I cried when they shot Medgar Evers ...

››› ››› ERIC ALTERMAN

Great debate, huh? I thought Hillary turned in yet another first-rate performance but Obama well, let's let Garance say it since she does it so well: "Barack Obama owned this debate. He started off with a series of clear, crisp answers that deftly turned questions to his advantage, and he was doing that Obama thing that he does where he manages to look luminous and transcendent, as if he just stepped out of a Wordsworth poem, trailing clouds of glory. (He doesn't do this all the time, but when he does, watch out -- this is when he binds people to him.) Hillary Clinton was excellent, as well, and better on the question of meeting international leaders than Obama. She was calm, measured, and certain; her answer about being a modern American progressive should please a lot of liberals." And as per my Guardian piece, Edwards again drove the agenda, though I'm not sure what it buys him. Still, I'm guessing Democrats did themselves a lot of good with whoever was watching, and even/especially with the national press corps, unless they are beyond reach; a real possibility, I'll admit.

Meanwhile, here's a historical comparison:

The L Word: Are you now or have you ever been a liberal?

John F. Kennedy, 1960:

What do our opponents mean when they apply to us the label "Liberal?" If by "Liberal" they mean, as they want people to believe, someone who is soft in his policies abroad, who is against local government, and who is unconcerned with the taxpayer's dollar, then ... we are not that kind of "Liberal." But if by a "Liberal" they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people -- their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights, and their civil liberties -- someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad, if that is what they mean by a "Liberal," then I'm proud to say I'm a "Liberal."[i]

Hillary Clinton, 2007:

You know, it is a word that originally meant that you were for freedom, that you were for the freedom to achieve, that you were willing to stand against big power and on behalf of the individual.

Unfortunately, in the last 30, 40 years, it has been turned up on its head and it's been made to seem as though it is a word that describes big government, totally contrary to what its meaning was in the 19th and early 20th century.

I prefer the word "progressive," which has a real American meaning, going back to the progressive era at the beginning of the 20th century.

I consider myself a modern progressive, someone who believes strongly in individual rights and freedoms, who believes that we are better as a society when we're working together and when we find ways to help those who may not have all the advantages in life get the tools they need to lead a more productive life for themselves and their family.

So I consider myself a proud modern American progressive, and I think that's the kind of philosophy and practice that we need to bring back to American politics.

Here.

I'm not criticizing Hillary, by the way. Forty years of demonization takes its toll, which is one, um, big reason yours truly has written a book on the topic.*

And another thing: On the point of whether one admits to being a "liberal," or proudly proclaims oneself as such: In Matt Bai's book, The Argument: Billionaires, Bloggers, and the Battle to Remake Democratic Politics, to be published in August, he writes, "For every American who dared now to label himself a 'liberal,' more than three identified themselves as 'conservative' " (p. 53). Bai's book does not contain any footnotes, so I have no idea where he got this information, but it's false. The November 2004 National Election Survey -- which tries to eliminate the "moderate" option -- found 35 percent of those questioned calling themselves liberal compared to 55 percent, conservative. A Pew poll at roughly the same time found 19 percent liberal and 39 percent conservative, with the balance preferring "moderate." In January 2006, a Democracy Corps poll found 19 percent calling themselves liberal vs. 36 percent conservative. These numbers were practically indistinguishable from the average for the past 30 years (20 percent liberal, 33 percent conservative, 47 percent moderate). None of these polls ever displayed even a two-to-one advantage, much less greater than three-to-one as Bai claims.

By the way, the crime bill, which Joe Biden termed "The Biden Crime Bill" in last night's debate, is termed the "Schumer Crime Bill" in his book, which I reviewed in the Times a few months ago. Anybody else?

People Versus Place: tackling urban poverty. (This guest blog by Diana Silver and Beth Weitzman was inspired by a blog post by Ed Kilgore, via Matt Yglesias.)

Bravo to Edwards for making poverty the centerpiece of his presidential campaign. And kudos to Obama for sharpening the debate. Academics have spent the past decade debating the two approaches offered by these two candidates. Should we "fix" the places poor people live, or should we simply move them out to greener pastures?

Using evidence from the Moving to Opportunity (MTO) experiment, Edwards argues that we can best improve the lives of poor people with a Section 8 voucher and a mandate to move to communities with less poverty, better schools, safer streets, and more jobs. He is not alone in this belief. As researchers studying MTO found early on, those who participated in this experiment did, indeed, experience safer streets, better schools, and other improvements in their families' lives. So, is this the solution? Maybe not. The problem of MTO is one of numbers. There are many, many poor people living in deeply impoverished urban communities. This type of approach cannot relocate all those people out of poverty. Doing so would turn inner-city neighborhoods into ghost towns. It would turn many struggling neighborhoods into highly impoverished ones. But beyond this, what MTO demonstrated is that it is really difficult to put this plan into action at a large scale. Many families who enrolled in the experiment were unable to find apartments in non-poor communities. Some of the communities that had low concentrations of poverty at the beginning of the experiment were already on the decline. Their rates of poverty grew over the course of the MTO, a likely reason for landlords' willingness to take the Section 8 vouchers. Furthermore, most families were unwilling to even volunteer for the experiment. Only one-quarter of eligible families showed interest in leaving their homes for new and unfamiliar territory; of those who heard the call, only half could actually find the housing. Even under the ideal conditions of an experiment, little more than 1 in 10 of the families who were expected to benefit from the program actually made the move.

