Monday, August 30, 2010

LIND, JIM WEBB, AND AFFIRMATIVE ACTION


Michael Lind has a fresh and important article out about the difference between traditional (my term) American concern for economic and class concerns and the past 40 years’ worth of ‘culture’ (race and gender and affirmative action on those bases) concerns. (The above link will take you to the Salon page, and you will see the Lind article (I hope) on your upper left; click on that.)

He had done some remarkably acute work in the past; his 1995 book on the dangers inherent in Multiculturalism was especially impressive to me. But more recently, as my Posts about some of his pieces indicate, he had become more conventionally ‘liberal-progressive’, in my view.

Now, discussing a Senator Jim Webb address that he attended a while back, he has – I would say – recovered a hefty chunk of his old mojo.

Webb said in the address that “the greatest threat that this country faces is the class system”. Which sounds much like a recent James Petras article (I Posted about it here) in which Petras observes that Marx had gotten one thing right: it IS all about ‘class’. (In a hell-hot irony, that was precisely the one element in Marx that the radical-feminists ignored when they adopted his attitude and method of analysis – and Lenin’s follow-on methods of imposition by ‘vanguard elites’ – in order to make their point that it was all about ‘culture’ and, more specifically, ‘gender’ (the patriarchy, the oppression, the all-sex-is-rape, and so forth and so on).

Then, recently, Webb made some follow-up comments in a ‘Wall Street Journal’ piece (linked-to in the Lind article) in which he critiqued race-based (not so much gender-based) “preferences” in numerous areas of government policy.

This gets Lind to recall – marvelously and in a sense shockingly – that “from the 1970s until the mid-1990s, there was a lively debate over race-based affirmative action between INTEGRATIONIST OR COLOR-BLIND LIBERALS and LIBERALS OF THE IDENTITY-POLITICS SCHOOL” (caps mine).

I find it tremendously heartening to be reminded that ‘liberals’ retained for so long a grip on the core dynamics essential to a working society (although I don’t recall as much indication of that “lively debate” during the early 1990s, at least in the general reportage). While the New Deal electoral coalition of Industrial North-Northeast and Jim Crow South was shattered by the civil-rights era’s (very legitimate) assault upon the Jim Crow system, the Dems apparently hadn’t lost sight of the underlying vital validity of the economic issues which were the gravamen of the New Deal.

“Most of the liberal critics of race-based policy were pro-labor liberals and social democrats, while many of its defenders were found among neo-liberals, who favored inexpensive symbols of racial progress even as they sought to deregulate the economy, slash welfare, and shrink the government.”

I point out that this discussion of ‘race-based’ affirmative action legitimately focuses on the dynamics of that original site of affirmative action. But that there is also the cumulative effect of extending affirmative action starting in the 1970s to include various other ‘minorities’, including most significantly the gender-based intensification and expansion of affirmative-action – a development soon joined by the multicultural, diversity-based affirmative-action skewed toward immigration in one form or another.

That being said, Lind’s points are hugely well-taken and well-made.

Lind’s claim is that it was in the late-1990s, Clinton’s second term, that the frakkulent combination of widespread pandering to the Left and ruthless indulgence of corporate out-sourcing of the nation’s industrial base combined in the conflagration of neo-liberalism. In the course of that conflagration, perhaps under the dizzy infatuation of the dot-com revolution (d’ye remember that?) the Knowledge-and-Service Society was raised up as the newest incarnation of Utopia and NAFTA pretty much guaranteed the impoverishment of Mexican farmers (who would come North and be pawns in the dampdreamed Dilution of White, Male, Industrial, Working Class culture … what was not to like?).

You may recall that adult American jobs suddenly included telemarketer, telephone debt collector, barrista and hash-slinger, ‘greeter’ in big-box cut-rate department stores, and such - grown-ups were now collecting carts in supermarket lots and bagging stuff, the jobs kids used to get for summer pocket money; while those with enough Knowledge not to have to Serve built McMansions and furnished them with credit card purchases and filled their garages with bought or leased high-performance autos. The ‘ordinary people’ of 1980's “Ordinary People” – well-paid architect, reeely nice house, a computer (At home! On your desk!) – had become something hell-and-gone from the little folks of the 1930s.

