Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Daddy-O (Part II), or B & O

(Brooks and Obama, that is)

Although as a self-deluded Republican Party hack, David Brooks would never actually vote for Obama (Brooks’ long-standing delusion is to think of himself as a disinterested social analyst rather than an inveterate apologist for the ruling class), his Tuesday Times column on the mortgage crisis exemplifies the Obamista social vision to which I refer in the previous post, a vision in which moralist and market-driven accounts of social justice meet seamlessly to cloak the rapacity of those who have seized power. According to Brooks the current crisis is the result of a combination of deteriorating norms:
America once had a culture of thrift. But over the past decades, that unspoken code has been silently eroded.

Some of the toxins were economic. Rising house prices gave people the impression that they could take on more risk. Some were cultural. We entered a period of mass luxury, in which people down the income scale expect to own designer goods. Some were moral. Schools and other institutions used to talk the language of sin and temptation to alert people to the seductions that could ruin their lives.
But more to the point, individuals share much of the blame for helping “degrade” these norms, because each decision by an individual to take on a high-risk loan, “reinforced a new definition of acceptable behavior for neighbors, family and friends. In a community, behavior sets off ripples. Every decision is a public contribution or a destructive act.” [Which, presumably, is also why, in a different context, one should treat an unwed mother like a social pariah—think of the damage to the social fabric if one doesn’t do so.]

In other words the real culprits in this meltdown are all the individual borrowers. And in Brooks’ view, the economic sector has already done what it can to fix the problem, which means that in rescuing the economy, the “important shifts will be private, as people and communities learn and adopt different social standards.”

This is the same ‘self-help” claptrap that Larry Bobo celebrates as the “next level of social justice” that will be inaugurated with Obama’s ascendancy to the Oval Office.

Debtors’ prisons and scarlet letters have never looked so good.


It bears repeating that one clear effect of the Obama campaign has been to re-license victim-blaming as cutting edge social analysis and policy. Harvard’s Larry Bobo concludes a recent piece supporting Obama by writing:
The next stages of this struggle will call for new strategies, new ideas and almost certainly a larger dose of self-help and self-assertion from within black America itself. Obama's Father's Day remarks on absentee fathers and taking responsibility for children hit just the right note in this regard. I have rock-solid faith that having Barack Obama in the White House will take matters toward full realization of that next level of inclusion and social justice.
And the little bit of the “Reclaiming the Dream” panel discussion on CNN “moderated” by Soledad O’Brien that I could bring myself to watch became a virtual free-for-all when it came to taking swipes at black men and women for having children without benefit of clergy. It seems all would be well if only Baby Daddy would take Baby Mama in hand and, whether she wants to or not, walk her down the aisle before she drops another illegitimate child from her fertile loins.

Yes folk's it’s likely that next “level of inclusion and social justice” will be one in which those deemed worthy of support by the state (on a recent trip through the Mississippi Delta I saw a sign for an FHA Housing Project declaring it a community for “deserving families) will be those who best conform to statutes of moral behavior dictated by the faith-based organizations recently blessed by St. Obama, working in concert with the University of Chicago economists on his team, to figure out the appropriate moral and economic incentives to create the desired behaviors among “irresponsible” poor black people: let’s say, a poor single girl who gets pregnant at 16 will get less support than one who gets pregnant at 18, and both will get less than a poor young, but married, woman, who gets pregnant at 21, and so on.

The nation’s already atrophied capacity to recognize the structural causes of inequality will diminish to the point that our only explanation of persistent poverty will be either a new version of racialization in which it turns out that people are poor because their culture or their genes lead them to engage in behaviors that prevent them from taking advantage of the opportunities that have been made available for them, or that their poverty is the result of inappropriate government interference with market forces that would otherwise work like magic in creating general prosperity. Lord have mercy.