On “Meet the Press” yesterday, Chuck Todd asked House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) about the recent unrest in Baltimore. The Republican leader blasted “50 years of liberal policies that have not worked to help the very people that we want to help.”
On “Face the Nation,” House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) sounded similar notes, saying the United States has “the same poverty rates,” despite “a 50-year war on poverty and trillions of dollars spent.” Ryan rejected the idea of “pumping more money into the same failed system.”
The comments weren’t exactly surprising. As developments in Baltimore grew more serious last week, plenty of conservatives saw the unrest through a specific lens: the city’s crisis is Exhibit A in the case against progressive social-welfare policies.
Rebecca Leber made a compelling case that the right has this backwards.
Conservatives base this logic – that the city somehow proves government investment and social programs are bad policy – on a selective history of Baltimore, noting for instance that its residents have elected only one non-Democratic mayor since the 1940s. But Baltimore’s problems stretch further back, to institutionalized racial discrimination in the early 20th century. Federal and local policymakers of the time redlined areas with “undesirable racial concentrations” to omit them from mortgage insurance programs.And over the century, the same neighborhoods faced one destructive policy after another, from mass incarceration to the rise of predatory banks.
The argument that Democrats share responsibility is grounded in fact, but not in the way Republicans mean – too often Dems, in the name of political expediency, went along with the conservative approach on issues like criminal justice, welfare reform, and generations of red-lining and segregation, which had a brutally detrimental impact on urban areas.
In other words, don’t blame Democrats for being too progressive; blame them for not being progressive enough.
For his part, David Brooks took aim at cultural norms in inner cities.
That’s happened across many social spheres — in schools, families and among neighbors. Individuals are left without the norms that middle-class people take for granted. It is phenomenally hard for young people in such circumstances to guide themselves.Yes, jobs are necessary, but if you live in a neighborhood, as Gray did, where half the high school students don’t bother to show up for school on a given day, then the problems go deeper.
Annie Lowrey and Sean Illing effectively tore Brooks’ column to shreds, though it was his colleague, Paul Krugman, who challenged the columnist without using his name.
“[T]here is no excuse for fatalism as we contemplate the evils of poverty in America,” Krugman explained. “Shrugging your shoulders as you attribute it all to values is an act of malign neglect. The poor don’t need lectures on morality, they need more resources – which we can afford to provide – and better economic opportunities, which we can also afford to provide through everything from training and subsidies to higher minimum wages. Baltimore, and America, don’t have to be as unjust as they are.”