Thursday, May 13, 2010
A Nation of Profilers
What is affirmative action if it is not racial profiling?
by Victor Davis Hanson
Profiling is considered among the worst of American sins. Not long ago, Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates was arrested by the Cambridge, Mass., police for trying to enter his own locked home after misplacing his key. Almost immediately, President Obama rushed to condemn what he thought was racial profiling. The police were acting "stupidly," Obama concluded. He added: "There's a long history in this country of African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately."
Here is where the argument about an individual and the group turns nasty: Is using statistics on collective behavior a reasonable tool of law enforcement to anticipate the greater likelihood of a crime, or is it gratuitously stereotyping the innocent? Or sometimes both, depending on how it's done?
Take the Arizona anti-illegal-immigration law. It gives police the right to ask for identification papers if they have reasonable cause to suspect that those questioned on a separate matter may be in the country illegally. In heated reaction to this new state law, we now hear everything from calls for a boycott of Arizona to allegations of Gestapo-like tactics.
But is Arizona doing anything that much different from what most Americans do all the time -- namely, using all sorts of generalized criteria to make what they think are play-by-the-odds judgments that may or may not be proven wrong by exceptions? The president himself did just that when he said his own grandmother sometimes acted as a "typical white person." And he once stereotyped rural Pennsylvania voters as xenophobes clinging to their guns and religion.
More than 60 percent of voters nationwide either support the Arizona law or find it still too lax, according to polls. They apparently believe that a police officer can, in fact, make reasonable requests for identification. For example, if a trooper near the border pulls over a car for a missing tail light, finds that there are younger Hispanic males in the car and that none can understand English, can he then conjecture that there is a greater likelihood some might be Mexican nationals? The trooper, after all, is working within a landscape in which one in 10 Arizonans is an illegal alien from Latin America, and the state shares a 300-mile-long border with nearby Mexico.
Otherwise, would it be presently OK for the border patrol to try to detain suspicious Hispanic males for possible immigration violations at or near the border, but not OK for police to ask for ID from the same person should he make it a few miles past the border?
Or imagine the reaction if nearly a million mostly poor, white French-Canadians were trying to cross into Vermont and New York from Canada each year. If those states felt such an influx were both contrary to federal statutes and a burden on their social service industries, could police rightly ask for ID from any French-speaking white males pulled over for traffic infractions -- or do so only at or near the northern border? Would these French-speaking suspects likelier be illegal aliens than, say, Hispanic, English-speaking American citizens of Albany or Burlington?
On a recent international flight, I noticed the cabin crew was far more attentive to a group of Arabic-speaking, Middle Eastern males than it was to a group of Chinese nationals. Had the attendants collated the number of terrorist incidents since 9/11, concluded that the vast majority of them were attempted by Middle Eastern males, and so tried to give more attention to politely watching one group than another? And should they have, given that the vast majority of Middle Eastern males reject terrorism?
When Justice Sonia Sotomayor was nominated to the Supreme Court, the media unabashedly wrote that President Obama was focusing on naming the court's first Hispanic justice. Sotomayor herself had often used the term "wise Latina" to suggest that her gender and ethnic profile in some cases made her a better judge than stereotypical white males.
When we weigh racial and gender stereotypes for what we deem are noble purposes, we call it "diversity," but when considering criteria other than one's individuality for matters of public safety, it devolves into "profiling"?
So what are we to make of the Arizona law? First, rightly or wrongly, most Americans have long accepted some forms of both private and government profiling that draws on greater statistical likelihood. Second, should Arizona police start gratuitously pulling over U.S. citizens statewide and questioning them without cause, the law should -- and will -- be overturned. Third, far more illegal aliens will be detained than before the law was passed. And fourth, the third likelihood accounts for much of the angry reaction to the Arizona law.
The Great Devaluation
Is America catching the British disease? That America is a much more religious country may be its salvation. In Britain, more people go to the mosque on Friday than go to the Church of England on Sunday
There'll always be an England, people used to say. Now the emphasis is on used to say. Because one report after another from that once sceptered isle is less than encouraging. For years the talented Anthony Daniels, who also writes, prolifically, under the name Theodore Dalrymple, has been chronicling Britain's social disintegration. His reports from once jolly old England make it sound like something out of "Clockwork Orange."
