Liberalism and the Los Angeles Riots
By Dennis Prager
want to talk to you about liberalism and what happened in my city. And yes, it is my city: I don't want to be melodramatic, but just a few weeks ago the entire sky outside my house was black with smoke. If you have never ha d that sensation, then it is not possible for you to know exactly what it felt like. I get the chills as I tell it to you. My reaction was intense anger. I have been broadcasting on KABC, the talk radio station in Los Angeles for ten years. The station ca l led me during the rioting and, asked me if I wanted to do two live hours, even though it was not my day to broadcast. I said yes, but then my family begged me not to go-which was quite understandable since on the block of my station a FEDCO, a huge store, was being burned and looted; and next door to my station a Sees Candy was being looted (presumably because the looters had a particularly great need for candy). But I didn't go for another reason. I called the station and said, "I can't broadcast. I am to o angry. What I have to say will not calm the city." By Saturday, I had calmed down just enough to give my commentary. My theme was that I was living in a sea of lies, that Los Angeles and America were drowning in lies-most particularly that evil was not t a king place. Let me give you one example. As I was watching the local NBC television coverage of the riot- ing, this is the way one reporter described what he saw: "Here I am on the comer of (I forget the streets) and I see five black gentlemen throwing st o nes at cars." I said on my radio show, "Can you imagine anybody ever saying, 'I saw five white gentlemen in hoods burning a cross.7' And so, my motto -which I repeated in South Central Los Angeles to black listeners-became "If you can't call a black thug a thug, you are a racist." The inability to call a bad black person a bad person is part of the quarter-century liberal harvest that Betsy Hart, in her introduction, spoke of. I want to dissect what liberal thought has done to America. But before I do, I n e ed to make two things clear. One is my own commitment to furthering black/white relationships. It is so deep that one of the reasons I founded the Micah Center for Ethical Monotheism was to combat racism through a program called "Dinners in Black and Whit e ." In it blacks and whites will simply have dinners at each others' homes-nothing else. All we want is that they have dinner with each other so that they see each other as people and not members of a race. It is one of the first three programs of my cente r , and it predated the rioting by months. So, I am deeply, deeply committed to eradicat- ing racism. My second point is that not every liberal holds every value that I am about to identify with Hb- eralism. I understand that. Therefore, liberals hearing th i s should not say, "Well, I'm a liberal and I don't feel that way." I frequently hear this from callers to my radio show. I will state a liberal position and then someone will call and say, "Well I'm a liberal and I don't hold that position." So I then rai se five other liberal positions, and they tell me that they don't hold them either. So ID ennis Prager is a commentator and talk show host on KABC Radio, Las Angeles. and founder and president of the Micah Center for Ethical Monotheism. He writes a quarterl y journal, Uldnote Issues. The Center and the journal am located at 6020 Washington Boulevard, Culver City, CA 90232. He spoke at The Heritage Foundation on May 26,1992. ISSN 0272-1155. 01992 by The Heritage Foundation.
