Monday, March 26, 2012

"Political Sleights of Hand"

Sydney M. Williams

Thought of the Day
"Political Sleights of Hand"
March 26, 2012

Political correctness and politics as conventionally perceived are bedmates born of the same parentage. While their consequences are surely unintentional, combined they protect those who do harm, and harm those deserving of protection. Both result from what is generally considered to be progressive policies. Both are born in the womb of harmonic relationships; the repercussions of both can be the opposite of what was intended.

Two recent examples illustrate the point. The first would be the shootings in southern France that culminated with the death of Mohammed Merah, after a 32 hour stand-off outside his flat in Toulouse. The second is a piece by George Mason economist Walter Williams writing at Townhall.com, in which he discusses America’s poorest cities and what they all have in common.

Mr. Merah was a known factor in the world of radical Islamism. He was on a terrorist watch-list in France and supposedly tracked by the police. Following trips to Afghanistan and the Waziristan region of Pakistan, he was placed on the most restrictive list the U.S. maintains – its no-fly list. It is generally assumed he was radicalized toward Salafist jihadism while in prison.

It is remarkable that two decades after radical Islamic attacks began in earnest and more than ten years after 9/11, authorities in the U. S. and Europe still have a difficult time acknowledging the enemy we face. President Obama refused to call Major Malik Nadal Hasan a jihadist or terrorist, after he killed 13 and wounded 29 in 2009, despite Hasan’s shouting “Allahu Akbar!” as he fired. Remember when Janet Napolitano refused to refer to a member of Al Qaeda as a “terrorist”? Who would get the better treatment: Major Hasan in a U.S. court, or Sergeant Robert Bales in an Afghanistan court? Now that both are in the U.S., which will receive the stiffer sentence?

The day after Mr. Merah’s death, a teacher in France (she was later reprimanded) told her students to observe a moment of silence for the killer. French Interior Minister, Claude GuĂ©ant has said it is not a crime to be a Salafist. Perhaps it is not, but it is known that Salafists in France have been radicalized toward the most violent forms of jihadism. Nevertheless, French Justice Minister, Rachida Dati, warned that using ‘jihadist’ to describe Mr. Merah risked stigmatizing French Muslims. The Financial Times, in a weekend editorial, deplored the fact that Mr. Merah had been killed, as justice, in their opinion, was denied. As the Wall Street Journal noted in an editorial over the weekend, “…combating prejudice can’t be achieved through semantic acrobatics, much less closing one’s eyes to reality.” Who is being protected – the criminal or the victim?

When political correctness fails, as it did in this instance, the rush of officials to cover their posteriors would be humorous were it not for the despicable nature of the crime they let happen. And why should it take 32 hours and the wounding of four French police officers to roust the rat from his nest? And what about his brother Abdelkader Merah, who said he was “very proud of his brother. I regret nothing for him and approve of what he did.”

The rational behind political correctness is to prevent people from being offended, to make everyone use words that will not upset those different from ourselves. But decency, consideration and morality cannot be compelled or legislated. They must be learned, at a young age, at home and in schools. A sense of respect has been lost; so well-intentioned, but supercilious, elites feel an obligation to impose rules.

A root problem of political correctness is that it fails to distinguish between morality and rights. James Q. Wilson noted in his book, American Politics, Then & Now and Other Essays, that they arrive from different sources: “…morality arises from sympathy among like-minded persons: first the family, then friends and colleagues. Rights, on the other hand grow from convictions of how we ought to manage relationships with people not like us, convictions that are nourished by education, religion and experience.” Freedom of speech is a fundamental right. Self restraint is always preferable, but to deny such a basic right is wrong. Political correctness leads to a loss of plain speaking and, when that happens, clear thinking is denied. Pulling the covers over one’s head will not make the morning sun go away. While political correctness stems from a lack of civility, the fear of offending another person, practitioners use it to exert control. Ironically, the process is circular, in the sense that many who preach political correctness are the same who practice self indulgence, the consequences of which are a need to mandate behavior.

That perception and reality in politics are often worlds apart, one has to look no further than the nation’s poorest cities. In a recent posting on TownHall.com, Professor Walter Williams names the ten poorest cities in the United States with populations greater than 250,000, in terms of the percent of the population below the poverty level: Detroit (33%) and Buffalo (30%) head the list, with Philadelphia (25%) and Newark (24%) at the bottom. The other cities are Cincinnati, Cleveland, Miami, St. Louis, El Paso, and Milwaukee. All of these cities are run (and have been for decades) by Democrats, supposedly progressive liberals who profess to care about minorities and poverty. Yet their policies have only made matters worse. Are their African-American and Hispanic populations better off? Have these paternalistic governments improved the lifestyle of their inhabitants?

Republicans get blamed for being uncaring of the poor, responding only to the rich. Democrats are considered the Party of compassion. Reality is more complex. Whether led by Democrats or Republicans, the difference between the success and failure in cities – as it is for small towns, states and the federal government – are the differing views toward responsibility, accountability and independence. Cities with such high levels of poverty should borrow a page from the guidebook at Yellowstone National Park, which warns: “Don’t feed a Yellowstone animal, not even the cute little ground squirrel outside your cabin. It seems minor, but it makes them depend on handouts and unable to find their own food, eventually resulting in starvation.” Cities do not have to put rules in such draconian terms, but leaders must understand that personal success can only come when individuals substitute responsibility for dependency.

No economic system can ever be completely fair in terms of outcomes. In China, which outwardly deplores the trappings of capitalism, the children of Communist leaders live lives of unbelievable luxury, with homes in Switzerland, vacationing in France and driving Maseratis around Beijing with little regard to pedestrians. Democratic capitalism does a far better job of providing reasonable equality in terms of opportunities and, consequently, outcomes. Political correctness stifles our basic freedoms of expression, and a blind acceptance by the poor that government handouts represent their best option is demeaning and unsuccessful. Poverty becomes perpetual. Safety nets, in any civilized society, are necessary, but they are no substitute for the offering of the opportunities that capitalism provides to the fit, the able and the aspiring.

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