTH IT? Nope. Ignore the real, and reasonable, area of conflict and hurl insults at one another.
As any of my readers will know I fell, and fall, firmly on the “left” of the debate. I would have argued for cuts, e x t r e m e cuts, in the military budget to pay for a greatly expanded school lunch program. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t see now, and couldn’t see at the time, that the Democrats were too chicken-shit to MAKE THE ARGUMENT and preferred to claim that a program was simply “being cut” and call the other side names.
In two articles I read at CityLab this week I found the same tendency involving urban issues. The first was much simpler than the second and covered, in microcosm, the raison d’être of this blog. In it the author discusses how watching the TV show “House Hunters” gives her insight into the mechanics of racism and housing, but what she fails to notice his that her very critique demonstrates how inescapably impossible progressives have made the issue of housing in the real world.
Young well-to-do white couples are ridiculed for paying way too much for way too little house in the traditionally white areas of Chicagoland:
They are subtly accused of ignorantly perpetuating racism for not considering how much further their money would go if they were to buy in a traditionally black neighborhood:
And if they buy in a transitioning area which has been traditionally Hispanic they are labeled as gentrifiers:
“Stupid” and “Racist”, or “Gentrifier”. Those are the only options.
The argument is made that because black neighborhoods aren’t considered by the well-to-do, homes in those neighborhoods don’t experience the price inflation which then creates wealth which can then be passed on to children in order to assist them in acquiring homes in neighborhoods where prices tend to increase…and create more wealth:
Leaving the impossibility of ever increasing home values aside, the only way for people NOW to bid up the prices of homes in black neighborhoods is for the people who have the money NOW to do so and, yes, a disproportionate number of those people are white and if they begin to buy homes at a rate significant enough to cause a generalized increase in value the effect will be, by definition, gentrification.
What amazes me is that the author doesn’t see it and perhaps can’t see it. She knows what she perceives the RIGHT decision to be, and I agree 100%…again, it is the whole point of this blog…that the middle and upper classes SHOULD repopulate the high quality traditional neighborhoods of our core cities and in so doing breathe new life into them. The author makes clear that it is the fact that young white couples don’t consider black neighborhoods which makes watching House Hunters “hate-watching”, but her labeling of those same people as gentrifiers when they do precisely what she wants them to do, but in a different context, demonstrates how unwilling to confront the tcomplexity of the issue she, and by extension so much of the “progressive left”, really is.
The second piece covers a much broader topic, which I greatly desire to delve into, but I’d like to enter the debate by focusing on one relatively minuscule argument in the article about Muslim immigration into urban “ghettos” in Denmark. At issue is a policy to punish more severely crimes committed within the ghettos. The author is angered by what he describes as an attempt to put more immigrants behind bars for longer periods than native Danes. But he rejects categorically that the actual intent of the policy is to protect the innocent MUSLIM victims of crime within those ghettos, whoever the perpetrator, because that undermines his argument that the whole initiative is anti Muslim. He not only rejects it unsympathetically, even demanding that evidence for the success of a policy be demonstrated before the policy is even put into place, he uses terms like “racist” and “intolerant” when there are clearly pro immigrant and even pro immigration rationales for this and other policies:
Look, I live in the area which has the highest rate of crime in my entire region. Read this article or look up Maple Street or Union Street on Masslive. If the legislature were to take up a bill to punish crime in the 01105 zip code more severely my response would not be that the government was out to get me; “What if I accidentally rape and murder someone? I’ll be screwed!” The intent would be to protect the non criminal, obviously. Is there enough confidence in the justice system to be sure that the innocent, especially those who belong to a minority group, won’t be caught up in the net of increased enforcement that this will create? That is the debate!
The immediate assumption of evil intent is indicative of an overall unwillingness to engage in the actual debate which is confirmed in the author’s response to comments on the article. He is quick to criticize anyone with a differing viewpoint, but ignores completely, totally, and absolutely the most significant part of the discussion. When asked if there are limits to the numbers of people from a very different culture that a country can reasonably be expected to accept…silence. When asked if efforts to get rid of concentrated areas of immigrants didn’t show a willingness to integrate immigrants…silence. When asked if countries should have an expectation that immigrants assimilate to the native culture…silence. And those are the areas of actual debate!
Any hope of making real progress (progressives..progress) on these and other issues has to involve honestly confronting the realities of the circumstances and the limitations of policy when dealing with those issues. The reason these issue continue to be difficult is that there are likely winners and losers, limits and costs, if you really believe in your cause, MAKE YOUR CASE without lying about who the losers might be and what the costs will be; doing any less weakens your argument, undermines your credibility, and impedes, of all things, progress.