Daily News from New York, New York on November 9, 1994 · 29
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Daily News from New York, New York · 29

New York, New York
Issue Date:
Wednesday, November 9, 1994
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- 1 V 2S to to EM. SHIPP Turning cons loose is no answer Just as surely as restoring the death penalty and building more prison cells will not guarantee public safety, neither will freeing tens of thousands of black and Latino in mates promote justice. And yet the latter is what we're now hearing from the Rev. Calvin Butts, in the latest and most quixotic mission of his 20 years in Harlem. Butts wants at least 1,000 people to join him next month in blockading the bridge that connects Rikers Island to the rest of the city, thereby preventing correction officials from transporting inmates to court appearances in the five boroughs. As Butts sees it, today's prisons have replaced yesteryear's plantations, and black men behind bars are no different from black men in bondage "We have to tell them to let our people go," he exhorted 200 people who gathered Monday night at a "mass rally" in a space that comfortably holds about 2,500. By his own estimate, no more than 25 of those people were his parishioners. Everybody else seemed to be someone just out of the can after anywhere from seven to 25 years or the wife or brother of someone still doing time. This is not like demanding a congressional hearing into police brutality. That was a Butts crusade of the early 1980s. This is not like painting over billboards that proliferate in poor neighborhoods advertising alcoholic beverages and cigarets. That was a Butts crusade of about five years ago. This isn't like using a steamroller to smash recordings of rap singers who denigrate black women. That was a Butts crusade of a couple of years ago. Frankly, this one scares me to death. Don't get me wrong. I want prison reform, and I want societal reform that makes prisons unnecessary. But the last thing I want to see are thousands of unrehabilitated "brothers" returning to the streets on which people like me live. We are the people on whom they've preyed. And now I am being asked to pray for their deliverance. Calvin Butts wants to free jail inmates? Not so fast, please. No, thank you. I think I'll pass on this one. Butts, my pastor and friend, says he hears people like me. But he says that we are wrong. "This is another case where people are saying, 'Yeah, they belong in jail,' and they're lumping all these men they're young boys, really into one bag," he told me after the rally. "A lot of us are believing the hype that we're seeing on TV every night" Am contraire. A lot of us are reliving the terror of being robbed or raped with weapons at our throats, of being violated when someone entered our homes and took what they wanted, their values set by the market rather than by our sentiment Now my sentiment is lacking, too. They did the crime. They should do the time. And unless they show me constitutional deprivations, I don't really care how they do that time. And yet . . . I WANT ALL human beings to treat each other right, whether they're in prison or not I felt for the women crying as they related humilations they routinely suffer when they and their children visit their men in prisons that take up to 12 hours to reach in buses that leave in the middle of the night from Columbus Circle. I heard the men, with a certain bravado, rattling off the names of what seemed like all of the state prisons and Rikers Island jails, places where they had done time under horrific conditions. Twenty-five-year men grizzled, balding, premature elders who say they've realized not only their errors but society's and are now ready to make positive contributions. Am I just suppose to say, "Thank you"? Or is it reasonable to watch my back during congregational prayers? My pastor tells me that Christ would have been more compassionate. Perhaps. But then he was Christ I'm just me. And I don't want a gun in my face again. Never. No more. Amen. PC crowd's trashing U.S. History JOHN LEO In the new National Standards for United States History, schoolchildren are asked to "examine the lives of individuals who were in the forefront of the struggle for indepen dence, such as Sam Adams, Thomas Paine, Mercy Otis Warren and Ebenezer Mcintosh." Warren, a minor poet and play-' wright, is obviously included so the founders of the nation won't seem so distressingly male. But Ebenezer Mcintosh? The first four historians I phoned had no ' idea who this hero of the Revolution might lbe. The fifth explained that Mcintosh was a brawling street lout of the 1760s who whipped up anti-British mobs and sacked How a brawling lout is turned into an American hero. the homes of various colonial officials. This helps explain why Mcintosh managed to overcome natural handicaps (great obscurity, whiteness, maleness) and get himself mentioned in a modern text as somebody children ought to know. He was an anti-elitist, anti-oppression and pro-uprising gang member. Since U.S. history is now being written from the countercultural perspective by oppression-minded people who trashed the dean's office in the 1960s (or wished they had), Mcintosh fits right in as a sort of early Abbie Hoffman or Jerry Rubin. No uprising or rebellion seems to go un-mentioned in these history standards. And it makes sense. If you view America as inherently oppressive, then the only possible national story line is the gradual rise of more and more rebellions against the selfish and hypocritical ruling white elites. That, in fact, is the spine of the story told in the standards. The usual multicultural excesses are all here. White ethnics more or less disappear because of their blurred multicultural image (victims as immigrants, conventional white oppressors now). The Founding Fathers are sprinted past as rapidly as possible. And by the allo-- cation of the text America today seems to be about 65 Indian, with most of the rest of us black, female or oppressive. ANYONE TRYING to write an honest history of America has a problem: how to write about the national