Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Let Us Make Man: Epilogue - The Congressional Record for December 6, 2005 informs us that the House Select Bipartisan Committee to Investigate the Preparation for and Response to Hurricane Katrina held a hearing entitled "Hurricane Katrina: Voices from Inside the Storm." On that Tuesday, testimony was heard from Charles Allen, Vice Mayor of Newport News, Virginia, along with Harry Alford, President and CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, Ishmael Muhammad, an attorney with the Advancement Project and Barbara Arnwine, Executive Director for the Lawyers Committee on Civil Rights.

What played out over that 110 minutes was an example of what has become the substance of the ongoing conversation between white and black America. The four black witnesses spoke of the federal government’s tardy response to the August 29, 2005 landfall of Hurricane Katrina as being an unmistakable sign of racism on the part of the white majority. The white members of the committee were left to play the role of apologists for the not only the government, but for white America in general. (Former Georgia Representative Cynthia McKinney was the only African American congresswoman in attendance and the lone Democrat who broke her party’s boycott of the hearings.)

For their part, the witnesses testified to such things as New Orleans police officers providing security for "open-air" crack houses, physical and sexual assaults on evacuees by National Guard troops and cold-blooded murder. Neither the lack of even circumstantial evidence nor the fact that this alleged activity escaped the attention of the mainstream media that swarmed around New Orleans caused the witnesses any apparent concern; to them, this was not about ascertaining facts. This was about the transfer of responsibility for the circumstances of the Katrina victims from blacks to whites.

In the days following Katrina, Representative McKinney was more than anxious to get in on the act. The September 8, 2005 Congressional Record reports that Ms. McKinney spoke to her feelings on the government’s response to Katrina, as well as the social, economic and emotional gulfs that separate the races.

Hurricane Katrina washed away America’s veneer of populist opportunity, a country that has overcome its racist, slave-holding past, a country ready for world dominion because it has learned how to uplift the human spirit at home. Katrina, in images as stark and undeniable as could be, has laid bare the Republican lie that its policies promote growth and prosperity for all Americans and leave no child left behind, while Katrina put into our living rooms and the world’s living rooms the cruel hoax that has been played on America and those who love America by the ruthless sybaritic power player elites who are as responsible for the conditions endured by too many Americans as they are for the embarrassing and breathtaking incompetencies we all witnessed just before Labor Day.
As is de rigueur for Democrats, Representative McKinney went on to weave a tale of agony and despair, as she shared statistics on increased poverty and economic disparity in America. What escaped mention by Ms. McKinney was that almost all of what befell the residents of New Orleans during Katrina reflected the miserable living conditions of the residents prior to Katrina. After decades of governance by black mayors - Democrats all - the government of New Orleans was a cesspool of waste and corruption, and its citizenry paid the cost in poverty, economic stagnation and a diminished state of general welfare.

On the subject of Katrina, let us be clear about one thing as it regards the hurricane and its aftermath. Returing to Dr. Thomas Sowell's main argument in Black Rednecks and White Liberals (previously discussed elsewhere), the level of poverty and depravity that served as a full-frontal obscenity had nothing whatsoever to do with race or racism. It was evidence of neither an innate black inferiority nor a systemic, all-pervasive bias against African Americans or the poor. Indeed, what we saw had everything to do with the culture of the citizens of New Orleans and its environs. Perhaps unintentionally, Sen. Barack Obama seemed to concede as much in a September 6, 2005 speech on the Senate floor.
I hope we realize that the people of New Orleans weren’t just abandoned during the hurricane. They were abandoned long ago to murder and mayhem in the streets, to substandard schools, to dilapidated housing, to inadequate health care, to a pervasive sense of hopelessness.
Sen. Obama intended to make the point that government neglected its central role of seeing to the needs of the people of New Orleans prior to the hurricane’s devastation. But what was left unstated by the Senator was that before the people of New Orleans were "abandoned" by all levels of government, they themselves abandoned the necessary business of maintaining a culture that placed a premium on accountable government, educational excellence, a well-cared for population and a civil society. It is not entirely surprising that my Senator was not more direct in stating as much, as one of the original misconceptions of liberalism is that which posits that all cultures are essentially the same, no matter their level of functioning.

It is beyond debate that the residents of New Orleans were poorly served by the state and federal governments in the aftermath of Katrina. But is also true that much of what occurred after the levies were breached resulted from a pre-existing local culture that saw no harm in predatory politicians, unaccountable government, ineffectual or corrupt law enforcement, diminished educational opportunity, and a moribund local economy that resulted in an intensity of lack more reminiscent of Haiti than of the United States. Even with the massive depopulation occasioned by Katrina, the murder rate in New Orleans remains several times the national average. If we are to take anything from the re-election of New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin in May 2006, it appears that such a situation is preferred by the citizens of New Orleans.

In as much as the previously discussed Cloward-Piven experiment established the paradigm of "protest and demand" as the primary means of upward mobility for blacks, it has robbed the black community of the most reliable tools for socio-economic betterment: personal initiative, achievement and self-reliance, which would have inevitably led to the betterment of the race as a whole. The loss of these personal attributes in much of the African American underclass has in turn contributed to the development of a culture of complaint that is in evidence to a great extent in black America, as was on full display during those Katrina hearings.

Rather than revealing America’s indifference to blacks or the poor, Hurricane Katrina exposed the devastation that had already been inflicted upon New Orleanians through their own indifference to managing the culture that surrounded them. But the point to be made about all of this is that it was liberals, both black and white, who played an essential part in the development of this culture of apathy, dependence and underachievement. The Left, with its time-honored cults of victimization, inculcated attitudes and patterns of behavior that were at cross purposes with anything that resembled social uplift.

And so it is to be expected that the lives of African Americans who are mired in the underclass reflect both the effects of racial disparities (which may in fact be only coincidental to race versus being causally related) as well as the pervasive sense of entitlement. Although they certainly work in synergy, of the two, it is the entitlement mentality that is the more problematic, for its effects have come to surpass the more typical predictive factors such as household income and level of education. All of this, the lack of "equality" in matters of health, education and welfare, along with a perceived lack of efficacy amongst blacks in managing their affairs, both as individuals and collectively, leads to the hopelessness and chaos that is endemic in America’s inner cities.

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