So, to do their bit and keep up their creds as and A-list dinner eligibility, the mainstream media and ‘elite opinion’ simply dropped any mention of the Integrationist Liberal approach and solidified the spin to create the real blob of a fake 'unanimous Identity-Politics Liberalism'.

Nicely, Lind notes that Bayard Rustin, a homosexual black civil-rights activist of the old school and “social democrat”, opposed race-based affirmative action, thus exposing as agitprop whackery “the claim that only conservative white males oppose race-based public policies”.

And Lind acknowledges the arrival of ‘diversity’ as a concept to replace the clanky and increasingly questionable race-based affirmative action itself. It was taken as axiomatic – though never proven, or subjected to discussion – that institutions such as universities “must MIRROR, in their internal composition, the ever-changing racial and ethnic composition of society as a whole” (caps mine).

I would add ‘gender’ to the composition element.

The sly monte-scam in this formulation is that the composition of American society did not at all organically ‘change’ – it was force-fed from a pipeline specifically designed to rapidly Deconstruct and Dilute American society, while simultaneously undermining the traditionally held fundaments that were the bedrock of the American vision, ethos, and culture. “Ever-changing” is wayyyyyy too nice a term for what has happened here; the ‘change’ was not incremental but imposed with all the force that the Beltway could bring to bear.

I would also point out that this Diversity gambit was a shrewd one: it would sidestep the entire requirement for achievement (including, intentionally or not, any personal responsibility for self-mastery and competence) and simply award ‘status’ to a selected population who would become ‘clients’ of those political patrons who gave them such bounty. It was a ‘kinder and gentler’ and more ‘enlightened’ version of the raw and dirty ‘spoils system’ of the 19th century – although hardly cleaned-up.

But, of course, Wealth and the corporations saw just how phantasmagoric such dampdreams were – and promptly pressured the Beltway indentures to permit them to out-source with abandon, finding places on the planet where there were cheaper labor pools but also more capable ones.*

But Lind notes just how selective this theoretically capacious Diversity concept really is: at this point, universities are putting their well-manicured thumbs onto the scales in order to reduce the number of “over-represented” Asians in order to inflate the numbers of “under-represented” categories. As if the Knowledge-and-Service economy could conceivably employ the current crops of graduates to the manner which – by watching ‘Gossip Girl’ – they have already accustomed themselves.

Yet, as one slightly alarmed university-employed commentator recently noted (sorry, clear recollection of the content, but I can’t recall who said it): she was jolted to find a young female student (and this is certainly not limited to females, I expect) who quit a college-course because ‘the Asians have an unfair advantage: they study too hard’. I submit to you that in that one little ‘story’ is contained the key to the decline of a mature and productive civilization.

But again nicely, Lind notes that if Diversity were really a workable policy, then the Supreme Court – almost all Catholic at this point – would have to be re-jiggered to make room for more Protestants (and Buddhists and Wiccans and new-model atheists and what-have-you). And, I suppose, women would have to be allowed onto pro football teams where – through the workings of some mysterious and dark and no doubt sinister backlashy forces – they are not.

Lind then turns his considerable powers on LBJ’s speech at Howard University in June, 1965 – a speech frequently trumpeted by race-conscious Identity Politics ‘liberals’ as proof positive that theirs is the Way that had always been intended. (There is a link in Lind’s piece to the text of that speech and it’s well worth a couple of minutes to read.)

Lind sets the tone by saying that he intends to look at the speech in order to shed truthful light on “the rather Orwellian argument that the sequel to the anti-racist civil rights revolution had to be a temporary or permanent era of benevolent racial discrimination”. (Again, I note that ‘race’ long ago ceased to be the only basis of all this government discrimination.)

Lind shares from his own wide and insightful experience: he had once talked to Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who in 1965 was a key mover behind the speech that LBJ gave on that June 4th almost half a century ago. “We were not talking about affirmative action. We were talking about jobs. Safe streets. Good schools. The safety net. Healthcare. Strong families."

Alas that was not to be. The urban riots of the Northeastern and West-Coast cities undermined LBJ’s moral authority to twist Congressional arms; the feminists (soon to take over the Revolution business) were dead-set against ‘the Family’ (it was Auschwitz or Dachau, take your pick); and the post-King Black Power types didn’t intend to take any lessons or advice from Honky; any government benefits put in their service were purely owed, didn’t need to be earned, and that was all there was to it.