Maybe it was his day job as a prison doctor that gave Dr. Daniels so sour a perspective. Let's hope his is a skewed vision. Because in this Age of Obama, Americans are being told to adopt policies that seem strikingly similar to the just rejected Labor Party's nostrums -- in everything from health care to taxation, political correctness to economic regulation, labor law to foreign policy.
If that's going to be the shape of our progressive, Social Democratic, oh-so-advanced future, let's get off this roundabout now and head straight back to the past.
Skimming a choice selection of headlines from the Daily Mail's website is not exactly a cheery way to start the day:
"A-level student, 17, stabbed to death at home in front of parents 'was victim of mistaken identity' "
"Soap actress left blind in one eye after being attacked with wine glass in bar row"
"50,000 British women warned their breast implants could explode"
"Council to ban the word 'obesity' -- so fat children don't get offended"
"Teenager who blinded man with her stiletto heel in drunken brawl is jailed for 18 months"
"Man suffocates to death after falling into clothes recycling bin"
"Nurse who told heart patient to mop up his own urine is free to continue working"
"Woman, 86, threatened by M&S security staff for eating biscuit in wrong part of the store"
And so depressingly on. Britannia, where have you gone?
Mark Steyn, who writes the back-of-the-book essay for National Review, picked out these headlines to illustrate Britain's social disintegration. His conclusion: "What strikes you about the peculiar combination of drunken depravity, random violence, petty officiousness and political correctness is the sheer bloody pointlessness of it all."
You may suspect, as, as I did, that the game is fixed, that these news items can't be representative of British society. Or there wouldn't be much of a society left. Surely the quotes were selected for their scare value. In order to paint the dreariest picture possible of what has happened to the mother country. (Remember when Americans were allowed to refer to Britain as the mother country -- before the phrase was deemed too Anglocentric to be acceptable in the public prints? Now even the bust of Winston Churchill has been exiled from the White House.)
Unfortunately, Mr. Steyn has some statistics to back up the impression left by the headlines he chose. He notes that that the UK now has "the highest drug use in Europe, highest incidence of sexually transmitted disease, highest number of single mothers," and that "marriage is all but defunct, except for toffs, upscale gays, and Muslims." The whole country seems to have become downwardly mobile. Britain now has become an example to beware, not emulate.
If the news from Britain is a preview of the American future, it's time for an immediate U-turn. Before it's too late. For, despite the emphasis on political and economic issues in recent presidential campaigns ("It's the economy, stupid!"), it's the culture that counts.
A country can rebound from economic difficulties and even political demoralization -- see the New Deal, or the Reagan Years -- but how restore the social fabric, the very culture of a country, once it's been allowed to deteriorate? The collapse of educational standards may be only the most pervasive and influential symptom of what ails us.
How turn it all around? It can be done, but not easily. And the longer the challenge is ignored, the greater it grows. Until a tipping point is reached, and then it may be too late. Which is what's so worrisome about Great Britain, where more than the pound is being devalued. A whole, distinctive culture is being lost. And if England is lost, as every English speaker in the world must know in his heart, the world is.
It is such visions of the American future that may explain the rise of the latest political phenomenon on this side of the pond--the Tea Party, a variegated collection of Americans who have only this much in common: Like Howard Beale in Network, they're mad as hell and they're not going to take this anymore! They're opening the nearest window and shouting their rage. Yes, they're reactionaries -- but they have much to react against. What intelligent observer wouldn't?
No, the Tea Partiers may not know what to do about the problem, but at least they know we've got one. And they're not going to be all nice and quiet about it.
The old America may not be dead yet
In Search of Self-Governance is not the sort of book you would expect the head of a major polling firm to write. Scott Rasmussen, the president and founder of Rasmussen Reports, has written a slim volume that is admittedly "not filled with polling data," and that's putting it too mildly. The first percentage the reader comes across is half way through the book, where we learn that "only about 3% of Americans watch those Sunday morning shows."
Rasmussen has written a heart-felt pamphlet calling for a reordering of American politics, from bottom to top. The only special pleading he does on behalf of his day job is to assure us that that the "ideas and attitudes presented are shared by a solid majority of Americans." He takes up the popular complaint that our political system is "broken" and that political "dialogue" is really aimed at dividing and conquering the public. He says that "all" Americans (once you round up, I suppose) "believe we can do better."
