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The New Shame of the Cities
Posted By Frontpagemag.com On August 15, 2014 @ 12:59 am In Daily Mailer,FrontPage | No Comments
To order John Perazzo’s new Freedom Center pamphlet, “The New Shame of the Cities,” click here.
American politics is dominated by an enduring myth—that Democrats are the party of the common man; the voiceless, the powerless, the poor. That if you care about what happens to the least among us, you will cast your vote in the Democratic column.
But the reality is this: the vast majority of voiceless, powerless and poor people are concentrated in Detroit, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Chicago, Atlanta, and America’s other large urban centers. All of them are run by Democrats and have been for 50 to 100 years. On the Democrats’ watch, these cities have become the equivalent of holding cells for the poor and minorities. Everything that’s wrong with America’s cities that can be affected by policy, Democrats are responsible for. There are poor to be helped, but Democrats have buried them deeper in poverty and powerlessness. There are minorities who seek opportunities, but Democrats have kept them second-class citizens. Democrats have been the problem rather than the solution.
In 1904, Lincoln Steffens, a major figure in the group of journalists Teddy Roosevelt called “muckrakers,” published a groundbreaking book called Shame of the Cities. In it he examined the inner workings of America’s great urban centers and found them swarming with graft and corruption. In his searing portraits of these cities, Steffens documented the inner workings of political machines across the country which were then imitating the apparatus built a few decades earlier by Tammany Hall’s notorious Boss Tweed, first of this new breed of crooked backroom Democratic princes of the city. Steffens showed how these machines ran over and flattened the lives of ordinary working people. But even more than corruption itself, Steffens was incensed by the complicity of intellectuals and opinion makers—people who knew that the political machines mangled democracy but had nonetheless allowed them to make America’s cities cesspools of poverty and despair.
If Lincoln Steffens was alive today, he would feel even greater outrage at the current disastrous state of America’s cities, as documented by John Perrazo in The New Shame of the Cities. Steffens would see in Perrazo’s portraits of the present-day machines of the Democrat Party, which have ruled America’s cities for a generation, today’s equivalent of Tammany Hall. He would see their governance not simply as an expression of failed policies, but as a massive human rights violation that has delivered the poor and minorities into a state of hopelessness and made them a permanent underclass. And, as he did in his own time, Steffens would feel contempt for today’s political class that has stood by and watched this urban tragedy unfold and bought into the Democrats’ myth that they are actually protectors of the poor.
It didn’t have to turn out this way. In part because of the issues Steffens himself raised at the turn of the twentieth century, good government movements took hold with the goal of making municipal government responsible and efficient and the cities themselves livable. By the 1930s, the metropolises of the United States had become centers of enterprise, commerce, and culture—“big shouldered,” in the phrase Carl Sandburg used to describe bustling Chicago, one of the most industrious—as they integrated a generation of new immigrants into the national fabric and welcomed the businesses and corporations that provided paychecks for workers and prosperity for the nation.
To be sure, the great American cities of the early 20th century were run for the most part by politicians whose allegiance was to the New Deal, many of them autocrats who held office for decades. But these politicians were judged on how well their policies produced real-life solutions for the poor and how well they advanced the poor into the middle class. Voters and residents were interested only in one thing: whether or not the cities these politicians managed “worked.”
That was then and this is now. As John Perazzo shows in The New Shame of the Cities, over the last fifty years America’s urban centers have slid into violence, corruption and savage dysfunction that make the snapshots of despair Lincoln Steffens produced at the beginning of the 20th century seem mild by comparison. The cities that were once the engines powering the American Century have stopped functioning. Going back to the future, they are once again America’s shame.
From Atlanta to Newark and Washington, D.C. to St. Louis, Perazzo shows how contemporary urban life has become stuck in reverse, bankrupt in finance and in spirit. “Detroit, ruled by Democrats for nearly a half century, has hemorrhaged population, becoming a ghost town,” he writes, “as it has gone from being the automotive capital of America, producer of its dream machines, to the murder capital—according to Forbes magazine, the most dangerous city in the country.” About Baltimore, also governed by the Democratic Party for more than 50 years, the verdict is equally grim: “As a result of widespread political corruption, a damaged economy, astronomically high taxes, and escalating crime rates, population fell by 120,000 just in the 1990s, making the city blacker and poorer. Tens of thousands of homes were simply abandoned by residents desperate to escape.” The verdict on Chicago is rendered by its new street nickname “Chiraq,” a reference to the killings that have become commonplace and know no holiday truce: there were 45 shootings in the city on Easter weekend 2014 alone, six of the victims children.
Perrazo’s portraits of these once great American metropolises show how Democratic Party policies have made them into little more than holding cells for blacks and Hispanics and other minorities immiserated by the policies of their Democratic Party rulers. This urban tragedy isn’t the result of some impersonal historical process; nor is it, as the Democrats who have presided over the catastrophe like to claim, caused by racism or neglect by the federal government. The reasons for the decline of America’s cities are indeed complicated, but there should be no argument that it has occurred as a result of policies designed and implemented by the Democrats, or that this decline began in the 1960s, when the pragmatic centrists who had defined the Democratic Party for a generation and had built livable cities were defeated by “new politics” liberals, soon to label themselves “progressives,” who proceeded to make these cities into mad laboratories for their leftist ideological experiments.
