Goodbye, Mr. Pitts

When I lived in the D.C. area and subscribed to The Washington Post, I occasionally read a column by Leonard Pitts Jr. This masochistic practice served two purposes. First, it exercised my cardiovascular system (i.e., raised my heart rate and blood pressure). Second, it helped me to keep up with what passes for wisdom among the race-card-playing set.

Mr. Pitts, who is a syndicated columnist operating out of The Miami Herald, comes by his race-card-playing naturally, as a black and — given his age (about 50) — a likely beneficiary of reverse discrimination (a.k.a. affirmative action). I should note that Pitts plays the race-card game clumsily, probably because his mental warehouse is stocked with gross generalizations and logical fallacies.

I was provoked to write this post by a recent Pitts column, to which I will come, where (in passing) he defends the socialization of medicine because other things also have been socialized. By that logic, Pitts would excuse the murder of his wife because millions of murders already have been committed.

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I begin my sampling of Pitts’s pathetic prose with “We’ll go forward from this moment,” of September 12, 2001 (a reaction to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001):

Let me tell you about my people. We are a vast and quarrelsome family, a family rent by racial, social, political and class division, but a family nonetheless.

No, “we” (the citizens of the United States) are most decidedly not a family, not even a feuding one. If there ever was anything like an American “family,” it existed in the years just after Pearl Harbor was attacked by Japanese forces. The degree of unity and resolve in the America of 1942-45 makes a mockery of the years following September 2001, during which disunity and irresolution became the standard pose of the media, academia, the Democrat Party, more than a few Republican “moderates,” many isolationist paleo-conservatives, and most libertarians.

Americans, now more than ever, are members of millions of separate families, churches, clubs, neighborhoods, work groups, etc. If there is anything shared by a majority of Americans, it is a taste for food in large quantities, vulgar entertainment, and a chance to feed at the public trough at the expense of other Americans.

The most notable schism in American life is one that has arisen since the onset of the Great Depression. It has come to this: Americans are deeply divided (though not evenly divided) about the rightful power of government in foreign and domestic affairs. There are three main camps. The largest favors surrender abroad and statism at home; the smallest favors surrender abroad and anarchy at home; the one to which I belong favors the full exercise of American might in defense of Americans’ legitimate overseas interest, together with a limited government devoted mainly to the protection of Americans from domestic predators and parasite.

It is obvious in what I have just said that Americans today do not even share a tradition of liberty, which has long vanished from the land. Because of this loss of liberty, Americans have become something less than citizens  with a common birthright and something more like hostages in their own land, with little voice and almost no opportunity for exit. Many (perhaps most) Americans like it that way, many others don’t understand what has been lost to them, and some (too few) understand it all too painfully. Pitts and his ilk like it that way because they are in thrall to special-interest politics and cannot see how those politics have abetted our downward spiral into political bondage, social license, and weakness in the face of our foreign and domestic enemies.

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Jumping to September 29, 2003, I find “Faithful often give religion a bad name,” in which Pitts proffers this:

People are always pleased to indulge their religiosity when it allows them to stand in judgment of someone else, licenses them to feel superior to someone else, tells them they are more righteous than someone else.

They are less enthusiastic when religiosity demands that they be compassionate to someone else. That they show charity, service and mercy to everyone else.

Consider that last month thousands of people wept on the steps of an Alabama courthouse in support of a rock bearing the Ten Commandments. And watching, you wondered: What hungry person gets fed because of this? What naked person is clothed, what homeless one housed?

It seemed a fresh reminder that religious people are often the poorest advertisement for religious life.

How much more convincing an advertisement, how much more compelling a testimony, if people of faith were more often caught by news cameras demonstrating against healthcare cuts that fill our streets with the homeless mentally ill. Or confronting the slumlord about the vermin-infested holes he offers as places for families to live. Or crusading to make the sweatshop owner pay a living wage to workers who are treated little better than slaves.

From what well of knowledge does Pitts draw his assertions that people are always pleased to indulge their religiosity when they can stand in judgment of others, but are less enthusiastic when compassion is in order? Does Pitts even know, let alone care, that residents of “Red” States — where religious fundamentalism is more prevalent — are much more generous in their charitable giving than residents of “Blue” States — where secular Europeanism is the norm?

And what about those persons who “wept on the steps of an Alabama courthouse in support of a rock bearing the Ten Commandments”? What is wrong with protesting the further distancing of government from morality? I suspect that Pitts doesn’t want public officials to be reminded of the Ten Commandments because one of them says “You shall not steal” — and that is precisely what government does when it taxes and regulates us toward poverty, often in the name of “compassion.”

And why would it be a compelling testimony for religion if “people of faith” were more often seen demonstrating against budget cuts that fill our streets with the homeless mentally ill, or confronting slumlords about vermin-infested holes, or crusading to make sweatshop owners pay a “living wage to workers”? Pitts can offer such advice only because he doesn’t understand or care about the implications of such actions: Higher taxes for hard-working families; more homeless persons, as landlords raise rents to defray the costs of improving their properties; more starving poor, as “sweatshop” owners find new locales in which to recruit willing workers who have less exalted ideas than Pitts about what constitutes a “living wage.”