ask, "Why do you call yourself a liberal? If you don't hold these basic positions of the New York Times and the Washington Post, why do you call yourself a liberal?" Maybe it is time for people who do not hold the positions I am about to describe, yet who call themselves liberal, to pain f ully acknowledge what this liberal Jew had to painfully acknowledge - that contemporary liberalism has abandoned us. Indeed, to be loyal to traditional liberal val- ues may demand intense opposition to contemporary liberalism. The following ideas called l i beral by liberals contributed, I believe instrumentally, to what took place in Los Angeles. Rage is all the rage. Everybody is speaking about black rage. The LA. Times had a five-part se- ries on the roots of the riots, and one of the days the entire issu e was titled "Rage." A word about rage. I would love to know if there were liberals in Germany in 1938, after Kristallhacht when white thugs burned Jewish establishments and killed Jews, who said, "Listen, you have to understand the rage of those Germans-t h ey've endured the humiliating Versailles Treaty, terrible authoritarian upbringing and Germany's awful economic problems." Do you think that Nazis didn't have rage? In fact, can you name an evil in the world that is not accompa- nied by great rage? Do Ku K lux Klanners not have great rage? What about Jeffrey Dahmer? What if somebody said, "Let's try to understand Jeffrey Dahmer's rage, and then we can really get to the roots, the underlying causes of why he murdered and ate people." Controlling Rage. I am t i red of this rage argument. It doesn't hold, and it certainly doesn't justify. And it's a tautology: all evil comes from rage. So what? The difference between moral people and immoral people is that moral people control their rage. Buddhists in Vietnam wer e en- raged by policies of the Diem government. But they burned themselves. If the L.A. rioters had burned themselves, I would have said, "You know something? There is a real rage there which we need to listen to. These are clearly people who want to make a moral point." But when you say, "I am enraged, so I bum others," am I supposed to listen to your rage? And what about the rage of the Koreans and blacks whose livelihoods were burned? Their rage is not discussed; it is a non-issue. I said on my radio sho w right after the riots that I started to understand even better Pastor Niehmohler, the German pastor. Flis famous statement was essentially: "When the Nazis came after Communists I kept quiet, because I wasn't a Communist. When they came after the Jews, I said nothing, because I am not a Jew. When they came after labor leaders, I said nothing, because I am not a labor leader. And when they came after me, there was nobody left to speak up for me.,, That is why we must speak up for the Koreans. I begged my f e llow Jews and I begged the Los Angeles community generally, "Speak up, speak up." What happened was evil. It is not enough to say it was '@rage." And by the way, on the issue of rage, I think we are psychologically sophisticated enough to recognize that a l l of us have rage. What do you do at your psychoanalyst's office if not speak about your rage-at your mother, at your father, at your brother, at your sister, at yourkids, at your boss, at your wife, at your husband, at life? Who doesn't have rage? So rag e is universaL not an excuse for evil. Let's now talk about black rage beyond the issue of whether it excuses violence. Does it really exist? Yes it does. But I hold the liberal world, black and white, very much responsible for it. I will tell you exactly w hy. If for thirty years all you are told is that America is racist-that whites are racist, that whites have it in for you, that no matter what you do, they are going to stomp on you-that would certainly cause a lot of rage in me if I were a black who beli eved it.
2Liberal Lies. It would be as if I raised my Jewish children saying, "America is an antisemitic country where you can't get ahead because they hate Jews. Oh, there are token Jews here and there, but look at the absence of Jews among Fortune 500 executives, and don't think a Jew could ever be elected President; and don't forget all those country clubs that still don't allow Jews; and remember all the swastikas that are up in various places. This country hates you, my Jewish child." Gee, if nearly every Jew a n d non-Jew said the same thing to my children their en- tire lifetime, they, too, would be filled with rage. It's hard to fault blacks for their rage: The liberal media, the liberal civil rights organizations, liberal professors, and liberal artists have a l l told them, "You are hated. This country stinks. It is worse then ever. It has it in for you." And not only is this country racist, the liberals tell us, it is also sexist. And it has 3,000,000 homeless whom it couldn't care less about. (These are grand l iberal Hes, but if you repeat them enough, if they are all the media report-that we have 3,000,000 homeless; that the country couldn't care less about its poor, that it causes a high infant mortality rate.