Today’s Democrat power brokers have monopolized power even more ruthlessly than the bosses Lincoln Steffens targeted in his exposé over a hundred years ago (while piously claiming that they do so for “the people” in a way that even those otherwise shameless politicians would have considered hypocritical). They believe that the measure of a city’s administration is no longer whether it creates solutions that “work” or whether most of its residents’ lives are improving most of the time. Instead, success is now determined by the size of the municipal bureaucracy and the power it has over every aspect of individual lives; by scapegoating and stigmatization of the “greedy” businesses that had traditionally created the jobs providing each new American generation with greater social and financial opportunities than the previous one had enjoyed; by mortgaging the educational system, which once offered poor people their best opportunity to step out of caste, to the teachers’ unions which in return keep the political status quo in place with their money and votes.
The fiscal irresponsibility that has driven our cities to bankruptcy has daily, real-life, real-time consequences for citizens as budgets are slashed and first responders are cut back. “When Detroit residents place a call seeking help from the city’s understaffed police department,” Perazzo writes, “they must wait an average of 58 minutes for an officer to arrive at the scene.”
Today’s big-city Democrats, while utter failures at bettering the lives of their constituents, are very good at the class warfare rhetoric and conspiracy theories that make these constituents feel that the Party that has beaten them down is actually their last best hope. This is why Democrats routinely receive over 90% of the votes in elections whose nearly unanimous results call to mind those that once took place in the Soviet bloc.
In the background of Perazzo’s profiles of corruption and malfeasance that is literally criminal—America’s big-city mayors and administrators over the last several decades have gone to jail in astounding numbers—are national policies that have trickled down despair to the cities and to the African American and Hispanic poor, whom Democrats still cynically claim to protect. Welfare programs promoted since the 1960s by successive Democrat administrations in our urban centers have created the perverse incentives that lead to three quarters of black children being born out of wedlock and growing up in families without fathers; an outcome that haunts the community later on, since fatherless young black males commit crimes, most of them against other blacks, at astronomic rates. Access to subprime housing loans and lax lending standards promoted in the name of “social justice” during the 1990s by Democrat city and federal governments and by radical allies such as ACORN, caused the collapse of the national housing market that hit these minorities twice as hard as it hit whites and led to a huge reduction in family wealth among blacks and Hispanics.
The New Shame of the Cities shows the same grim picture in city after city, where the poor have gotten poorer and the whites have moved away over the last generation, creating ghost neighborhoods where abandoned homes stand like pulled teeth. But what has been a catastrophe for the people unfortunate enough to still have to live in such places (a recent poll by the Detroit Free Press found that 40% of the city’s population, drastically reduced over the last 50 years, planned to move as soon as possible) has been a godsend for the Democrats in charge. Forbes magazine summarizes the moral of the story: “A politician or a political party can achieve long-term dominance by tipping the balance of votes in their direction through the implementation of policies that strangle and stifle economic growth. Counterintuitively, making a city poorer leads to political success for the engineers of that impoverishment.” It is also a story with a cynical twist: most of these failing cities are now administered by black Democrats, which means that anyone criticizing their failed policies can be attacked as “racist.” Incompetent at everything else, these politicians have become adept at projecting blame onto the abstract other—Washington, exploitive businesses and businessmen, “white flight,” racism.
The statistics that Perrazo has assembled in this work, drearily similar in city after city, have the cumulative power of a punch in the face: Black unemployment at 16.3 percent (19.1 percent for young black males). Poverty rates of 37.5 percent and 35.5 percent, respectively, for Hispanic and black single parents. Sixty percent of rapists, 72 percent of adolescent murderers, and 70 percent of long-term prisoners, are men who grew up in fatherless families encouraged by Democratic welfare programs. And public school, once the way out, now a dead end with 45 percent and 43 percent of black and Hispanic students dropping out at a time when those who fail to graduate from high school in America earn only about half as much as those who do.
This urban chamber of horrors has been built on the watch of Democratic Party city governments, often with black mayors, who have helped turn our once-proud big cities into the equivalent of black reservations. African American sociologist Walter E. Williams had it exactly right when he once surveyed this urban wreckage and said, “The welfare state has done to black Americans what slavery couldn’t do, what Jim Crow couldn’t do, what the harshest racism couldn’t do. And that is to destroy the black family.”
The New Shame of the Cities gives the lie to the liberal idea—never anything more than a power grab disguised as compassion—that it takes a government to elevate an individual. By documenting the ruinous state of our once great cities, this work illumines a darker truth: that it takes a government to destroy the communities that give individual life dignity and purpose. –Peter Collier
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