Joe Klein, the fuel for Newt’s racial nuclear bomb

When the insufferable and dimwitted Juan Williams attempted to use the race card against Newt Gingrich during Monday night’s South Carolina Republican debate, Newt microwaved him. Gingrich said that there was nothing racially insensitive about wanting poor blacks to get jobs when they are young. It became an instantly iconic moment, a long-overdue pushback to mau-mauing liberals whose sharpest weapon is white guilt.

In his answer, Gingrich noted that “Joe Klein told me that this started 20 years ago.” Newt was referring to an article Klein had written for The New Republic in 1996. In light of Gingrich’s moment of speaking truth to power, it’s instructive to go back and examine the Klein article. It reveals something the left doesn’t like to acknowledge: culture is far more important than economics in determining social pathology. Today we have the worst economy since the Great Depression and simultaneously the lowest murder rate in years. For those on the left who can’t get their heads around those facts because to them crime is always the result of a bad economy (unless the president is black), Klein’s article is instructive.

In his essay, Klein notes that in New York City, robbery rates were stable through most of the 20th century, “including [during] the Great Depression, a period of intense joblessness and despair that did not cause any normative changes among blacks and whites.” But robbery quintupled from 1962 to 1967, then doubled again from 1967 to 1972. At that same time crime exploded in Washington, D.C., a city whose government employees are not dependent on heavy industry for their paychecks. The 1960s “were flush, jobful times,” writes Klein. “So what was really going on?”

What was going on was a poisonous mix of radical politics and poor work habits. This was evident in cities with large black populations, like Washington, D.C. Prior to the 1960s, Washington was a segregated city with a violent and ugly legacy of race riots (1919) and even lynchings. It was also a cultural and intellectual Mecca for blacks, a baby brother to Harlem during that New York enclave’s artistic renaissance of the 1920s. Jazz master Duke Ellington (1899-1974) was born and raised in Washington. He once recalled how he was taught in the D.C. schools:

In addition to arithmetic, algebra, history, and English, which were taught as the most vital things in the world, my teacher — Miss Boston, the principal of the school — would explain the importance of proper speech. It would be most important in our lives to come. When we went out into the world, we would have the grave responsibility of being practically always on stage, for every time people saw a Negro they would go into a reappraisal of the race. She taught us that proper speech and good manners were our first obligations.

This all changed in 1968, with the riot following the assassination of Martin Luther King. Shaw, the black neighborhood where Ellington was raised, had been thriving right up until then, but the riots nearly destroyed it. More than 1,200 buildings were burned and the damage ran to $24.7 million, making it the third-most devastating riot in American history. The destruction, combined with “white flight” and new fair-housing laws that allowed blacks to live in the suburbs, emptied the neighborhood. Nothing would be the same after those riots. Whites and middle-class blacks left, leaving the city, and many others, in the hands of politicians of questionable character.