As I Please

Commentary by Tom Gregg       September 12, 2005

Barbarians Inside the Gates

A couple of days ago, I happened to catch an interview with Jessie Jackson by Fox News' Neil Cavuto. You will not be surprised to hear that in response to a question about the Mayor of New Orleans' handling of Hurricane Katrina, Jackson played the race card. Evidently the Major cannot be blamed for leaving so many of his citizens in to soak, along with all the buses that could have brought them to safety. Redneck America would never have accepted them, you see, because they’re poor and black. 

Jackson, of course, is a disgusting, race-baiting opportunist who never met a TV camera he didn't like. But his answer to—or evasion of—Cavuto's question probably represents what will become the Left's standard line on the destruction of New Orleans. Rape, murder, pillage, shots fired at rescue helicopters—it's also so easy to explain away by invoking "white racism."

No doubt the Crescent City's precipitous descent into barbarism will be the most under-reported story of Hurricane Katrina. The looting, by all accounts, was not sporadic but widespread—and much of it had nothing whatever to do with survival. A man who in desperate circumstances takes food and necessities for himself and his family is doing what he must. But we’re told that in New Orleans, stores, hotels, malls, and entire neighborhoods were systematically stripped, trashed and sometimes torched. The horrific conditions at the city's Convention Center were caused by marauding gangs who went on a violent, drunken rampage.. 

The fact that New Orleans is a predominantly black city will serve to keep the full details of this horrific story off the front pages. Some will insist that we must not “blame the victim.” Some will say that it could have happened anywhere. But could it? If flood waters covered South Bend, Indiana, would we see mobs looting liquor stores and snipers shooting at rescue helicopters? I honestly don’t think so. In New Orleans, the social foundations were undermined by an unusually powerful, toxic stew of pathologies.

What we know about pre-Katrina New Orleans isn’t very pretty. Indeed, it’s a disgrace. Local government was corrupt and inept, the economy was moribund, crime was rampant. All the symptoms of urban breakdown and misplaced liberal "compassion" flourished like rank weeds in an abandoned back yard. One shove was enough to bring everything crashing down around the ears of the inhabitants of New Orleans. Hurricane Katrina supplied it.

Our political and media elites lack the stomach to face these ugly facts. Instead, we’ll be bombarded with demands for “sensitivity,” “inclusion,” and all the rest of multiculturalism’s futile, feel-good lexicon. If New Orleans were a special case, perhaps that wouldn’t matter so much. But anyone could name half a dozen other major American cities where similar conditions exist right now. How long can we continue to ignore them? And how long will it take for the rot to spread?

We’ve already tried the remedies of progressivism. I’m old enough to remember when liberals confidently predicted that the commitment of a few tens of billions of dollars could eliminate poverty in America forever. Lyndon Johnson told us that our government possessed both the power and the will to do this. No asked at the time whether government possessed the wisdom to do it. Now that hundreds of billions have been poured down the rat hole of Johnson's Great Society, we know the answer to that question.

 I admit I don’t know how the whole problem of poverty can be solved, or even if it can be solved. Maybe, as Jesus remarked to his followers, the poor will always be with us. Considering how rich our country is and how much opportunity it offers, most Americans would probably disagree with this, even considering the source. I do think, however, that we could make a decent start by rejecting the pernicious idea that poverty and barbarism go hand in hand.

 Progressives assert that the poor ought not to be held to normal standards of civilized behavior. But it’s no compliment to blacks when looting, arson, murder and rape are excused on socio-economic grounds. Such condescension, masquerading as compassion, strips black Americans of their basic human dignity and marginalizes them as effectively as Jim Crow ever did.

 It won’t be easy to tell the truth about what happened in New Orleans. The Left will deploy its considerable resources of name-calling and hate-mongering against anyone who contradicts the progressive world-view. But Hurricane Katrina has blown away the fog of political correctness that long obscured the blasted landscape of urban America. There lies the wreckage of the progressive dream, from the New Deal to midnight basketball. Just look at it—but quickly, before the mists close in again.

Copyright © 2005 by Thomas M. Gregg