LBJ went on to enumerate what he saw as required beyond the essential but insufficient facts of Civil and Voting rights: jobs, decent homes in decent surroundings, a chance for a decent education, welfare and social programs designed to hold families together, and care for the sick. (I am going to imagine that in regard to this last, LBJ imagined the government helping families take care of their sick, not some form of the mass warehousing of the elderly and the hyper-hospitalization and medication-nation stuff that has come to pass.)

But as I said, neither the now-authoritative Black Power interests nor the up-and-coming feministicals were going to be happy with a program like this. Let me quote – as Lind does – the full sentence LBJ used about ‘jobs’: “They bring the income which permits a man to provide for his family”. (italics mine) You can see here, from today’s vantage point, precisely how doomed LBJ’s vision was, and how much American developments have subsequently diverged from that sober and constructive path.

Let me quote here an entire paragraph of Lind’s: “In his Howard University speech, Johnson proposed that the formerly abused athlete be rehabilitated and trained so that he could later compete and win in a fair race without help. Race-based preferences, however, are the equivalent of taking the bondage-crippled athlete and, without allotting sufficient time for rehabilitation and training, permitting him to start several laps ahead of the other competitors”.

Imagine how this would play out – and cumulatively – in American society as not only race, but gender, ethnic background, citizenship status (or the lack of it), disability of any kind and widely-defined, and even sexual orientation … all came to add their own specific layers of government-selectivity.

Imagine how all that accumulated load would make an impact upon anyone simply trying to get out on the field, practice, and play as good a game as possible: ‘fairness’ was no longer guaranteed.

And then, recall, in the early 1970s John Rawls began tossing around his concept of “moral luck” – that if you happen to be born with a skill or be disciplined enough to pursue study, this was not a sign of achievement or maturity because you just happened to have benefitted from “moral luck”. (Thus the Asian who studied too much in the story mentioned above was mostly just “lucky” and had no right to expect the government to sit idly by while s/he reaped the advantages of sustained and focused effort; by the same token, the young female student who quit her course was merely the victim of some bad “moral luck” and shouldn’t be stigmatized for it AND should actually be helped by having the government put its fat thumbs on the scales of Life.)

“Moral luck” was Rawls’s effort to factor in what previously had been known as Divine Providence. But a) there is a huge price to pay when conceptually you Flatten the dimensions of human existence and claim that this world of appearances is self-sustaining and self-contained and there is no Beyond worth mentioning; b) Divine Providence is a dynamic concept: it doesn’t just start you off like a soccer player kicks a ball and sends it on its way for better or worse – rather, it (or God, if you wish) stays with you throughout the trip; c) Divine Providence is relational (God, in the old religious view, being a Person) and humans get not only Assistance but Accompaniment.

Rawls offers none of this. His concept simply provides benefit-of-philosophy to a frakkulent government intrusiveness that resembles nothing so much as refs and coaches actually getting into the game and directing the outcomes according to their own illuminations.

(And imagine how “moral luck” would play out, as I never tire of pointing out, in a military setting where EVERYTHING depends on Achieved Competence Applied In Timely Fashion against Actual Threatening Realities, for which Actions there will be Consequences that cannot be Wished or Spun Away. What happens to the motivation to pursue and achieve Competence, Skill, and Excellence? What, for that matter, happens to the motivation to pursue and achieve any Maturity at all?)

Thus, Lind goes on, once the CASTE-based system of Jim Crow was delegitimized – as it was by July, 1965 – then “the second phase of the civil rights movement had to be race-neutral and CLASS-based” (caps mine) What he means, he explains, is that blacks and whites together would now need to apply themselves to both producing and – as Citizens – to guiding the just distribution of the fruits of that labor.

But that’s not what happened.

Not hardly.

In fact, first the Black Power separationism and in-your-face attitude alienated blacks from much if not most of the white goodwill that had provided indispensable support for the actual work King and his colleagues accomplished on the streets of Southern cities.

And then second, the follow-on Revolutions, spear-headed by the eerily gimlet-eyed cadres of the feministical Revolution, embraced Identity Politics as well, but added French Theory to Marx’s methodology and Marx’s eternal suspicion of decent motives; and they did so not in order to achieve a wider public consensus but to forge an Identity that could be used as a weapon against the public by intimidating or seducing the pols into going along with the dampdreams of the Movement and of the Revolution.

