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Et tu, Keisling?

Charles Peters is the editor of The Washington Monthly.

Like everyone else who has worked here, I have my own frustrations with what the Monthly has been unable to do and my own embarrassment with the times the Monthly has been wrong. As to the latter, I obviously agree with Mickey Kaus that we were wrong in the early seventies to support a guaranteed annual income wit >;hout a work requirement because we have since changed our position to support such a requirement. As to the frustrations, my greatest has been our inability to find and write about organizations that work, to complement our ample coverage of those that don't. This frustration has been most acute in the case of our futile search for poverty programs that work. As I look to the future, no mission for the Monthly seems more important to me than helping to end the degradation of the underclass by freeing it >;from the drugs and hopelessness and cynicism that now overwhelm it.

It also seems to me that, in our effort to expose and correct the follies of liberalism, we have given insufficient attention to the subjects on which we are in substantial agreement with our fellow liberals. One of these is the cause of racial justice.

Another is the environment, which is why I find myself sympathetic to the comments made by Phil

Keisling and Arthur Levine. While it is true that we have published at least a dozen p >;ieces expressing environmental concern, beginning with one in our first issue deploring the then complete lack of control of pollution from automobiles, and that last year I urged Michael Dukakis to make the environment the number one issue in his campaign, I agree that we haven't done enough on the environment and the dangers posed to it by uncontrolled economic growth.

I disagree with Levine, however, to the extent that I am convinced that without economic growth, we won't have the tax revenues necessa >;ry to clean up the environmental mess that already exists. But I join him in believing that economic growth must be attained without adding to the mess.

With one of the foregoing essays-by Nicholas Lemann-I'm in complete agreement. In the case of six others-Joseph Nocera, Walter Shapiro, Mickey Kaus, Steven Waldman, Jonathan Alter, and James Fallows-I concur with much of what they say but do, as with Levine's, have some points of dissent.

I agree with Nocera that journalism cannot deal with the dark >; night of the soul, which means we'll always need the Dostoevskys. I once was even ready to concede that modern fiction might be able to illuminate social problems in a way that reporting could not. Twelve years ago the Monthly attempted to create a fiction section and named a talented young novelist, Garrett Epps, as its editor. But that great fiction about social problems that should have been out there quite simply wasn't, and we had to abandon the section. We continue, as Matthew Cooper indicated in >; our

December issue, to hope that a new Dickens will appear. But in the meantime, I think that journalists in the Monthly's tradition, like Nocera with his article on T. Boone Pickens and Taylor Branch with his splendid book on Martin Luther King, are doing a better job of bringing alive the problems of contemporary society than any current novelist.

Won't be wasting a dime

With Walter Shapiro, my only disagreement comes when he says "neoliberalism is a lost cause."

Don't give up, Walter. Our views >; on national defense and entrepreneurship are shared by far more people than they were 20 years ago. Our case against credentialism is making progress in the public schools, where there's less emphasis on the education degree and more emphasis on whether a teacher really knows his subject and can teach it. Even in the case that seemed most impossible of all-taking entitlements away from affluent beneficiaries of these programs-taxes were enacted on unemployment compensation in 1979 and on Social Security >;in 1983, which means that the rich get to keep less. And after the Dukakis debacle it seems likely that liberal intellectuals will finally join us in understanding that it's not a good idea to scorn the average man's patriotism and his concern about crime.

I share some of Mickey Kaus's concerns about my income maintenance plan but at the same time I'm depressed at his failure to understand the liberating nature of the concept of insurance against need as opposed to the concept of entitlement.

