Saturday, February 7, 2015

Tony Messenger continues to threaten the Ferguson Commission and all our progress. Part #1 No. 000089

Last week we took time to forewarn advocates for economic growth and development in Missouri and Saint Louis that Tony Messenger was not your friend. No person is more responsible than Mr. Messenger for the lack of progress in Missouri and Saint Louis on every front.

Due to a variety of factors the Post's editorial page is the only possible vehicle for leading Saint Louis to understanding why our incomes (and growth) have fallen below the national average and will, most likely, continue to lag behind unless we substantially change our ways. Changing our ways includes Ferguson but Ferguson is not the cause of our problems. Ferguson is but a canary in a coal mine warning us of the falling incomes, decay, and obsolescence afoot equally in Cabool as Ferguson.  

The last thing we need is a "Brian Williams" journalist, unrestrained by the truth, seeking to make himself a celebrity but that is exactly what we have. If you think not, read for moment his latest editorial, Time for Ferguson Commission to rally the region.

Did you catch the Brian Williams technique. Here it is, "Appointing Ms. Coleman was a political solution to a political problem at a time in which he had not yet decided that the Ferguson Commission was necessary." That is fiction, nor was Ms. Coleman appointed merely to work on Ferguson. The Post itself reported Ms. Coleman was appointed to work on low income problems across the entire State of Missouri. Appointment of a Ferguson Commission, an idea not original with Mr. Messenger, had been under discussion almost from the moment Twitter made the shooting of Michael Brown everything we understand it to mean today.

Across our state, Missouri communities are facing serious issues involving race, educational and economic opportunities, and poverty,” Nixon said in a statement. “The Office of Community Engagement will be responsible for facilitating meaningful communication about these issues that will yield concrete results.”

The governor’s press release stated that the Office of Community Engagement would be housed under the Office of Administration. Among other things, it would be responsible for:

  • Engaging communities, public and private sector leaders, clergy and citizens across the state in communication “regarding critical issues affecting Missouri communities.”
  • Developing  “policies and strategies to foster greater prosperity and opportunity for all Missourians.”
  • Making recommendations to the Department of Economic Development, Missouri Community Service Commission, Missouri Housing Development Commission and other boards, commissions and agencies “that administer programs designed to assist low-income individuals, urban neighborhoods, community redevelopment and similar activities.”
  • Recommending individuals to the administration for appointment to boards, commissions and agencies of the state.

But on  September 19th,  the day following Ms. Coleman's appointment, Messenger admitted there had been an ongoing public discussion of a commission.

Three times now, this editorial page has suggested a thorough, independent, broad-based and timely study of how and why the Ferguson tragedy occurred and the police response to it. This would not be a legal investigation; parallel state and federal inquiries already are underway. Rather the “Ferguson Commission” would get into the root causes of the economic and racial divisions in St. Louis and make recommendations for remedial action.

So the charge that the appointment of Ms. Coleman was merely a short term political fix is a false one. Ms. Coleman's appointment shows that, finally, Governor Nixon has come to understand that the only solutions that will ever be passed into law are those that benefit all Missourians. 

The appointment of Ms. Coleman showed that, before the election, Governor Nixon had finally come to understand why "progressives" who think like Messenger have been losing more and more elections in Missouri.

Kevin Drum summed up Messenger's faults in these few paragraphs following the November losses:

So who does the WWC take out its anger on? Largely, the answer is the poor. In particular, the undeserving poor. Liberals may hate this distinction, but it doesn't matter if we hate it. Lots of ordinary people make this distinction as a matter of simple common sense, and the WWC makes it more than any. That's because they're closer to it. For them, the poor aren't merely a set of statistics or a cause to be championed. They're the folks next door who don't do a lick of work but somehow keep getting government checks paid for by their tax dollars. For a lot of members of the WWC, this is personal in a way it just isn't for the kind of people who read this blog.

And who is it that's responsible for this infuriating flow of government money to the shiftless? Democrats. We fight to save food stamps. We fight for WIC. We fight for Medicaid expansion. We fight for Obamacare. We fight to move poor families into nearby housing.

This is a big problem because these are all things that benefit the poor but barely touch the working class. Does it matter that the working class barely pays for most of these programs in the first place, since their federal income taxes tend to be pretty low? Nope. They're still paying taxes, and it seems like they never get anything for it. It's always someone else.

It's pointless to argue that this perception is wrong. Maybe it is, maybe it's not. But it's there. And although it's bound up with plenty of other grievances—many of them frankly racial, but also cultural, religious, and geographic—at its core you have a group of people who are struggling and need help, but instead feel like they simply get taxed and taxed for the benefit of someone else. Always someone else. If this were you, you wouldn't vote for Democrats either.

I hate to end this with the usual cliche that I don't know what to do about it, but I don't. Helping the poor is one of the great causes of liberalism, and we forfeit our souls if we give up on it. And yet, as a whole bunch of people have acknowledged lately, the Democratic Party simply doesn't do much for either the working or middle classes these days. Republicans, by contrast, offer both the concrete—tax cuts—and the emotional—an inchoate but still intense rage against a government that seems not to care about them.

So sure: full-throated economic populism? That might work, though everyone seems to have a different idea of what it means. But here's one thing it better mean: policies that are aimed at the working and middle classes and that actually appeal to them. That is, policies that are simple, concrete, and offer benefits which are clear and compelling.

Mr. Messenger, Ms. Coleman is not redundant. To the contrary, her appointment is the fulcrum point of today's political battles. Her charge is to develop policies that help all our low income residents, state wide, including the white working class.