Knowing whose ass to kick is crucial
In dealing with the BP oil spill disaster, NBC’s Matt Lauer suggested to President Obama this week that “this is not the time to meet with experts and advisers,” but rather, it’s a time to “kick some butt.”
The president explained, “I don’t sit around just talking to experts because this is a college seminar. We talk to these folks because they potentially have the best answers so I know whose ass to kick.”
Washington Monthly: Kristol The Clown
And Bill Kristol’s response? “Real men don’t need experts to tell them whose asses to kick.”
President Obama can’t catch a break on his response to the catastrophe but he hit the right note for me. If there’s anything I want leaders to do, it’s think twice before they start kicking ass. Get all the facts, and find out who’s really responsible. For that matter, ask yourself if kicking ass is even the right response. And then think about it some more.
Our country’s history of ass-kicking does not reflect that level of reflection.
Take the War On Drugs, please. In 1970 the US incarceration rate was about 150 per 100,000; today it is over 700. In practice this means that instead of waging a war on poverty, we’re waging a war on the poor. And since “the poor” (defined as people who can’t afford good lawyers) are disproportionately black, that’s a war on the African-American family. According to The Economist;
Between the ages of 20 and 29, one black man in nine is behind bars. For black women of the same age, the figure is about one in 150. For obvious reasons, convicts are excluded from the dating pool. And many women also steer clear of ex-cons, which makes a big difference when one young black man in three can expect to be locked up at some point.
The article quoted is about the effect on black families, but imagine the effect it has on the black workforce as well. There is no more certain road to entrenched poverty than a prison record, and poverty feeds back into crime.
That, friends, is kicking the wrong asses, and it’s using ass-kicking as a blunt instrument to boot. It’s stupid, it’s unjust and counterproductive, and while it undermines our economy it also takes away any moral credibility we could hope to have on ethnic justice issues anywhere else in the world. But hey, it makes politicians look “Tough On Crime™”
Want more examples? How about No Child Left Behind, which penalizes under-performing schools in poor neighborhoods by taking away their funding? How about… well just about every war we’ve blundered into since World War II? How about Gitmo and Bush’s recent admission that he violated international law by approving torture, and he’d do it again?
Yeah, he’s a “real man”, as Kristol would say; he doesn’t need to consult any experts to know whose ass to kick.
Wisdom literature from every culture is full of warnings that anger is a direct cause of self-defeating stupidity. Most of that literature is hard-won knowledge; compiled by someone languishing in defeat and humiliation, or sitting in the ashes of a Pyrrhic victory. It’s no sign of manhood to be mastered by your anger. To the contrary, lack of self-mastery means you’re vulnerable to any enemy who knows how to exploit your weakness for bluster and chest-thumping. We need to get hold of ourselves.