Too man >;y of the affluent elderly think they should receive Social Security because they're entitled to it. And too many teenage mothers think they're entitled to a lifetime on welfare without work. The present system thus encourages greed and selfishness while wasting a vast amount of money on people who don't need it or don't deserve it. That's why I think we should abandon the idea of entitlement and replace it with insurance against need, insurance that we would collect only in the event misfortune strikes o >;r the time for retirement comes and we don't have enough money to live on. As with insurance against cancer or an auto accident, which we don't expect to collect unless we get cancer or have an accident, we would collect only if we are needy. If we are under 65, we should not collect if we refuse to work. I agree with Kaus that payments for the elderly needy should be more generous than they are today as should those to the poor who are involuntarily unemployed in those states where the payments are now >;inadequate, such as

Mississippi. Money would be available to do this because we won't be wasting a dime on the affluent as several of our income maintenance programs do today.

But I don't want the affluent to feel left out. I'm going to let them pay for the program. It should be financed by additional income taxes on them and on profitable corporations. The present Social Security tax is a cruel burden on both the working poor and struggling businesses.

Anyone who knows the Monthly will understand >; that I share Steven Waldman's scorn for quantified measures of performance that are stupidly oversimplified and that I agree with his belief that government merit pay is a joke and with his conviction that people who worry constantly about how much they are making are in deep spiritual trouble. I also share his concern for the morale of those workers whose best efforts produce only average performances. And I understand why he thinks it is often wiser to reward the group rather than the individual. But >;I'm assuming that the members of the group are all average and above average.

I differ from Waldman in my strong belief that those who consistently give less than their best or whose performance is consistently below average should not get raises and would be better off looking for a job that they are genuinely enthusiastic about and that they can do well. They will only be encouraged to stay in the wrong job by the kind of across-the-board salary increases or other forms of reward that unions advocate >;and that Waldman seems to support. I realize that the reality of one's inadequacy is sometimes extremely painful to contemplate. I was 34 and had endured a good deal of that pain before I finally found a job that I felt I was both competent to do and totally enthusiastic about. But I'm better off because I faced the fact that I could not star on the football field, sing at the Met, or dance with Baryshnikov.

I agree with James Fallows that the main way America can fight tribalism is by its own example >;. But I also think that diplomatically we need to do everything possible to encourage the warring tribes to live together peacefully. And if that seems impossible, encourage their separation by relocation or by redrawing boundaries that were often created for the convenience of the colonial powers, and if necessary, by providing troops as part of an international peacekeepi ng force to create a buffer zone between them. I also believe it is important to introduce third-country nationals such as Peace Cor >;ps volunteers into countries where tribal hostilities exist. As the introduction of northern businessmen into Atlanta, Georgia after World War II proved, the presence of outsiders who simply don't share the hatred can help reduce it.

I agree with most of Jonathan Alter's corollaries to the Lorena Hickock gospel. But he errs in thinking Fallows could not have found out why Desert One wouldn't work. In fact, David Martin, then a reporter for Alter's own publication, Newsweek, was able to uncover the who >;le story just months after the event. He learned, for example, that before the mission the Delta Commandos were fearful that the marine helicopter pilots could not do the job. This fear turned out to be well founded and would have been easily discovered by an intelligent interviewer who took the trouble to talk to the troops instead of to just colonels and generals.

In addition to Ernie Pyle's secret of interviewing the fellows who are actually on the firing line, there is a second important point abou >;t getting the truth out of bureaucracy. Rivalries, as FDR knew with Harry Hopkins and Harold Ickes, can be exploited in the pursuit of the truth. The Army will be a lot quicker to tell you what's wrong with the Navy than what's wrong with itself. But Pyle's point is the most important of all. Remember the Challenger disaster. It was the engineers at the operating level, not senior NASA executives, who would have blown the whistle if they had just been asked. I want people like them throughout the gove >;rnment questioned about what works and what doesn't, questioned by skilled reporters like Fallows and Hickock. As few as 50 journalists of their ability and dedication reporting directly to the president could dramatically improve this government. As things stand now, far too many policy analysts in the executive office of the president sit at their desks crunching numbers with little or no feel for what is really happening at the operational end.

