A New Visions Commentary paper published September 1996 by The National Center for Public Policy Research, 501 Capitol Court, N.E., Washington, D.C. 20002, 202/543-4110, Fax (202) 543-5975, E-Mail [email protected]
When First Lady Hillary Clinton referred to Chicago as "my kind of village" at the Democratic Convention, she was, of course, referring to her idea that it takes a village to rear a child. Should it really take a village to rear a child, and, if so, who will raise the village?
Mrs. Clinton was long on politics and short on reality; urban America is neither stable enough nor homogenous enough to be a village, even when broken down into neighborhoods. Villages are the product of agricultural areas; cities are the product of industry and business. Now that the age of technology has arrived, urban America cannot lay claim even to the small, homogenous ethnic neighborhoods that once made up the old-style political machines.
And therein lies the problem with Mrs. Clinton's idea: before the village can rear a child, the government must first raise the village. Otherwise, the village will not exist, because in urban areas, villages are artificial; they are nothing more -- or less -- than coalitions of politically connected groups, some with legitimate concerns and goals and others, such as street gangs, with no other concern than controlling the community through social programs and their own version of the social contract.
This criminal version of the social contract is established and legitimized through entitlements, which both gangs and the power structure often regard as dowries, granted in perpetuity by the government.
In short, it takes the government to raise a village. Such villages really belong to the age of feudalism, not the modern world. Both the village idea and feudalism require loyalty to a single person, idea, or party; both grant government dowries in perpetuity to those who render services, support, and votes; and both are committed to maintaining the power structure. In many urban areas, this is often a corrupt political machine capable of highly manipulated urban planning and development which rewards the loyal and punishes dissenters.
In the case of poor Americans, regardless of their ethnic origin, this reward/punishment involves housing, medical care, education, jobs and job training, and other assistance that may be needed to build a better life. This, in turn, involves the social workers, teachers, and government workers who provide -- or fail to provide -- that help.
Those who think this is a harsh assessment need only to consider the composition of the recent Democratic convention and to ask themselves whether Chicago's Gold Coast really needs to become the Gold Village, with government dowries.
As for the convention, aside from the 50% of delegates chosen from the party ranks, there was the standard coalition of National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) representatives, social workers, and government employees. All have a vested interest in bigger and more expensive government; all owe loyalty to those who provide government dowries -- or expand or increase them -- all have everything to gain by ignoring conflicts of interest.
These special and vested interests are the real reason that government entitlements, no matter how ineffective or how counterproductive they are, become government dowries, granted in perpetuity. The agendas these interests produce will be self-perpetuating and self-empowering; their goal is to preserve and protect the dowry-granting political structure rather than to provide opportunities and hope to the poor.
In the words of one organization, people are "trained, educated, and organized" by "independent" community organizations to "come up with their own answers and do their own part." Naturally, this group needs a national commitment and a national investment.
This kind of thinking is what created the Welfare State. It is doubtful that the Welfare Village will do much better. In reality, Mrs. Clinton's Welfare Village is exactly that: a New Age Welfare State, complete with the serf (slave) vote. It derives from the discredited viewpoint that there is nothing an individual can do that the government can't do better. Government dowries which are given out in small amounts to small units do not reform the Welfare State; they simply reinvent it. In feudalism, these units would be called a fief; in modern America, they are really precincts or wards, and calling these political units "villages" does not change their nature. The change just provides a new name for the old downward spiral of government control by government dowry, granted in perpetuity.
This is how a system meant to provide limited help in hard times became a way of life that has, so far, destroyed tens of thousands of lives in fatherless families, teen-aged mothers, drugs, and drive-by shootings alone.
This did not grow from compassion and assimilation; it grew from manipulation and isolation. It happens when the poor become nothing more than votes; it will happen when precincts become villages. Support tactics become scare tactics; the criminal culture replaces the legitimate culture of poor people trying to do better; the American scheme of the Welfare Village replaces the American Dream of a self-reliant, better life for poor people and their children.
Real parents, foster parents, and well-run orphanages, in conjunction with good schools, can rear a child.
But only the government can raise a village.
Children will never be the priority of such a village; the foundation of such villages is political power.
The Welfare Village should not replace the Welfare State -- for the children's sake.
by Camille Harper, an Advisory Council member of the African-American leadership group Project 21, is a retired Chicago public school teacher, resident of Chicago Section 8 housing, and editor of the Chicago-based community newletter The Strobe.
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