-they will be be- lieved.) Of course, our infant m o rtality rate has nothing to do with the fact that many mothers are not taking pre-natal care of their children - to even suggest such a thing is to engage in "blam- ing the victim." My brother, a physician at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, which is very m uch in a minority area, tells about all the programs in which they beg prepant women to come in for pre-natal care. But if they don't come in, and they are on drugs, why is that a sip of an oppres- sive society? The litany of American oppression is not ov e r. According to the Left, America is so evil that its government engineered the murder of one of its Presidents-and here, to be fair, I have to dis- tinguish between the Left and liberalism, even though liberals rarely make that distinction. For example, t he New York Times identifies the Institute for Policy Studies as a "liberal" think tank, and The Nation as a "liberal" jourrial. Well, if they are liberal, what is Left? Beijing's People's Daily? But I do want to make the distinction. Liberals have been g o od on this issue, but the Oli- ver Stone-Left not only depicts this country in all the ways I just mentioned, but holds that it even murdered its own President. Now, that is something that would engender rage. And of course, liberal academics and intellec t uals tell us that American men are raping women in vast numbers. Another great He. There is rape, and rape is evil, but the numbers are greatly ex- aggerated, just like the numbers of homeless are exaggerated. Paul Conrad, the cartoonist of the Los Angele s Times, one of the best known liberal cartoon- ists, drew George Bush in a Ku Klux Klan outfit when Mr. Bush opposed the recent Civil Rights law. The point was clear: If you don't agree with us liberals on race, you are a Ku IGux Manner. Well, if I am bla c k and I see such cartoons often enough, what am I supposed to conclude but that this country is worthy of being burned down? Liberal Heritage. This is my faccuse to the liberal world: You have stated, in essence, that America deserves to be burned. That h a s been your reaction to Los Angeles and that was the way you portrayed America prior to it. We deserve to be burned, and the burners need to be heard. That is the liberal heritage that we have received over all these years. Liberals respond to this by say i ng, "We love our country, and we express this love by criticiz- ing it." I think that Irving Kristol answered that best: What would you say about a husband or wife who constantly spoke about how awful his or her spouse was? Would you be impressed by the p e rson's defense, "Oh, I just criticize the person I love"? At a given point the issue whether you love in your heart or not is irrelevant; your actions are what matter. And liberal actions-I don't care about liberal motives, I am sure they are pure- have s aid this country is worthy of burning.
3The burning has happened, and it probably will happen again, because the official American media and liberal political reaction has been: "Arsonists, we understand you." We had a United States Representative, Maxi ne Waters, screaming, "No justice, no peace." In other words, "Do what we want, or we will bum you." Think of that - a member of the U.S. House of Representa- tives at a rally in Washington led the chant, "Give us what we want or we will bum you." In othe r words, until then, you deserve to be burned. That has been the liberal message. America's Perfidy. With all of this teaching of America's perfidy, no wonder there is a lot of black rage. No wonder about twenty percent of blacks, and according to one poll , twenty-nine percent, believe that whites started AIDS in order to commit genocide against blacks. It makes sense. Since this is such an awful country, maybe it's true. If you think that this depiction of the liberal indictment of America is in any way ex a ggerated, let me read to you just a few of mainstream liberal comments on the riots. One of the chief liberal spokespeople on this has been Andrew Hacker, whose recent book, Two Nations Black and White: Separate, Hostile and Equal, has been virtually beat ified by the liberal press. This is what he wrote in the Los Angeles Times on May 13th: So there is the sheer strain of living in a white world, the rage that you must suppress almost every day.... The conclusion seems all but self-evident that white Ameri ca has no desire for your presence or any need for your people. Can this nation have an unstated strategy for annihilating your people? Whites want to annihilate you, black Americans. That comes from a leading liberal academic in a leading liberal newspap er in the city of the riots two weeks after they occurred. Walter Mosely, a black author of Devil in a Blue Dress, or Red Death, and other mysteries that are set in Los Angeles, wrote in the Los Angeles Times, May 5, 1992: "America is a brutal land. Its l a nguage is violence and bloodshed. That is why [Rodney] King was beaten; that is why an- other King was assassinated." There's the liberal message: America, not one despicable racist, murdered Dr. King. I'll give you another example. Leon Litwack, the A.F. and May T. Morrison Professor of American History at UC Berkeley, wrote in the Los Angeles Times, May 5, 1992: "The lawless- ness began with the clubbing of black America, the conscious and criminal neglect and fashionable racism characteristic of the Age of Greed, over which Ronald Reagan and George Bush have presided." That is a distinguished professor of history at Berkeley teaching how this country clubs blacks, has fashionable racism, and is filled with criminals in its establishment. How would you re a ct if you were one of his black students? That is what has set the agenda for all of what has happened. For thirty years, liberals have glo- rified blacks who hate America - from the day that the late Leonard Bernstein threw a party at his Park Avenue pen t house for the Black Panthers. Do you understand what announcement was being made? The elite of America only honor blacks who loathe America - the more you hate America, the more the white elite will honor you. If you are a black and you say you love this c ountry, we have only contempt for you. You are an Uncle Tom; you are worse, you are an in- authentic black. But if you truly loathe America, ff you truly behove that it is a despicable place, then we will honor you-you will get to the cover of Time; you w ill get the support of major fib- eral foundations. You are the ones we will hear.
