Chris Powell: Don't blame the NRA or Yale


Connecticut saw four of the five remaining presidential candidates on the eve of its primary election.    

On the Republican side, Donald Trump, having admitted that he doesn’t want to seem "presidential," went to Bridgeport and Waterbury to revel in the buffoonery, mockery and contempt that have made him so appealing to so many. In Glastonbury, Ohio Gov. John Kasich easily contrasted himself as thoughtful and respectful.   

On the Democratic side, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders complained to a rally in New Haven that 36 percent of that city's children are not just living in poverty but doing so within sight of Yale University's $26 billion endowment, as if there was some connection.

Hillary Clinton visited Hartford, emphasized the problem of gun violence, and pledged to confront the National Rifle Association and strive to "change the gun culture."  

But repugnant as the NRA may be, it has little to do with gun violence, and the"gun culture" Clinton deplored -- presumably the NRA’s 5 million purported members -- is not the culture doing the most damage with guns.   

Rather, the "gun culture" that does the most damage is the culture of poverty,  unconditional welfare, drug dealing and drug prohibition. Most shootings --  from Hartford to Chicago to Los Angeles -- are not committed by NRA members but by fatherless and uneducated young men, products of the family-destroying welfare system who see drug dealing and crime as their best career options.    Sanders’s silly linking of child poverty in New Haven with Yale’s endowment only emphasizes the difficulty of pushing the political left out of its ideological dead end.   

Since Yale is such an awful influence, the expropriation of its endowment and the resulting smashing of its political influence under the assault of Sanders’s socialism would be positive. But all Yale’s money could be spent in the name of alleviating poverty and, if it was spent as the hundreds of billions of dollars before it have been spent, there would be only more poverty and dependence afterward.   

Amid this half century of policy failure it is hard not to suspect that poverty and dependence are actually the objectives of the political left generally and the Democratic Party particularly. For poverty and dependence fuel the need for government patronage and become not afflictions to be eliminated but profitable businesses and ends in themselves.   

A few decades ago it was possible for a few on the left and a few Democrats to acknowledge this failure of policy, as the sociologist Daniel Patrick Moynihan did before becoming one of Clinton’s predecessors as a Democratic senator from New York.   

Moynihan wrote in 1965: "From the wild Irish slums of the 19th-century Eastern seaboard to the riot-torn suburbs of Los Angeles, there is one unmistakable  lesson in American history: A community that allows a large number of men to grow up in broken families, dominated by women, never acquiring any stable relationship to male authority, never acquiring any set of rational expectations about the future -- that community asks for and gets chaos. Crime, violence,  unrest, disorder -- particularly the furious, unrestrained lashing out at the whole social structure -- that is not only to be expected; it is very near to inevitable. And it is richly deserved."  

In the Senate 20 years later, Moynihan elaborated: "The institution of the family is decisive in determining not only if a person has the capacity to love another individual but in the larger social sense whether he is capable of loving his fellow men collectively. The whole of society rests on this foundation for stability, understanding, and social peace."   

To end poverty and gun violence, government needs first of all to stop manufacturing them. 

Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn. 

Voters hiding from the world

The insularity of that minority (i.e., “the base’’) of the electorate that tends to dominate presidential campaigns’ first innings explains much of the current nasty race, especially on the Republican side.

These people seek to protect themselves from the anxiety of hearing  a viewpoint they might not like by holing up in echo chambers in which the same fact-thin opinions are repeatedly  shouted day after day. The epicenter is the oratorical masturbation known as  political talk radio.

You’d think that listeners would get bored and occasionally want to hear something different, but that would make them uncomfortable. Talk radio does not encourage curiosity or research. The point is to soothe listeners by reinforcing their well-entrenched prejudices and satisfy their desirefor simple solutions to their problems – and clear villains.

The majority of talk-radio fans are middle- and lower-middle class white people aggrieved by their downward socio-economic mobility and upset about changing social mores as seen, for example, in gay marriage, and the changing ethnic and religious mix of America. That’s understandable.

But their refusal to listen to all sides  in order to become better informed citizens also suggests a disinclination to make the changes, be it training for new  work skills or bringing disorderly  personal lives under control, necessary to address these tougher times for many Americans. Too many of them are both angry and passive.

That makes them prey to such demagogues as Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. Mr. Trump may be an especially fitting candidate for our times: People who avoid reading and obtain most of their “news’’  from TV and talk radio like him the most.

No wonder (relatively) scandal-free people of great executive and policymaking accomplishment who would have been very plausible presidential candidates in the past – say former New York  Republican Gov. George Pataki and former Democratic Sen. Jim Webb -- don’t have a prayer. And such competent chief executives  as Ohio Gov. John Kasich, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley haven’t gotten much traction either.

And it’s hard to see Hillary Clinton, despite her long CV, intelligence, ambition and persistence, as a person of great executive and policymaking success.  Bernie Sanders, for his part, is an eccentric fringe high-tax candidate in a nation whose citizens hate taxes. His only executive experience has been as mayor of Burlington, Vt.: pop: 42,000.

(A  possible spanner in the works of a Hillary Clinton marchto theDemocratic nomination: indictment stemming from her “top-secret’’ home-server e-mails.)

You’d think that voters would want the nation’s chief executive to be or have been a successful elected executive of a government body. And no, running a business is not the same as running a government body.

Globalization and technology, both of which will continue to eat away at the American middle class, require a panorama of responses,  including reducing  our plutocracy’s ever-increasing power, more job training and  rebuilding the nation’s  decayed physical infrastructure to create jobs and make the nation more internationally competitive.

Cheapening  labor and technology-based automation, which so far have mostly destroyed the jobs of blue-color workers, are now eating away even at what had been well-paying upper-middle-class jobs. Andsenior business execs show little desire to share more of their gargantuan compensation with underlings.

The candidates generally avoid presenting and emphasizing  programmatic details because details don’t do well on TV and talk radio. And so many journalists have been laid off that the surviving ones almost entirely focus on the easiest and more marketable stuff in the campaigns - - the daily insults,  faux pas and hour-by-hour opinion polls -– the horse race.

Apparently that’s fine with the people who hide in the silos of talk radio.

Once the candidates of the two major parties are chosen, perhaps more substance will appear as the candidates reach for support  from moderate  and independent voters. We can hope they’ll then explain  with considerabledetail and precision what they’d do and, as important, how they’d do it.  

Meanwhile, most of the electorate,  the large majority of whom only bother to vote in November, can look into the mirror to see who is most  to blame for our predicament.

Robert Whitcomb (rwhitcomb51@gmail) oversees newenglanddiary.com, is a partner at Cambridge Management Group (cmg625.com), a former Providence Journal editorial-page editor and a former International Herald Tribune finance editor,