According to Rasmussen, American politics is broken because politicians of both parties have lost sight of something important. After the last presidential election, he explains, Democrats argued over how far left they could govern the country. Republicans and some pundits tried to counter that they would fail because this is really a "center-right nation," and needs to be governed from that perspective. "Both perspectives are wrong," he avers. "The American people don't want to be governed from the left, the right, or the center. The American people want to govern themselves."
He invokes the Declaration of Independence and Alexis de Tocqueville, as all would-be civic reformers must. The French observer marveled at the ability of "Americans of all ages, conditions, and dispositions" in the 1830s to form seemingly spontaneous associations "of a thousand kinds" to deal with collective problems. Explains Rasmussen, "this American trait was radically different from the world [de Tocqueville] knew. In France or England, he observed, when something needed to be done, the government or a person of noble rank would be asked to do it."
But 1776 or the 1830s were a long time ago. Has that American instinct toward self government persisted? Rasmussen argues that it has. In this present century, Americans do not often dwell on "the virtues of self-governance. Instead, we live them. Our society and daily life is still based upon those concepts so eloquently articulated long ago." In his telling, Americans are not anarchists but they think that the government should form only a small part of our larger society. Americans would far prefer to govern ourselves, for the most part, through volunteerism and the normal back-and-forth of commerce.
Is he right about that? Is Rasmussen expressing his own preference or is he speaking up for "ideas and attitudes" that are "shared by a solid majority of Americans" in his call for a return to self-government from our current big government policies? One test case would be Social Security. Rasmussen writes that while the political class has so far "failed to come up with a solution" to the looming entitlement crisis, "the American people have been dealing with the reality before them for years rather than waiting for somebody else." They have set up 401(k) accounts, started second businesses as fall-back options, delayed retirement, and in hundreds of other ways factored in the real possibility that they won't be able to rely upon government largesse in the future.
These prudent actions now, Rasmussen hopes, "will make Social Security less essential in the future." Of course, this will come at a steep and unfair price. The current generation of younger workers "will be the sandwich generation and pay for two generations worth of retirement -- our own and our parents."
A huge problem that Rasmussen is up against in arguing for greater self-governance is that the political trends have been running the other way. President George W. Bush expanded Medicare and had his proposed free market Social Security reform was quashed by a Republican Congress. President Barack Obama rammed an expansion of government controlled healthcare through, over the tepid objections of moderates in his own party. Both men embraced bailouts and stimulus in what Rasmussen decries as "an unholy alliance" of big business and big government.
Rasmussen's only real hope, politically, is in the mother of all backlashes. He wants a temporary era of renewed civic participation in politics by people who usually hate politics. Though he doesn't call out the tea parties by name, it's reasonably clear that's what he has in mind. He cautions would-be reformers about the need to work with established pols to prune back the state. He even drags in the Star Wars trilogy to help make the pitch. Like Darth Vader, he argues, "Career politicians may have gone over to the dark side, but it's not too late for all of them."
The Greek bailout will be inflationary: "First, and most important, the European Central Bank is not buying bonds with real money, just the printed stuff that will filter throughout Europe and elsewhere and devalue the accounts of anyone who is holding Euros. Like the United States, Europe is broke, and will be even more so once this ‘bailout’ goes through. Second, for all of the talk of ‘rescuing’ Greece, Spain and Portugal, one asks: Rescued from what?”
Security cameras’ slippery slope: "Times Square has 82 police surveillance cameras, but when jihadist Faisal Shahazad tried to set off a car bomb there May 1, they were no help in catching him. (Though they did provide some lefty bloggers with a momentary thrill when a false lead led to speculation about ‘Tea Party terrorism.’) That failure hasn’t cooled public officials’ camera craze, however.”
Leave the gamblers alone!: "Some of us like to gamble. Americans bet a hundred million dollars every day, and that’s just at legal places like Las Vegas and Indian reservations. Much more is bet illegally. So authorities crack down. They raided a VFW branch that ran a poker game for charity. They ban lotteries, political futures markets and sports betting. They raid truck stops to confiscate video poker machines. Why?”
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The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)
Posted by JR at 7:43 PM