The Party of “It Wasn’t Us!”

In the wake of the Baltimore riots and unrest, the Democrats are trying desperately to shift the conversation away from what happened and more toward … anything. One issue that they seem to have locked into is that the events in Baltimore aren’t a response to militarized policing or the War on Drugs or a poisonous relationship between the police and the community. No, it’s about … inequality. And they are proposing to address this with a raft of proposals that are basically Democratic Liberalism 101: more taxes on “the rich”, higher minimum wage, more spending on “infrastructure” and schools, etc. Barack Obama, in particular, has called on Republicans to embrace more spending and job training.

David Harsanyi pushes back:

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. But Democrats are complicit in that war, too. And Democrats are also in charge of a city school system that has huge failure rates, despite the fact that Baltimore’s school district also has 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 “massive 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?

Where does the blame for the civil unrest lie? 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 such as 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 that they are uniquely sympathetic toward the poor and weak, that welfare programs can never be reformed, only expanded, and 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.

I’m inclined to agree.

First of all, the idea that the Baltimore riots are the result of inequality is a stretch. This isn’t a problem of “infrastructure”. Nobody in Baltimore is rioting because of potholes. They are rioting because the Freddie Gray killing was the culmination of years of bad policing fed by the militarization of police, our idiotic War on Drugs and a refusal to hold anyone accountable. The Democrats don’t want to talk about that, however, because of the huge role they have played in creating that problem, especially one of their Presidential aspirants:

The drug war began it, certainly, but the stake through the heart of police procedure in Baltimore was MARTIN O’MALLEY. He destroyed police work in some real respects. Whatever was left of it when he took over the police department, if there were two bricks together that were the suggestion of an edifice that you could have called meaningful police work, he found a way to pull them apart. Everyone thinks I’ve got a hard-on for Marty because we battled over “The Wire,” whether it was bad for the city, whether we’d be filming it in Baltimore. But it’s been years, and I mean, that’s over. I shook hands with him on the train last year and we buried it. And, hey, if he’s the Democratic nominee, I’m going to end up voting for him. It’s not personal and I admire some of his other stances on the death penalty and gay rights. But to be honest, what happened under his watch as Baltimore’s mayor was that he wanted to be governor. And at a certain point, with the crime rate high and with his promises of a reduced crime rate on the line, he put no faith in real policing.

O’Malley emphasized massive arrests and aggressive policing. He looked the other way at police abuses and bowed to every union that stood still long enough. No wonder the Democrats wants to pretend this is about inequality.

The thing is: even you make this about economics and inequality, the Democrats own that too. The inequality in Baltimore is a direct result of everything they stand for and every policy they have backed.

All but one of Maryland’s governors over the last 46 years has been a Democrat. 75% of Maryland voters are Democrat. 75% of their Senators have been Democrat since the Civil War. Their legislators are 7-1 Democrat (in part because of gerrymandering, which Democrats cheered to the skies when it rid them of Republican Roscoe Bartlett). Every mayor since World War II, with one exception, has been a Democrat. The Democrats have controlled Maryland and Baltimore pretty much exclusively for the last half century and overwhelmingly since the Civil War. Almost every aspect of Baltimore’s police, government and schools has been hand-crafted by them. And they want to pretend this is the fault of Republicans?

In Maryland generally and Baltimore specifically they’ve gotten everything they want. Maryland is one of the most heavily taxed states in the union and Martin O’Malley passed massive tax increases while he was governor. Has this reduced inequality? A minimum wage hike was enacted just this year and will continue to rise in the future. Where are the hordes of newly employed people? Their per-pupil spending is one of the highest in the nation. They have “invested” massively in the city with an Inner Harbor, two modern stadiums and a city-owned luxury hotel that is losing millions. That’s to say nothing of the decades of “investment” and “urban renewal” and regulation that has destroyed the business environment while enriching the politically connected. Where is the boom all this “investment” was supposed to create?

This was written last year:

It was William Donald Schaefer, Baltimore’s mayor from 1971-87, who set the stage for economic decline in his city by championing an ever-expanding public sector as well as extensive government regulation of private business enterprises. Further, he relied heavily on federal grants and city bonds to finance a host of development projects throughout Baltimore. As the City Journal reports: “[W]hen those monies proved insufficient, [Schaefer] … created his own city bank to seed development: the Loan and Guarantee Fund. The fund financed itself by selling city property and then leasing it back to itself, and by selling bonds that would stick future taxpayers with much of the bill.”

The post goes point by point of how the city has destroyed its business environment while pulling in hundreds of millions in “investments”. I disagree with the contention that Baltimore’s “soft on drugs” policies either existed or were responsible for what we’ve seen. But the economic history of Baltimore is devastating. And it is all owned by Democrats, every last bit of it.

As for the “neglected” education system, it spends 50% more per pupil than the national average and the starting salary is a respectable $47,000 a year. And yet Baltimore schools perform terribly by any measure.