So, what about Obama's plan? Obama makes use of the experience of the Harlem Children's Zone, a long-standing initiative led by the smart and charismatic Geoff Canada. Rather than moving families out of central Harlem, the Zone aims to make life better for those who live there through a richer, enhanced set of educational, social, and health services. The goal is make the "bad" neighborhood good. While the Harlem Children's Zone has not received the kind of scientific scrutiny of MTO, other community-based initiatives have. The results have been disappointing to many. Facing myriad problems and with limited resources, poor communities can only inch towards improvement. Canada's response is to turn the spigots on full blast, to offer a wider array of improved services from birth to adulthood. Still, turning neighborhoods around through services has proven difficult. Ironically, much of Harlem has, indeed, experienced enormous improvements in all indicators of health and well-being, but this has resulted from gentrification, not by lifting up its long-time residents. Many apartments in and near the Harlem Children's Zone are now affordable only to the affluent, many of whom are white, and it is having an effect on long-term residents and local business. Calvin Copeland describing how neighborhood change was forcing the closure of his restaurant, said, "The white people who took their place don't like or don't care for the food I cook. The transformation snuck up on me like a tornado." We wouldn't want to blame the Harlem Children's Zone for closing Copeland's -- certainly the staggering increase in NYC housing costs extend far beyond Harlem -- but we can't help but note that if efforts like the Harlem Children's Zone do their jobs well, the neighborhood becomes more desirable, and local residents are forced out by increasing rents.

While both MTO and the Harlem Children's Zone have their place among solutions to concentrated urban poverty, the fact is you can't make people leave their neighborhoods... and you can't prevent others from moving in. In our economy, housing choice is just that... a choice. Efforts that assume everyone will willingly move are doomed to have very limited impact. But efforts to improve a single neighborhood are also severely limited. In the end, poverty policy has to focus on reducing poverty, not just trying to improve the conditions under which poor people live. That means doing something about the problems of increasing income inequality and increasing concentration of wealth in the hands of the very wealthiest. Programs like the EITC make a small step in the right direction, as both Edwards and Obama acknowledge in their calls for its expansion. If programs like MTO and the Harlem Children's Zone worked in partnership with policies to reduce income inequality, they might have a chance to make a real impact on the lives of struggling families.

Diana Silver, Ph.D., is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Public Health at NYU's Steinhardt School. Beth Weitzman, Ph.D., is a Professor of Health and Public Policy at NYU's Wagner School. For the past 10 years, they have been researching solutions to urban health problems for children and families in America's distressed cities.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: John B
Hometown: Des Moines, IA

If you want proof that the MSM is asleep at the switch, where is their coverage of this? If the President asserts that Congress and the courts have no legal means to check him and he's willing to put that theory into action there can be no choice but to bring him into line. It doesn't matter if the public isn't paying much attention to the US Attorneys issue at this time, they will if given the stakes at hand. It doesn't matter that this could drag on beyond the day when the Bushies leave the White House, the precedent cannot be allowed to stand. It doesn't matter that this is just another in a pattern of abuses of power and arrogant behavior. This is the last straw, this is the line that can't be crossed, this is the place where all must come to the defense of the Republic. If the President is allowed to accumulate the power of a dictator we have no right to be surprised when we are ruled by a dictator.

Name: Barbara C.
Hometown: Pompano Beach, FL

Eric,

I agree with you on almost everything. Having said that, I was on the fence with regard to Hillary for most of this year and before that. I am still not endorsing anyone for office; I was one of those long holdouts for Gore to enter the race. But, unless the biggest U-Tube or miscalculation or mistatement is made leading up to next February, I really do think Hillary is going to be the candidate, and I really do think she is electable as a female. It is all about how she has positioned herself....strong on defense, more in the middle on domestic issues, not too far left, that leads me to believe she can pull this off. Up to now, I have to admit, she has run a brilliant campaign.

With the country so divided since 2000 and even before that, both parties are totally depending on those people sitting on the sidelines, who are not tuned in yet, and who make up the very vote in this country that will make or break a candidate.... the Independents and the Undecided.

Keep up the good work you do.

Name: Pete Bogs
Hometown: Suncoast, FL

Liberals attacking liberals: Et tu, Kos?

Name: Paul Lukasiak
Hometown: Phila, PA

Just FYI..the piece you described as a "Daily Kos Attack" was not the responsibility of Markos or any of the Kos "front pagers"...it was simply a diary by someone who is VERY new to Daily Kos -- "viral voice" 's first ever comment appeared 5 days prior to the diary attacking you. This diary was pretty much ignored by most everyone


only 28 comments, and only 10 people "recommended" it.

Name: Rob
Hometown:

Eric, this link gives a download of the DBT show at the 9:30 Club in D.C in July, 2006. It's long (close to 3 hours).

My son and I were there, and it was an incredible show.

BTW, Decoration Day and The Dirty South are excellent (and Pizza Deliverance and A Blessing and a Curse both have some great songs). Isbell will be missed (and his new album is not bad), but Hood and Cooley are the heart and soul of DBT.



[i] John F. Kennedy, New York City, September 14, 1960.

* I'll be editing the manuscript of that book, and so we'll have guest Altercators for the rest of the week. I'll be back on Friday. Thanks.

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