Pitts reveals himself as an ignoramus or a hypocrite — probably both — who is simply pleased to indulge his moral outrage when it allows him to stand in judgment of others.

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Less than a month later (October 20, 2003) Pitts opined that “Race has always benefited whites“; to wit:

As a reader who chose to remain nameless put it, many people wonder if a given black professional “is there because of his/her skills and abilities, or because of affirmative action. Unfortunately, affirmative action policies leave many unanswered questions about a black person’s education and training, as well as skills and abilities. . . . How do we answer these questions?”

I will try my best to answer them with a straight face. It’s going to be difficult.

Because there’s an elephant in this room, isn’t there? It’s huge and noisy and rather smelly, yet none of these good people sees it. The elephant is this simple fact:

White men are the biggest beneficiaries of affirmative action this country has ever seen.

That’s not rhetoric or metaphor. It’s only truth.

THE NATION’S CUSTOM

If affirmative action is defined as giving someone an extra boost based on race, it’s hard to see how anyone can argue the point. Slots for academic admission, for employment and promotion, for bank loans and for public office have routinely been set aside for white men. This has always been the nation’s custom. Until the 1960s, it was also the nation’s law. . . .

My correspondents feel they should not be asked to respect the skill or abilities of a black professional who may or may not have benefited from affirmative action. They think such a person should expect to be looked down upon. But black people have spent generations watching white men who were no more talented, and many times downright incompetent, vault to the head of the line based on racial preference.

So, here’s my question:

Would African Americans be justified in looking down on white professionals? In wondering whether they are really smart enough to do the job? In questioning their competence before they had done a thing?

Pitts deploys three shifty debating techniques: He changes the subject; subtly (and inappropriately) redefines a key term; falsely generalizes about a class of persons (white men); and then draws an unsupported conclusion from flawed premises.

The change of subject is obvious. Pitts, instead of addressing the question whether affirmative action leads to the advancement of under-qualified blacks, attacks whites for having been unqualified.

Why were whites unqualified? Because they, too, benefited from something Pitts chooses to call affirmative action, namely, “giving someone an extra boost based on race.” There is a basic problem with Pitts’s shifty redefinition of affirmative action: discrimination against blacks produces different results than discrimination against whites. The real elephant in the room, the one that it is impolite to mention, is that blacks and whites have different skills. And for most jobs, where intelligence matters, there are many more qualified whites than blacks.

It is therefore wrong to paint whites with the same “affirmative action” brush. Despite Pitts’s implication to the contrary, blacks would not have been justified in looking down on white professionals, as a group. But the converse is not true. Certainly, there are and have been superb black doctors and miserably incompetent white ones, but faced with a choice between, say, a white doctor of unknown skill and a black doctor of unknown skill, a person (black or white) would prudently choose the white doctor. The shame, of course, is that in some parts of the United States blacks were not allowed to choose white doctors.

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In “Leave education to the principals, teachers, parents” (November 28, 2007), Pitts subscribes to romantic claptrap:

No one becomes a teacher to get rich. You become a teacher because you want to give back, you want to shape future generations, you want to change the world.

Oh spare me! You become a teacher because

  • you enjoy teaching, in general
  • you enjoy teaching a particular subject because you know it well
  • you enjoy the power of being in charge of a classroom (to the extent that you’re mentally and physically capable of being in charge)
  • it’s the best job you can get, given your intelligence and particular skills
  • some or all of the preceding statements apply to you.

Teaching is a job, not a mystical calling.

Pitts is right to say that

much of what ails American schools can be traced to a bureaucracy that: a) doesn’t pay enough; b) does too little to encourage and reward creativity; c) doesn’t give principals authority over who works in their schools; d) makes it nearly impossible to fire bad teachers.

The key word is “bureaucracy.” American schools will not improve until they are privatized, allowed to compete with one another, and allowed to hire teachers who know their subjects as opposed to NEA-approved hacks with “education” degrees. Some schools will be better than others, of course, but that’s true now. What isn’t true — or possible — now is that most schools will improve, or go out of business. (Public schools sometimes are “closed” for conspicuous failure, only to re-open in the same place, and with most of the same students and teachers.)

The problem, for Pitts and other “liberals,” is that it just isn’t “fair” for some children to have access to better schools than others, even though that also is true now, and even though bright children of less-affluent parents undoubtedly would have access to scholarships funded by affluent graduates of better schools. No, in the name of “fairness,” Pitts and his fellow “liberals” would rather hope for a transformation of public schools that will never happen, precisely because public schools are beholden to the NEA, which is nothing more than a union designed to guarantee work for incompetents who cannot master real subjects.

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I come now to the column that touched off this post: “The distance between us” (as titled by the Austin American-Statesman) of August 24, 2009. Though the thread of Pitts’s “logic” is tangled, he his main concern seems to be national unity, or the lack thereof.