Notwithstanding this abysmal track record, the Baltimore Teachers Union, which consistently supports Democratic Party causes and candidates, vehemently opposes any calls for the implementation of voucher programs that would enable low-income parents to take their children out of the city’s failing public schools and send them instead—for a fraction of the cost—to a private school where they might actually have a chance to experience academic success. Union opposition to vouchers is rooted in the fact that such programs would siphon money away from the public schools, thereby decreasing the funds available for teacher and administrator salaries and, by extension, diminishing the member dues collected each year by the unions. And of course Baltimore Democrats, knowing that a substantial portion of those union dues are funneled directly into their party’s coffers, likewise abjure voucher proposals—just as Democrats have done in city after city across the United States. Joel Klein, former chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, once explained candidly: “[P]oliticians—especially Democratic politicians—generally do what the unions want. And the unions, in turn, are very clear about what that is. They want, first, happy members, so that those who run the unions get reelected; and, second, more members, so their power, money, and influence grow.”

Baltimore’s stratospheric property taxes, which are twice as high as those of any other jurisdiction in Maryland or the District of Columbia, help to fund the colossal educational train wreck that is the BCPS. These taxes, to be sure, are part and parcel of a long trend of high taxation that has plagued Baltimore for decades. As economists Steve Hanke of Johns Hopkins University and Stephen Walters of Loyola University write: “In modern Baltimore, the machine has exploited class divisions, not ethnic ones. Officials raised property taxes 21 times between 1950 and 1985 … causing many homeowners and entrepreneurs—disproportionately Republicans—to flee.” For 31 of those 35 years, the city was led by Democrat mayors.

Obama is also full of it when he tries to blame the Republican Congress for refusing to enact his agenda. His platform is just more pork barrel spending for Democratic interests. There’s no regulatory reform. There’s no tax reform. There’s no rolling back of the War on Drugs. There’s no incarceration reform. It’s just more spending on Democratic pet interests — the same interests that have been spent billions on inner cities to no noticeable gain. For Obama to try to leverage this event into advancing his big spending agenda is simply disgusting.

Baltimore is an apotheosis of Democratic polices, from the urban renewal that destroyed poor but functional neighborhoods to the education reform that wasn’t to the crony capitalism that has burned out the business sector. Don’t give me this crap about “investment”. I lived in Baltimore for three years. It has mile after mile of beautiful historic houses boarded up or covered in garbage. It has a beautiful Inner Harbor and two nice stadiums just a few blocks away from slums. Despite the high taxes and enormous influx of federal and state dollars, it has terrible roads and infrastructure.

I don’t know if there is a fix to Baltimore. It has too many decades of Democratic corruption, Democratic neglect, Democratic “investment” and Democratic control. The few policies that might help are coming not from the Democrats, but from Republicans and libertarians. To wit:

  • Ending the War on Drugs: You needn’t decriminalize drugs to massively improve the situation in Baltimore and the relationship the people have with the police. Restoring civil liberties, backing off the militarization and reforming the prisons would help enormously. Hillary drew a lot of praise for mentioning this briefly in a campaign speech. But Rand Paul has been talking about this for years. Deep red Texas has been leading the way on getting prisons to rehabilitate those who can rehabilitated rather than throwing everyone into the same rape dungeon. More needs to be done, on both the federal and state level. We simply can’t expect our cities to function when so many young men are in prison and when they come out of prison more dysfunctional and dangerous than when they went in.
  • Regulatory reform and tax reform: Baltimore, like most cities, tries to draw businesses by cutting special deals and giving subsidies to the politically connected. Instead, take a cue from Reason’s proposal to save Cleveland: make Baltimore a place that people want to do business. Keep taxes low and regulation simple for everyone and let the business sector rebuild itself.
  • Education reform: Rather than spending more, create vouchers and school choice to let people escape the broken education system. Education isn’t a cure-all to life’s ills. But it would be of enormous help.

Maybe these ideas won’t work. Maybe Baltimore is beyond saving. But we need to do something other than the same garbage Democrats have been pushing on us for fifty years. The Democrats have tried spending money and they have tried spending more money. They have spent more money and they have spent yet more money. And, in a startling change of direction, they’ve spent more money. Maybe we should trying something else.

I’m under no illusions that the Republicans are a fountain of great ideas and compassion. But Baltimore is the apotheosis of Democratic policies. For the love of God, why would we address its deep and severe problems with more of the same?

Comments are closed.

  1. InsipiD

    Baltimore is a lot like Detroit in these ways.  It’s also like Detroit in the fact that it’s not hard to buy a house for low 4-figures due to everyone leaving and taking the pipes and wiring as they left, apparently.

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  2. Screamin

    Thanks for this, Hal.  I didn’t realized just HOW SHITTY things had gotten in Baltimore (I guess that’s “the news” for you).

    And in answer to the question of why we don’t try something different, let’s be honest: it’s not in the politicians best interest to try something different (either stripe).  Modern politics in America has become nothing more than glorified ambulance chasing.  As a society, we crave short, sweet bites of information that can be digested and reduced to a 140-character short story.  Anything longer than this and we lose interest.  Heaven forbid we actually, like, THINK about something…

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  3. Hal_10000 *

    CM, I’m not a fan of inequality because 1) the measures used a pre-tax, pre-benefits so ignore any efforts governments make to “spread the wealth around”; 2) it’s not clear to me that they’ve cause and effect right in the OECD study; 3) if you believe Picketty’s data — and I’m highly suspicious — inequality has been growing everywhere, including social welfare states.  There is something else going on besides trickle down economics.

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