LBJ and MLK, divided in the end by the war in Vietnam, both remained firmly convinced that the next phase of civil rights had to be “race-neutral economic reform”.

But Identity Politics was to derail all that, drowning out all sober thinking with the mantras of Multiculturalism and Diversity.

Meanwhile, the country’s economic condition was allowed to careen on down the track, the pols pandering to the Identities by formally enacting their short-sighted agendas into law and policy, while collecting cash (through the ingenious PAC system) from Wealth and corporations to permit them to go abroad in search of more profitable workers.

And as the gap in national wealth widened on several axes, Reagan borrowed, Clinton allowed a huge asset sell-off and outsourcing, and Bush allowed the Bubbles to flow like champagne.

But that was then. And now the party’s over.

Lind wants to see that long-postponed and evaded “next phase” of civil rights implemented now. It would be the best way to address the national Mess and it would provide a more comprehensive and politically attractive (to mature and thoughtful voters) platform than the tired and (literally) bankrupt agitprop panderings of Identity Politics.

It is a consummation devoutly to be wished.

But as I have been saying, a lot more toxic water has flowed under the bridge in the past four decades: the country is not simply standing once again at the cross-roads of late 1965 at this point. It is a different country, the competence and political maturity of the Citizenry is alarmingly compromised, American economic primacy has gone and will most likely not return in any way approaching prior levels, and there really isn’t much money around anymore. (Bill Gates’s entire fortune could not dig California out of the hole for a year).

There exists no small possibility that the opportunity of that “second phase”, missed in 1965, is gone for good and won’t return.

Surely, Lind is on solid ground when he observes that “Rustin was right to warn that race-based affirmative action would make a social democratic coalition of black Americans and the white working class even more difficult than it would have been otherwise”. That in itself was a huge negative consequence, realized – alas – all too well. But again, at this point We must factor in the cumulative consequences of the follow-on Identity Politics ‘revolutions’, each of which have – along their respective axes of division – done quite the same type of damage. The American polity now resembles not so much a piece of fabric with one big hole rip torn in it, but rather a piece of fabric peppered with holes large and small, like a Swiss cheese (sorry to mix the metaphors there).

But I certainly think that some way of applying the LBJ-MLK approach now, if given a decent hearing by the Beltway pols (I doubt the ‘elites’ would be enthusiastic, having been raised to the purple under the aegis of Identity Politics), there might be some real progress to be made.

Lind is on solid ground reminding Us of the 11 points of the ‘Freedom Budget’ proposed in October of 1967 by A. Philip Randolph and others: "the abolition of poverty; guaranteed full employment; full production and high economic growth; adequate minimum wages; income parity for farmers; guaranteed incomes for those unable to work; a decent home for every family; healthcare for all; educational opportunity for all; reforms of Social Security and welfare; and equitable tax policies".

This is a tall order. It was then but it’s even more so now: the industrial base is gone; the dampdreams of the assorted Identity revolutions have turned the apparently solid conceptual ground of the points into a mine-field of coded agendas and objectives many of which are themselves misconceived and lethal; the entire sitting political class and its elites have made their careers doing exactly the opposite; and the Citizenry that in 1967 might still have been able to Ground the whole thing has been grievously diluted and weakened along many crucial axes.

But at least it would get the country back on the right track. Although We would then still have a long hard way to go.

And it would get the country ‘back to work again’, if I may put it that way. I don’t mean in terms of productive and life-sustaining useful jobs, but rather in the deeper sense of allowing the Citizens to again engage in the reality-based challenge of building a responsible and mature life as individuals and as a commonwealth, as a society and as a polity, as a culture and a civilization (hey hey, ho ho), as a complex but deeply united association of committed adults.

Now THERE is a Vision.

NOTES

*As I so often point out, even the military had to bend to the wind. But even more than industry, the military must operate in a world where Competence in the face of Hard Realities and the inescapable and unspinnable power of Consequences do not yield to the clever manipulations of appearances. But still, huge numbers of ‘contractors’ started to appear to bolster the Diversity-riddled forces.

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