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.
As urban historian Fred Siegel notes in his book “The Future Once Happened Here: New York, LA, and the Fate of America’s Cities,” Washington and other urban areas became hostages to “riot politics.” Communist lunatic Stokely Carmichael almost single-handedly caused the 1968 D.C. riot and then called for more, and Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee leader Marion Barry arrived in Washington and passed himself off as the only thing standing between the white elite and total anarchy. In one famous TV spot, Barry soothed an agitated young brother who called the police “pigs who deserve to die.” Barry, on camera, reasoned that there were other methods of action that were more acceptable. “The message was clear,” Siegel writes. “Negotiate with Barry, meet his economic demands, or there would be more trouble.” Standards were dropped, victimization set in, drugs took over, and people in Washington found themselves in the situation once nicely described by Joe Klein:
The great moral tragedy of post-New Deal liberalism was the tendency not only to absolve antisocial behavior, but also to memorialize it as a revolt against shallow and restrictive “bourgeois” values. There was a tacit alliance between the intelligentsia and the poor, a romanticization of alienation. Later, as the body count ballooned, this metastasized into a sloppy, undifferentiated empathy. We dare not “blame the victim” of self-indulgence.
At the South Carolina debate, Juan Williams attempted to envelop Newt in the liberal gas of that “sloppy, undifferentiated empathy.” Newt dropped a bomb. On Martin Luther King’s birthday, Gingrich insisted on treating blacks like human beings with potential and dignity.
Mark Judge is the author of A Tremor of Bliss: Sex, Catholicism, and Rock ‘n’ Roll.