commitment to liberty and equality while facing up to the two great stains on the national character the destruction of the Indians and the enslavement of blacks. For those with an oppression obsession, there is no problem: America is almost all stain; emphasis on freedom and equality is mostly smoke blown by manipulative elites. One question in the text asks archly: "Is the American concern with human rights a subterfuge for "real politik?" Many other suggested questions for students are just as tendentious: Was political democracy characteristic of the West? How did social Darwinism justify the political, economic and social dominance of white Anglo-Saxon Protestant males? How effective was the use of language in the Declaration of Independence in expressing the sentiments of women? To what extent was Bolshevism a real or imagined threat to the U.S.? One question implies that America might have provoked the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Another sug-' gests American hypocrisy in "making the world safe for democracy" in World War I while suppressing dissent at home. As sour and negative as these American history standards are, some on the steering committee say the World History Standards due out today'are even worse. The next-to-last draft of these standards is a great heap of data on various civilizations, past and present ("How would a Muslim from Adal have evaluated Zagwe history?") Buried deep within the pile is Western civilization, which seems to be on a par with the Kush and the Carthaginians. In the multicultural view, all cultures are equal. The hopelessly PC American Historical Association reportedly threatened to withdraw its support for the standards if Western culture got any special treatment The document tends to be quite enthusiastic and uncritical about non-Western civilizations, much more critical of things Western. The text urges students to "discuss social oppression" during the Renaissance, analyze "the motives that impelled several European powers to undertake imperial expansion against peoples of Africa, Southeast Asia and China," compare "the consequences of encounters between intrusive European migrants and indigenous peoples," and assess why science and medical advances have "failed to eradicate hunger, poverty and epidemic diseases." MUCH OF the history is treated in a dumbed-down, cutesy tone with heavy emphasis on "multiple perspectives." (There's no such thing as truth, only different views.) Students are asked to present a TV talk-show discussion of Renaissance gender roles and to argue over "who should get 'top billing' " among the leading stars of Egyptian history. This won't do. The whole idea was to set unbiased national standards that all Americans could get behind. Along the way, the project was hijacked by the politically correct It's riddled with propaganda, and the American people would be foolish to let it anywhere near their schools. Reprinted from U.S. News & World Report. t. . . A cynical public shares the blame for negative ads DAVID BRODER 7 It is easy to blame the campaign consultants and the candidates who hire them for the plague of negative ads that filled the airwaves and the TV screens during the campaigns of 1994. They cannot shirk their responsibility. But they are not hallucinating when they say that the attack strategy was dictated in large part by the cynicism of the public, the voters' impulse to discard anything a candidate might say about his or her own record, qualifications, policies or goals. Much of the dysfunction in American democracy clearly stems from the distemper of the voters themselves. I am not a voter-basher. To the contrary, over the four decades I have covered politics, I have seen repeated demonstrations that the common sense and good judgment of the American electorate provide the bulwarks of democracy the Founders believed that they would. But the past generation has taken a toll on civic understanding and responsibility. The problem is not new. It goes back two decades, when voters properly disgusted with Vietnam and Watergate began to give politicians license to run against Washington and the political system. Since then, Americans increasingly have settled for a cheap populism of the right and left that flatters their virtues while encouraging them to shirk the responsibilities that are inherent in democratic citizenship. Specifically: Fewer and fewer of us vote and now many of us are prepared to renounce the responsibility entirely. The popularity of term limits reflects the prevailing anti-politician populism. But it is also a convenient rationalization for evasion of the basic duty of citizenship. Fewer and fewer of us contribute time or money to making politics work. We complain about big-money and special-interest influence in Washington, but the vol- Thetfre all political hacks? No, not really. unteers who once filled candidates' headquarters and walked precincts are disappearing. Campaigns exist mainly on TV. Even those who do vote rarely recognize the fact that the voting booth is not just the place where the campaign ends but where government is supposed to begin. If I may quote again my favorite aphorism: To govern is to choose. Elections are supposed to make the fundamental choices of governmental direction. But increasingly, over the last genera tion, voters have refused to choose between competing parties and programs. opting instead for divided government at both the state and national levels. It is easy to scapegoat the politicians. But let me assert, unfashionably. that there are far fewer hacks in public office at all levels: local, state and national than there were when I started covering politics in the 1950s. Second, the parties in government are more clearheaded and coherent about the alternatives they are offering than was the case back then. In most districts, in most states, voters were offered a real choice in this election. The campaign was ugly, but the difference in direction between Presi dent Clinton's Democrats and the Ging rich-Dole Republicans was not hard to discern.

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