Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Urban right, pt. 5: where we fall short

When I started my "urban right" series, I wanted to get at what I think conservatives get right, but also what they get wrong on issues affecting our central cities.

What we get right tends to be criticism. We know that the paradigm that many of us grew up with, i.e., that the principal foe (ofay?) is from above, is wrong. We know that the notions that the main culprits are currently extant racism and the insufficiency of government intervention are misguided and that to continue to give them pride of place is destructive.

But how often do we offer more than that? Two stories.

A few months ago, I was down in Arizona, chatting with a friend who is a fairly senior person at a rather large and well funded conservative organization. Were I to name it, my liberal readers would cross themselves and reach for their garlic necklaces. We were talking about the potential for common cause between social conservatives and African-American pastors. He was cautiously optimistic but noted that the ministers he speaks to want some indication that we care about the daily travails of the communities they serve. He believed that it is incumbent upon us - both politically and morally - to take their concerns to heart.

Last night, as I drove home, Eric Von had an impressive young lady on his show. She's a black teenager in Milwaukee (a freshman at King) involved in organizing a youth march to "take back" the streets of Milwaukee. She said that she was 15 years old and afraid to walk down the street. As the adult helping to organize the march said, she was sick and tired of being sick and tired.

As I listened to this, it occurred to me that, although there is a limit to what can be accomplished by this type of symbolism, there is potential power in a public demonstration of courage and resolve. Would it even occur to local conservatives - particularly those with the ability to help - to support such an effort? Would it even occur to the folks organizing such efforts to ask?

We are, I think, right in the belief that our state and local governments do not need to take more of our money. But there may be areas of urban policy where its simply not pragmatic to rule out a major role for government.

If we like "broken windows" policing, then there need to be sufficient resources to accomplish this in a way that doesn't set the community and law enforcement at loggerheads. If we like school choice, we need to make sure that it is adequately funded and that parents are protected from fly-by-night storefront schools. We want Messmer. We don't want Acme High School.

If we believe in opportunity, then welfare as we now know it should be limited, conditioned - and generous.

We believe in law and order. We have little sympathy for people who commit violent crimes. But we need to be willing to think about the impact of our twenty year experiment in more aggressive law enforcement of the drug laws on the community. Have we curbed drug use or have we just thrown more people in jail?

We ought to criticize MPS, but public schools are not - and should not - go away. There is plenty wrong with the system but it is not an irredeemable "rat trap." We may have been right on the flexicuffs, but we lack credibility when it is only things like flexicuffs that get our attention.

I think that there is more of this type of thought happening on the right than the left gives us credit for. If any one decides to "monitor" Sykes and McBride, they will hear some of it from them. .

But, too often, we limit ourselves to outrage. Sometimes that's a necessary first step. Our challenge is to make sure that we do not stop there.


Anonymous said...

Psst: a librul is someone who knows that the source of that young woman's quote -- "I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired" -- is the late, great Fannie Lou Hamer.

No doubt she got it from some gospel hymn, but she's the one who made it famous -- at least, among libruls.

Rick Esenberg said...

I am tempted to say that a librul is someone who thinks its still 1964, but that's not quite what I'm going for today.

Still there's an irony. Our young friend could, if she moved to Mississippi, register to vote. Thanks to Hamer and the MFDP and SNCC for that.

But its 2007 and what she apparently feels she cannot do is walk down to the corner store in Milwaukee.

Different time, different problem, different solution.

(Actually it was the adult who is helping them who used the phrase.)

Anonymous said...

Alliance Defense Fund.

Anonymous said...

Why is there no such support from conservatives? Do you expect to hear Sykes, Wagner, etc. encouraging or even organizing such support? Or do you expect more:

-complaints that the media focuses only on the "bad news" in the Iraq boondoggle


-enthusiasm for every negative story about Milwaukee with affirmation of the idea that there is not enough of this news, and that people are in denial???

Suppose both points are true (and I think they are, or often have been), the problem is that they are useless generalizations with no goal or effect other than raising anxieties, frustrations, and anger.

Sherman said...

Thanks for the column Rick. I enjoyed your insights.

I agree that mere symbolism won't solve the problems of the inner city - nor will the ubiquitous liberal/conservative sniping we're all subjected to. I believe that the only way to see real improvements in the urban city is for each of us as individuals to use the gifts we have been blessed with to serve those less fortunate than themselves as our faith demands.

The 100 families at Mount Calvary Lutheran Church on 53rd and Locust in Milwaukee have raised $2.5 million to expand our school serving neighborhood kids and their families.

For those of you who would like to see and participate in one of the many positive things happening in the heart of the city, I would invite you to our groundbreaking ceremonies after the 9:00 service on Sunday June 3rd.

Rick Esenberg said...


Congratulations to you and your congregation. That is great stuff.

Anonymous said...

Sherman and Rick;

More religious based schools and neighborhood schools are a large part of the solution.
In addition, the Nun’s commitment (St. Joseph’s hospital) and the cultural diversity (Jewish school) are important to the stability of the area.

Anonymous said...

what makes you say conservatives are good in their analysis? Analysis of what? Just a few generalities about life re. individual responsibility? The old opposition of individualism vs. collectivism? I don't know about the depth or utility of that...

You can listen to regional "conservative" pack leaders Sykes and Wagner any given day (with the great high culture Mel Gibson bad Scots accent bawl about freeeedom! alongside Reagan and Churchill), and the only common thread is interminably unresolved confusion disguised as debate about the limits of individual freedom vs. larger social goods. More frequently the conversation is essentially about the limits of tolerance, the standards and sources of authority that legitimize discrimination of better from worse in a confusingly pluralistic society where everyone bristles at authority that might constrain personal liberties one is attached to.

Amid all this the hosts and callers I hear are typically neo-conservative liberals in confusion.

Really I don't note a lot of coherence in this stuff, or such conservatism for that matter. Sykes seems to be generally against any nanny state stuff, Wagner thinks parents are awful if they let their kids bike without legally required helmets, they agree with their callers that sexist jokes or anything like that at all is grounds for firing nowadays, and that's OK. Both oppose gun control but think inner-city shootings are a terrible epidemic that must be stopped. Both grapple with the realities of life in a culture without much voluntary, self-governed moral restraint, no real standards or authorities, and they wonder why people look to government to fill the gap.

All this "talk" just devolves into declarations of rights and responsibility without any bite or context for meaning. I think it works out this way, that the conservative consensus on bike helmets (at least in the burbs) is a manifestation of a deeper risk-averse mentality that is too cautious to ever do more than react with confused talk to life.

To my mind, a real conservative would say, you don't like beer and cigarette taxes? well mob the capitol then; no government has an legitimate taxing authority unless you give it to them.

You don't like gunfighters loose in the streets? In the Old West this was solved by law-men confiscating all guns within city limits and ventillating those who didn't cooperate. In other words, the state has to monopolize violence to maintain order.

These insights contradict each other? No, they are all a matter of what powers the people fight to retain for themselves, and what powers they give up, both being eminently practical choices.

Why don't conservatives just face up to real politik?

And sorry the beer and cigarette taxes are really just excuses for taking money. You're being gamed if you think its really about philosophies of government or moral philosophies. The current culture's plausibility structures make sin taxes seem sensible to many. That is the only fact politicians need to know aside from the fact that they are bureaucrats in an institution that eats money no matter what party is in power.