Trading Kinsley

When I read Gregg Easterbrook or Mic >;hael Kinsley I usually find myself nodding in agreement, but such is not the case with their contributions to this issue. Easterbrook is wrong in suggesting I object to profits. I don't. I certainly wish the Monthly had more. What I do object to is the pressure capitalism exerts to maximize profit. Easterbrook asks what's wrong with maximizing profit? What's wrong is that it encourages corporations to take chances with worker safety, to pollute the air, to attempt to gain monopoly control of markets. >;He also asks what's wrong with mergers. What's wrong with mergers is that they take capital-capital that could be used to finance the research that would produce new and better and more competitive products or to build new plants and create new jobs-and use it to acquire existing plants, which do not increase jobs or the quality of the product. Easterbrook also wants to know what's wrong with absentee owners. They are of course not necessarily evil, but he should visit my home state to find out why they

>;tend to be less than benign. In West Virginia, absentee owners polluted the air because they and their children didn't have to breath it. They scarred the hillsides and defiled the streams for similar reasons-they didn't have to fish in those streams and look at those scars.

I share Michael Kinsley's dislike of coercion and I would share his opposition to a national service draft-if the rich were doing their part in the military or if enough of the rest of us were volunteering to help those in need in >;our communities. But the truth is that enough of us aren't volunteering and that the record of the rich in regard to military service has been nothing short of despicable for the past 25 years. Kinsley says "there aren't a lot of Groton graduates" in the military. The truth is there have been practically none during all those years. My answer to Nicholas Von Hoffman is that the rich old man's money has been drafted-to bribe someone less well off to do the serving for the rich man's son. National defens >;e should be the common responsibility of us all. Until the day of world disarmament, we will need a strong military to deter the hardliners who could seize power in Russia or some other country powerful enough to attack us or our friends. Military service even in peacetime involves a risk of life-remember Pearl Harbor and the marine barracks in Beirut-that it is morally wrong to bribe others to take. I believe it is our duty to share that risk. But Kinsley tells the rich: Don't worry, you don't have to >;do your duty-if you did you would be taking someone else's job. That argument was very persuasive to rich Northerners during the Civil War who paid poor substitutes to do their duty for them.

This indifference to duty is not a problem just with the upper class. It is equally great with today's meritocratic elite who seem devoted to imitating the rich in this as in so many other unfortunate respects. So they join the rich in their isolation from the rest of the country, an isolation that is compounded >;by their withdrawing their children from the public schools.

There is something very wrong with this. I saw something different as I grew up in the World War II era when the schools and the draft did bring people together. I have no hesitation in saying that, in that respect, the old days were better.

It will take years to bring the public schools back to the level of quality that will attract upper-class children. But we could institute a draft tomorrow and at least have one social institution that >;made it possible for all classes to come to know and understand one another.

Upper-class participation in the military would give people with clout a compelling interest in avoiding war and, in case war turns out to be unavoidable, in being equipped with weapons that work. Thus a draft of the wealthy would both aid military reformers and enhance the prospect for peace.

As for Kinsley's argument that upper-class service would deprive some of the not-so-well-off of jobs, let me recall the film Trading >;Places to suggest what I think will happen. Of course, when Kinsley leaves for Fort Dix, he won't be replaced by an Eddie Murphy-although the prospect of an Eddie Murphy at The New Republic is not without its delights. What is more likely to happen is that someone at Die New Republic will move up to replace Kinsley and that he in turn will be replaced by a smart copy writer from J. Walter Thompson who wants to put his talents to more serious purpose. He will be replaced by a fellow from Thompson's billi >;ng department who has always wanted to do something more creative. This will cause a series of promotions in the billing department that will leave open an entry-level position for a bright highschool graduate who was about to be persuaded by all those "Be All That You Can Be" commercials. Now he has a job. And Kinsley can cheerfully go about his duties at Fort Dix, secure in the comfort that he has not contributed to the nation's unemployment problem.
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Title Annotation:Phil Keisling
Author:Peters, Charles
Publication:Washington Monthly
Date:Mar 1, 1989
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