We still don’t have all the facts about happened in Ferguson, but we can already draw one big lesson.
Clearly, something tragic happened during the confrontation on the street that day that left a young man dead and a community in chaos. Certainly, our hearts go out to the family and we can all hope that the investigation into what happened will be swift, thorough and fair to all parties.
Already, of course, the shooting of Michael Brown has sparked a much bigger debate on a range of topics, from the state of civil rights in America and community policing methods to the growing militarization of local police forces. For some, of course, Ferguson is all about race, hatred and division, and many of those who have come to the grieving community since the shooting have been all too anxious to push that narrative.
I see it differently, perhaps because I lived through another national debate when House Republicans struggled successfully to reform our national welfare system in the 1990s. Whatever the facts of this individual shooting, I see in Ferguson a community ravaged by the same misguided government policies, cultural attitudes and dependency that we were trying to address through welfare reform two decades ago.
The results of liberalism’s drive for state control, for a government that supplies all of the individual’s wants and needs can be seen in the civic implosions we have seen in places like Detroit and Camden, New Jersey over the years. We knew in the 1990s that it was the welfare system itself that was encouraging the problems undermining our communities, especially inner-city neighborhoods and black and Hispanic communities. The old welfare system actively discouraged stable, two-parent families; welfare recipients actually were rewarded if there was no father living in the home.
David Horowitz, in his magnificent new book “Take No Prisoners,” puts his finger right on the liberal/progressive impulse that undermines traditional values and communities in the effort to “save” them — using other people’s money.
“Progressive remedies,” Mr. Horowitz writes, “have condemned millions of poor black and Hispanic children to lives of poverty and hopelessness and damaged the lives of countless others. The progressive axiom that it takes a government to raise a child has been shown in practice to be a perverse untruth. Government can destroy a child. It can destroy entire communities. Given enough latitude and time, and enough power to work with, it can destroy a nation.”
It doesn’t have to be that way. From the 1940s to the 1960s, before the first of the government anti-poverty programs ushered in by Lyndon Johnson, the poverty rate for black Americans was cut in half as the economy grew. With Johnson and the liberals vowing to break the “cycle of poverty,” Washington would proceed to spend $20 trillion over the next five decades on welfare programs for the poor — with little to no appreciable improvement in the poverty rate numbers. Many of those programs had the perverse effect of breaking up families, devaluing education, discouraging work and increasing the pathologies that left cities like Ferguson struggling with poverty and social isolation.
No one should be surprised: In 1965, Daniel Patrick Moynihan in a famous (an enormously controversial) essay identified social and cultural breakdown as the real culprits, not racism or the lack of government aid: “From the wild Irish slums of the 19th century Eastern seaboard, to the riot-torn suburbs of Los Angeles, there is one unmistakable lesson in American history: A community that allows a large number of men to grow up in broken families, dominated by women, never acquiring any stable relationship to male authority, never acquiring any set of rational expectations about the future — that community asks for and gets chaos.”
Even a quick look at the census data for Ferguson shows that community suffering from many of the problems that Moynihan identified — the high rate of out-of-wedlock births, the large number of single-parent households, a median income for Michael Brown’s neighborhood that was one of the lowest in the entire state of Missouri. It was telling that a legitimate community protest about the shooting was quickly marred by the looting of the local stores and Molotov cocktails hurled at the police.
Republicans routinely get called “racists” when they point out these basic facts, but to my mind, liberals like Ferguson’s Democratic congressman Wm. Lacy Clay are far more responsible for the suburb’s enduring problems. For them, this crisis is all about increasing the power of government and its intrusion in the lives of individuals. There’s even been a suggestion that President Obama and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. should come in and take over the local police forces there, which would only compound the disaster.
In 1996, we faced the same kinds of attacks but stuck to our guns to pass real, effective reforms, reforms the liberals have been trying to undermine ever since. Let’s hope they don’t exploit the tragedy of Ferguson to advance their goals.
• Tom DeLay, a former congressman from Texas and House majority leader from 2003 to 2005, writes a weekly column for The Washington Times and www.washingtontimes.com.