4Silencing Thomas. Ibis message has not changed since Leonard Bernstein threw that party. H you are a black who says, "This country is wonderful. Sure it has got racists in it, but it is won- derful, and we have opportunities," you are loathed. A man named Clarence Thomas is the classic example. The day he thanked nuns and his grandparents, I knew he was dead. That was the death knell. What - nuns? A black thanking normat i ve, Judaeo-Christian religion? That has to be silenced. And every effort other than actual murder was used. There was, of course, the at- tempted murder of a name, which, incidentally, Judaism considers morally equivalent to murder. There is a statement i n Hebrew, "He who insults his neighbor in public, it is as ff he has spilled his blood." Clarence Thomas had the temerity to say, "Ibis is a good country." And when a black says that, he is in big trouble with white and black liberals. That is why New York State appointed Professor Leonard JefEries of the City College of New York to head curriculum review for multi-culturalism- after he had started teaching that blacks are the superior "sun race" and whites are the inferior "ice race." New York liberal educ a tors (pardon the use of redundancy) rewarded Jeffries for his racism. Can you imagine New York State or educators anywhere appointing to such a commission a black who said, "This is a good country. Frankly, color doesn't mean that much to me. I really thi n k that how a human being acts morally is much more important than his color." Such a black would be considered a fascist. Ac- cording to liberalism, that is what it takes to be considered a reactionary today - to believe that how a human being acts is mor e important than his or her melanin. That is why Dartmouth College chose Angela Davis as its model woman when the college cel- ebrated its 15th anniversary of co-educational studies. She was introduced as a great, black role model for black women. The woma n who has twice run for vice-president on the Communist Party ticket was the woman that Dartmouth decided to honor on the fifteenth anniversary of co- educational studies. Remarkable? Not in the least. This is the rule: The more you loathe America, if you a re a black, the more we liberals honor you. I think, by the way, that there is a reason for this. Liberals themselves have rage at America. Different Reaction. For ten years, I have been saying on my radio show that while everyone has tragedy, unhappiness , and rage in his life, the difference between liberals and others lies in their reaction. The non-liberal says, "Lffe is filled with tragedy." The liberal says, "It is Reagan's fault." Since Marx, the Left has held external factors responsible for people' s alienation, for their angst. We all have alienation. We all have angst. That is part of the human condition. But not to contemporary liberalism. To the liberal, our alienation is caused by bad government. That is why so often people call up my radio show or ask at one of my lectures, "Oh, Mr. Prager, how do you expect us to raise good children? Look at all the corruption in Washington." To me, this question is a classic example of a non-sequitur. I just look at them and I say, "You mean because your Repre s entative bounced checks, you can't teach your child ethics? What were parents supposed to do in the past? What were my grandparents, who lived under the Czar, supposed to say, 'Listen, I Can't raise good kids, look at how corrupt the Czar is'?" I think al l of us would acknowledge that the Czar was morally inferior even to Congress. Why then didn't they take the easy way out? The point is therefore always to blame problems on outside forces. There is an anger in liber- als, which the torchers of L.A. are ex pressing. That is what you need to understand. Angry liberals won't torch innocent businesses, but many of them resonate to the burning of Americ& p> 5
6As I often note, our civilization has spawned a new, left-liberal, trinity. Christianity has a trin- ity; in a certain sense, Judaism does; and now liberalism does. The Christian trinity is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. The Jewish is God, Torah, Israel. For Stanford and the liberal world it is Race, Gender, and Class. According to this new trinity, life is to be understood not in mora l terms of good and evil, but in terms of black and white, male and female, and rich and poor. That is an idea that I believe is so corrosive that it can destroy the American republic-the idea that good and evil are not what divide people, but rather their race, their gender, and their class do. This is frightening. That is why a black professor at Harvard could say that there is "a black way to think." That is quite re- markable, isn't it? I thought that there are only good and bad ways to think. Multi-Mor a lity. Another liberal creation is multiculturalism. In essence, I love it. How could I not be for the idea that we should all express different cultures-I myself express Judaism. I love the idea that people will express their own cultures. I celebrate it, and I revere America for enabling me to celebrate. But that is not what the multicultural agenda