He rests his point on the fact that not everyone is happy with the election of Barack Obama or his policies, which he traces to racism or out-and-out nuttiness:

Last year, Barack Obama was elected president, the first American of African heritage ever to reach that office. If this was regarded as a new beginning by most Americans, it was regarded apocalyptically by others who promptly proceeded to lose both their minds and any pretense of enlightenment.

These are the people who immediately declared it their fervent hope that the new presidency fail, the ones who cheered when the governor of Texas raised the specter of secession, the ones who went online to rechristen the executive mansion the “Black” House, and to picture it with a watermelon patch out front.

On tax day they were the ones who, having apparently just discovered the grim tidings April 15 brings us all each year, launched angry, unruly protests. In the debate over health-care reform, they are the ones who have disrupted town hall meetings, shouting about the president’s supposed plan for “death panels” to euthanize the elderly.

Now, they are the ones bringing firearms to places the president is speaking.

The Washington Post tells us at least a dozen individuals have arrived openly — and, yes, legally — strapped at events in Arizona and New Hampshire, including at least one who carried a semiautomatic assault rifle. In case the implied threat is not clear, one of them also brought a sign referencing Thomas Jefferson’s quote about the need to water the tree of liberty with “the blood of … tyrants.”

Is Pitts suggesting that most of the 60,000,000 Americans who voted against Barack Obama (46 percent of those casting a vote in last year’s election) immediately hailed Obama’s election as a “new beginning”? To be sure, there was a honeymoon period around inauguration day, when about two-thirds of voters hopefully approved of Obama and his net approval rating hovered between 25 and 30 percent. But the honeymoon was over almost as soon as it had begun, as Americans began to grasp the bankruptcy (pun intended) of Obama’s policies.

But rather than acknowledge the awakening of most Americans to Obama’s threats to liberty and prosperity, Pitts stoops to barely veiled charges of racism and irrationality. To hope that Obama fails is not to wish ill for the nation; to the contrary, it is to hope that Obama’s policies fail of realization because they are seen (rightly) as inimical to liberty and prosperity. To find racism in talk of secession is a ploy by a columnist who is willing to sell his liberty cheap (or give it away), as long as the president’s skin is of the right color.

Then we have the concatenation of

the ones who went online to rechristen the executive mansion the “Black” House, and to picture it with a watermelon patch out front.

On tax day they were the ones who, having apparently just discovered the grim tidings April 15 brings us all each year, launched angry, unruly protests.

In other words, some racists oppose Obama and his policies; therefore, opposition to Obama and his policies is racist. Pitts evidently failed Logic 101, for he could just as well suggest that some racists (i.e., reverse racists) support Obama and his policies; therefore, support of Obama and his policies is racist.

A relative handful of those publicly protesting Obamacare — themselves a relative handful of the millions who oppose or question it — happen to have carried guns (legally) to the forums at which they (or others) voiced protests. Pitts verges on a Soviet-style declaration that those who oppose the regime are, by definition, mentally ill and must be locked up, for their own safety.

As noted earlier, Pitts is unfazed by the fact “that our libraries, schools, police and fire departments are all ‘socialized’.” If one more thing — namely medical care — is socialized, so what? And, given the number of murders committed every year, if one more person is murdered, so what?

All of that aside, Pitts’s real point has do with the kind of country America will become:

These are strange times. They call to mind what historian Henry Adams said in the mid-1800s: “There are grave doubts at the hugeness of the land and whether one government can comprehend the whole.”

Adams spoke in geographical terms of a nation rapidly expanding toward the Pacific. Our challenge is less geographical than spiritual, less a question of the distance between Honolulu and New York than between you and the person right next to you. . . .

We frame the differences in terms of “conservative” and “liberal,” but these are tired old markers that with overuse and misuse have largely lost whatever meaning they used to have and with it, any ability to explain us to us. This isn’t liberal vs. conservative, it is yesterday vs. tomorrow, the stress of profound cultural and demographic changes that will leave none of us as we were. . . .

Round and round we go and where we stop, nobody knows. And it is an open question, as it was for Henry Adams, what kind of country we’ll have when it’s done.

“Can” one government comprehend the whole? It may be harder to answer now than it was then.

The distances that divide us cannot be measured in miles.

Pitts is right about the distances that divide Americans, but those distances have divided Americans for generations. (I repeat: “We” are not a family.) The only way to reconcile those differences is to restore the basic scheme of of the Constitution, which is to

  • establish one nation united in common defense,
  • with open internal borders, and
  • free movement of goods across those borders, for prosperity’s sake, and
  • free movement of people between and within the several sovereign States, so that individuals may associate with those whom they find most congenial.

Such a wise scheme will not do for collectivists like Pitts, who cannot abide the thought of a world other than one made to their specifications. If the Pittses persist in their collectivist zeal, America will proceed from a (cold) civil war to secession, a military coup, or even revolution. And the fault will lie with the Pittses, because they are the true enemies of liberty.

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Having reacquainted myself with Mr. Pitts, and having thereby exercised my cardiovascular system, I now bid him adieu — not fondly but forever.

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