April 16, 2008

Kill the Poor

I named this piece after the second best song from The Dead Kennedys’ album

Holiday in Cambodia

Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables (Thanks, Erik Mayer, for the correction). (”California Uber Alles” is much wittier, but not to my present point.) The lyrics are worth quoting in full:

Efficiency and progress is ours once more
Now that we have the Neutron bomb
It’s nice and quick and clean and gets things done
Away with excess enemy
But no less value to property
No sense in war but perfect sense at home:

The sun beams down on a brand new day
No more welfare tax to pay
Unsightly slums gone up in flashing light
Jobless millions whisked away
At last we have more room to play
All systems go to kill the poor tonight

Kill kill kill kill Kill the poor: Tonight

Behold the sparkle of champagne
The crime rate’s gone
Feel free again
O’ life’s a dream with you, Miss Lily White
Jane Fonda on the screen today
Convinced the liberals it’s okay
So let’s get dressed and dance away the night

While they:
Kill kill kill kill Kill the poor: Tonight

Not the most sophisticated satire, I’ll grant you, but it makes its point—that some who consider themselves on the Right are only too glad to daydream about doing some social engineering of their own, about taking part in what Edwin Black evocatively called the War Against the Weak.

Reading Marcus’ recent piece on abortion and racism, I found much in it with which I agreed. Sticking firmly to logic, arguing against abortion because its outcome might be racist is exactly like banning adultery because it might lead to dancing.

But politics isn’t really the realm of logic, but rhetoric—where everyone from Aristotle and Isocrates to Boethius and Richard Weaver agree quite different rules apply. If you rejected every argument that contained what logicians call “fallacies,” you’d have a hard time taking seriously much that appears in the Gospels, the works of most major philosophers, and the speeches of every political leader in history.

The key questions you ask about a piece of rhetoric, I’d suggest from my laymen’s knowledge, are two: 1) Does it move men? and 2) Does it move them toward the Good? 

And Marcus has rightly noted that one of the implications of the anti-racist arguments on abortion might move men toward something quite bad: confusing the stark moral question of the rights of unborn life with vague, messy, imponderables such as the power relations between various ethnic groups, and the public policies that might be required to rejigger them. All very much beside the point, which will always remain: Will we kill our children? The question: Will we allow (or even encourage) ethnic minorities to do the same? is simply a subset of the first—although it has a certain power to show up the hypocrisy of liberals, and so remains a question worth asking in the right rhetorical context.

What bothers me is how some “conservatives” I’ve met will admit (in private) to answering it. I was at a cocktail party once in New York City with staffers and donors associated with a major conservative institution which I won’t name. Tanqueray in hand, one of them raised the (by now exploded) thesis that appears in Freakonomics asserting that abortion helped cause the 1990s dip in crime. To a man, my companions all murmured approval. One said something—almost quoting the Dead Kennedys’ song—about “welfare tax,” while another declared, “Thank God for Roe v. Wade. Now we can live in New York City. Cheers!”

It takes a lot to take me aback, but that toast managed to. Realizing that I was not in fact among friends but enemies, I threw back my bourbon and answered: “If that’s what you want, why don’t you carpet-bomb the ghettos?”

The festive gent with the G&T didn’t bat an eye. “Not as politically palatable.” His friends all chuckled.  I found new drinking buddies.

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