is. Multiculturalism is multi-morality. That is the real agenda of it. I will give you a few examples. When I spoke in South Central Los Angeles live on radio in front of the audience that I had mentioned to you earlier, there was a black student from Valley College wearing a Malcolm X T- shirt. He was furious with me. It was clear on his face, and a member of the KABC staff told me he was furious at what I sai d , "If you can't call a black thug a thug you are a racist." Now, when- ever people are furious with me, I try to talk with them. So, I walked over to this young man and asked, "What bothers you?" He answered that whites have no right judging black behavio r "You whites have your morality and we have ours. And by our morality, the looting and the riot- ing was not wrong." That is part of the harvest that we are reaping from what is called multiculturalism, which really means multi-morality. I'll give you two more examples, because this is of overwhelming importance. Danny Gold- berg, a rock music producer and chairman of the ACLU Foundation of Southern California, said, "What is vile to a Mormon family in Utah is not vile to a black family in South Central Lo s An- geles" (Time magazine, May 7, 1990). Multi-morality-blacks have their morality, others have another one. There is no universal morality. Let me give you another one. This is from an piece on the opinion page of the Los Angeles Times on May 22nd, by E l len Snorklen, identified as a writer in Los Angeles: " 'Traditional fam- ily values' is a right-wing euphemism for a white family where Daddy is the boss." In other words, the moment a person speaks of traditional family values, he is imposing white ideas onto blacks. What are "traditional family values"? I assume that they mean that ideally, a man and woman are married, and that is how they raise their children. But to many liberals it is merely a white value, never to be encouraged to blacks. One more ex a mple of liberal multi-morality from the front page of the Los Angeles Times, May 25: "Denny Suspects [Reginald Denny was the white truck driver who was nearly beaten to death] Are Thugs To Some, Heroes To Others." See, it is all in the matter of how you r e ad it. There is no universal morality, you just read it the way you want to read it. "Depending on who you ask," the article begins, "they are either vicious gang members who deserve to spend the rest of their life behind bars, revolu tionary soldiers who sounded the first shots of a racial insurrec- tion, or decent young men who are falsely accused." All moral judgments am a matter of taste just like car preference. You have your view of the taking of an innocent human being and beat- ing him with tire ir ons, and I have mine. It is just a matter of how you look at it - that's the front page of the LA. Times and multi-morality.
7Unparalleled Tragedy. Ano ther result of liberalism has been the secularization of society. Two days after the rioting, the California Supreme Court handed down the verdict that you are not required to mention God in the oath to be a member of the Boy Scouts of America. I thought t he timing was very fitting, because this Jew wishes to say that the demise of religion in this country, which I recognize, obviously, is overwhelmingly Christianity, is a tragedy of unparal- leled proportions in American history. I recognize that this is a major tragedy. And for those who argue with me on my show, "Den- nis, what are you talking about? Religion has caused a lot of evil and you know it doesn't make people any better," I have one question for them that thus far, at least, has gone unanswered . "Im- agine," I say to the caller, "that you are walking in a very bad area of Los Angeles at midnight. You are alone in a dark alley. Ten men are walking toward you. Would you or would you not be relieved to know that they had just attended a Bible class ? " Generally there is silence after that question because it is impossible to be intellectually honest and deny that you would be very re- lieved to know that they were just studying Leviticus. Another consequence of liberalism has been the teaching of vic t im status. Ibis is morally criti- cal, because victims do not need to be morally accountable. If I hurt you, you can fight back, and that has been the whole liberal scenario here-the rioters are just fighting back. You saw that ard- cle in the Washington P ost about that black rapper who said, "Maybe we should have a week of killing whites. Just give back what whites have done to us." We are victims, and therefore we are not morally accountable. This is one of the terrible consequences of liberal thinking, a s well. Finally, I come to what I have believed for years to be the underlying fatal flaw in liberal think- ing: an unwillingness or inability-I don't know which, sometimes it is one, sometimes it is the other-to confront evil, sometimes even to recognize evil. I saw this with regard to Commu- nism, as obvious an evil as humanity ever had to face - and the post- 1960 liberal view that to call Communism evil was virtually the definition of Right-wing. And I saw it with regard to do- mestic violent crime. Ju s t as focusing on fighting