White House Aide Channels a Democrat on Fixing Nation's Social Ills

Asked what had contributed to blacks' poverty, President Bush responded:
Asked what had contributed to blacks' poverty, President Bush responded: "One is schools that have been inadequate and have failed." (Pool Photo)

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By Michael A. Fletcher
Monday, October 1, 2007

The poverty rate in America hovers at just above 12 percent, but for African Americans the figure is closer to 25 percent. Large percentages of black students drop out of high school. And by the time they reach their mid-30s, 60 percent of black men who had dropped out have spent time in prison.

Through the years, those problems have moved policymakers to bolster public education, transfer income to the poor and create new incentives for work. But while these efforts are laudable and may even make some difference, they are ultimately futile when it comes to altering the larger dynamic of this nation's social problems, says Karl Zinsmeister, President Bush's chief domestic policy adviser.

At a Harvard University conference Friday aimed at wrestling with the uncomfortable issues of race and family raised more than four decades ago by the late Democratic Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (N.Y.), Zinsmeister essentially agreed with Moynihan, his former boss. Zinsmeister said many of the nation's most intractable social problems are rooted in the breakdown of the American family, a trend Moynihan was lambasted for spotlighting in the mid-1960s.

Zinsmeister, who made clear that his remarks represented his views and not necessarily those of the administration, said Moynihan was prescient. "If a young American were placed behind a curtain, and you were required to guess his or her social status and individual happiness with only one factual datum before you, the single more trenchant indicator you could ask for would be whether that person grew up with both parents in attendance," Zinsmeister said. "Unfortunately, about a third of our next generation will substantially grow up without this advantage, and fully half will have at least a brief brush with family separation before they turn 18."

Moynihan's 1965 report focused on African Americans, concluding that unstable black families threaten the fabric of black society. Now, Zinsmeister said, those maladies extend far beyond black families.

"What the Moynihan report identified as a minority virus soon became a mass outbreak," Zinsmeister said. "Today, white families spin apart at rates higher than blacks exhibited at the time [Moynihan] wrote."

Zinsmeister, before coming to the White House, was editor in chief of the American Enterprise Institute's magazine, where he developed a reputation for having sharp and often unconventional views on issues including racial profiling (it's logical) and uncommitted sex (it has ruined entire cities).

He noted that people across the ideological spectrum are increasingly recognizing the importance of family.

"One place where I personally nourish hope for solidifying family life today is in efforts to strengthen marriages," Zinsmeister said. "The nub of our problem is that large numbers of fathers have become disconnected from their children, and languished in what once would have been called irresponsible bachelor behaviors."

Bush on Race

It is not often that President Bush talks about race relations. But after a recent news conference in which he was twice asked questions on the topic, and with the 50th anniversary of the integration of Little Rock's Central High School in the news, the White House last week took the rare step of extending an interview on the subject to Juan Williams, a National Public Radio correspondent and Fox News contributor.

The interview made news mostly for NPR's refusal to air it, because NPR did not want the White House to dictate which correspondent would do it. The flap, however, obscured the points Bush made in the session, parts of which aired on Fox.

Here are a few, courtesy of a transcript posted on Richard Prince's Journal-isms Web site ( http://www.maynardije.org/columns). Asked whether there should be greater minority representation on the Supreme Court, Bush, who has appointed two white males to the court, was quick to agree, while defending his failed nomination of former White House counsel Harriet E. Miers.


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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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