Saturday, February 15, 2020

Failing Grade

Who is afraid, for example, that [former New York City Mayor Michael] Bloomberg would try to reimpose unduly punitive policies like that on black people now?
John McWhorter "Bloomberg Flunks the Wokeness Test"
I think that this is the wrong question. Professor McWhorter notes that:
Until recently, Bloomberg was unapologetic about stop-and-frisk. At the 2015 Aspen Ideas Festival, sponsored by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic, Bloomberg stated that “95 percent of your murders and murderers and murder victims fit one MO. You can just take the description and xerox it and pass it out to all the cops. They are male minorities 15 to 25.” On why cops were stationed so disproportionately in minority neighborhoods, he mused, “Why’d we do it? Because that’s where all the crime is. And the way you should get the guns out of the kids’ hands is throw them against the wall and frisk them.”
I don't know that a lot of people are concerned that one of the first acts of a President Bloomberg would be to have stop and frisk implemented at the national level. Mainly because one can't imagine the FBI having agents walk local beats, and there isn't another nationwide police force that would do it instead. But I can imagine people being concerned that a Bloomberg administration would be staffed by people who agree with Mr. Bloomberg's assessment if the the problem and its solution. After all, William Bratton, one of the architects of New York's stop-question-and-frisk policy is currently Vice Chair of the Homeland Security Advisory Council. One could see him moving to a role of greater prominence. While Mr. Bratton believes in honest policing, carried out by people who represent the make-up of the people they work with, his no-tolerance policy towards anti-social behavior (the "broken windows theory" of social order) could lead people to believe that he'd be willing to look the other way when police aggressively target people they believe might be up to nefarious ends. To be fair, Mr. Bratton argues that stop-question-and-frisk and "broken windows" are not the same and don't have the same goals, therefore they can't be enacted interchangeably, but this distinction is lost on many members of the public.

But perhaps the real problem that people have with Mr. Bloomberg is that they don't believe that he's repented of the policy; or it's consequences. As Professor McWhorter points out in his article Mr. Bloomberg's apology came late, and seemed to have been forced on him by political pressure. While President Trump calling Mr. Bloomberg out as a racist is certainly disingenuous (and a case of the pot calling the kettle black), a primary requirement in convincing people that one has changed their ways is the appearance of sincerity.

In the end, Professor McWhorter argues for forgiveness of Mr. Bloomberg because he'd be a better person to have in office than President Trump. And this may be true. But that doesn't mean that must matter. One can imagine two students who both do very poorly on a test. The fact that one of them scored 5 points better than the other doesn't matter once they've both been assigned an F. People who seek to disqualify Mr. Bloomberg because they don't trust him on matters of race have decided that this is the criteria that's important to them. And one candidate who doesn't meet the minimum requirements is pretty much like every other candidate who doesn't meet them, in the same way that every student who earns an F for a class isn't receiving credit for it, regardless of what other positive traits they may have. One can call that out as false equivalence, but that tends to reveal false equivalence for what it is; a form of disagreement over what is important.

As we head into the Primary season for the 2020 election, it's evident that the broad range of Democratic party leaders, elected officeholders, activists and voters haven't been spending the past four years coming to a consensus as to what a broadly acceptable candidate would look like. And so various constituencies have started in on the process of blackmailing one another into supporting their chosen savior. We'll see who blinks first in this game of chicken.

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