Communism meant that one was a Right-winger, to leading liberals focusing on violent crime in America meant that one was tinged with racism. Dangerous Beliet This inability or unwillingness to face evil emanates from another unde r ly- ing liberal belief - that people are basically good. Liberalism has been rooted in the belief, contrary to the entire Judaeo-Christian tradition, that people are basically good. Ironically, this sweet-sounding belief is one of the single most dangerou s beliefs that a human being can hold, and it is part of the great tragedy that we are witnessing in liberalism today. Ixt me hasten to add that I do not hold, nor does my Jewish religious tradition, that people are basically evil. But we are not basically good. We don't start out good. Depending on your theology - and it is mine we start out innocent. But innocent is not the same as good. As I have often said, babies may be innocent and adorable, but they are not good. Babies are the quintessence of selfis h ness: I want Mommy; I want to be held; I want to be comforted; and if you do not do all of those things im- mediately, I will ruin your life. The consequences of this belief are enormous. If people are basically good, then evil must come from outside of p e ople. That is why the liberal asks, "What caused that man to rape?" whereas we ought to ask, "How come 99 percent of men don't rape?" "How did we get such a good result, given that men are naturally rapists?" And men are. Look at what men in armies have d one when law and order broke down and they could do whatever they want without fear of retribution. That ninety-nine percent of men don't rape is an achievement. How did we do that? How did we get that good result? The answer is values.
8As I said earli er, liberals don't have bad motives - that's why it is important not to disparage liberals' motives - but they do have bad ideas. And one of these bad ideas is the inherent good- ness of people - for if we are basically good, we don't really need values. T hat is why liberals tend to see economics rather than values as the key issue to making a better society. That is why they also tend to blame inanimate objects - e.g., guns (too many) and condoms (too few@- rather than people. When there is criminal viole n ce, the problem is not the violent, the problem is the gun. When kids are having kids the problem is not those kids' values, it is that those kids don't have condoms. And because of this belief in our innate goodness, liberals tend to see people who commi t evil as basically good types who have been ruined by Reagan or some other awful outside force. Finally, there has been a belittling on the part of much of the liberal left of middle-class values which I list in no order of importance as: Of The work ethi c Of God and religious commitment Of The nuclear family of Strong males (not dominant males) #** Self-discipline if Rewarding good and punishing bad of Regarding people first as individuals not as members of a race, class or gender. Each of these is a midd l e-class value, and each has been loathed by parts of the Left. One part will attack one, another part will attack another. As a result of all of this, liberals see macro solu- tions, not micro solutions: It is not moral character we need to develop, but g o vernment programs. Fragility of Civilization. I conclude by no ting that there is a profound naivet6 on the part of liberals with regard to the fragility of civilization. I stand here as a Jew who is too well aware of this fragility. The country that gave us Bach, Beethoven, and Schiller gave us Auschwitz. To my mind, it is not at all contradictory, because there is nothing whatsoever in art and culture that de- mands decency-nothing. No matter how highly developed they are, it does not matter morally. The r e truly is a thin line between what we have created in America and the possibilities of an Auschwitz or a Gulag. And those who do not recognize this, who think that civilization can take a beating - that liberal democratic civilization can constantly be b e aten and called, in effect, fas- cistic - are weakening this civilization, perhaps fatally. Historian Walter Lacquer, writing about the Left in the Weimar Republic, wrote, and I para- phrase: "They kept calling the judges and the police and the institutio n s of the Weimar Republic fascist. One day they met real fascists And they had nothing left to call them." You can scream and scream about how racist, sexist, oppressive, and callous America is - but there are just so many such body blows that America can t ake. It has been taking the liberals' body blows and it is now down for a count. The smoke rising by my home a few weeks ago made me aware of that. I fear for this country. It is the first time in my life I fear for this country. People who say they love i t am giving it body blows. And, tragically, they are called liberals. There are only two races in this world, the eminent psychoanalyst Victor Franld concluded after going through Auschwitz-the decent and the indecent. That is the only thing that we need to know, and it is the single most important teaching being undermined by liberalism in our time.