If a person happens to point out that Baltimore’s criminally inept government has been run exclusively by Democrats since 1967 (with one Republican mayor since 1947), and features not a single council member who isn’t a liberal, they may be called a “lazy apparatchik.” Because not everything, you see, is reducible to mere party politics.
Now, if an economic renaissance sparked by the progressive policies of Stephanie Rawlings-Blake had lifted Baltimore from poverty, I imagine Democrats would be eager to claim credit for the accomplishment. Entire political debates are predicated on the effectiveness of partisan ideas. We blame presidents for recessions they probably have little to do with, yet, according to liberal pundits, the party overseeing a city riddled with poverty, failing schools, high crime rates, and racial tension bears no responsibility for what’s happening.
The president disagrees. Sort of. After a night of violence and looting in Baltimore, Barack Obama spoke to the press and said that “we,” as a country, “have to do some soul searching” – by which he meant “they,” as in conservatives, need to get on board.
Obama said that solutions to mend Baltimore’s suffering were sitting right there in Washington; unpassed due to ideologically inflexible Republicans. “And there’s a bunch of my agenda that would make a difference right now …” Obama claimed, before going on: “Now I’m under no illusion that under this Congress we’re going to get mass investments in urban communities, and so we’ll try to find areas where we can make a difference, around school reform and job training and some investments in infrastructure in these communities trying to attract new businesses in.”
What piece of legislation have Republicans obstructed that would have helped keep families together in Baltimore – right now? Which proposal would have created jobs to turn the city around? What law has Obama lobbied for that would have made Baltimore’s police department – which has been answering to one party for decades – more compassionate or effective? Is there a criminal-justice reform effort that Obama’s been spearheading all these years that we’ve all forgotten about?
Yes, the war on drugs is a disaster. Democrats are complicit in that war, too. And Democrats are also in charge of a city school system that has huge failure rates. Yet, the Baltimore also consistently ranked in the top five among the nation’s 100 largest school districts in spending per pupil. Like most big city districts, there is no accountability. It’s Democrats who consistently sink conservative education reform ideas (ones that, in many cities, are popular among African-American parents) for their union patrons.
For that matter, when did the president ever offer comprehensive legislation that would have brought “mass investments” to inner cities or reformed how government functions in urban communities? Was it when Democrats controlled both houses of Congress and the White House? Or was it after?
As Ramesh Ponnuru observed:
If I were president and thought I knew an obvious way to bring peace and prosperity to troubled cities — and felt pretty strongly about it — I’d maybe mention it before my seventh year in office. Drop it into a State of the Union address, for example. But it just isn’t the case that we’re a new federal program away from fixing the problems Obama identified. It isn’t the case that conservatives are standing in the way of what everyone knows would work because we just don’t share Obama’s compassion.
As Obama notes, the citizens of Baltimore (and all of us) have an alternative. They can care more, just like he does. “But that kind of political mobilization I think we haven’t seen in quite some time,” he explains. Rather than resort to counterproductive violence – the kind of violence numerous leftist pundits were justifying – Baltimore can vote for candidates who reflect and act on their concerns. Candidates who will demand the police be accountable to civilian oversight. There are African Americans in elected office and power positions throughout the city, so surely there is no active racist faction undermining the ability of blacks to participate in democracy. Right now, they need better Democrats in Baltimore.
Where does the blame for the civil unrest lay? In plenty of places. Some of those places have absolutely nothing to do with politics and can’t be fixed by any Washington agenda — imagined, or otherwise. The tribulations plaguing cities like Baltimore are complex, having festered for years. But does that excuse the bungling of Democratic Party governance? Does it change the fact that massive amounts of spending have done little in the war on poverty?
And if Democrats claim they are uniquely empathetic towards the poor and weak, that welfare programs can never be reformed only expanded, that perpetually pumping “investments” into cities is the only way to alleviate the hardship faced by citizens, it’s more than fair to gauge the effectiveness – not to mention the competence – of those allocating and overseeing those policies. Because Republicans may be horrible, but they aren’t running Baltimore.