Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Good Government

Sometimes when we list President Obama's accomplishments, we forget to include the strides this administration has made in improving the basic functions of good government. And we also forget that the previous administration left a HUGE mess to clean up. A simple reminder of "Good job, Scotty" is perhaps all we need to recall how bad things had gotten.

Although often removed from the public eye, perhaps nowhere was that more serious than in the Department of Justice where politicization had certainly crossed ethical boundaries and bordered on criminal. That's why the work of Attorney General Eric Holder is so important, particularly in the Civil Rights Division.

To add to what I've already written about in that area, yesterday we learned that DOJ's Civil Rights Division is suing the city of New Berlin, Wisconsin.

A Wisconsin city in the most segregated region in the nation buckled to racist pressure and shut down an affordable housing project, federal prosecutors say. New Berlin has no affordable housing for general occupancy or families - just for seniors - and truckled to fears that affordable housing would draw minorities to the city, which is 95 percent white, according to a Fair Housing complaint.

The city approved a 180-unit project, but "Immediately afterward, and over the next several weeks, city officials received numerous emails, calls, and other communications from residents of New Berlin, the large majority of whom voiced opposition to the ... project. Some of the opposition was based in part on fear that the prospective tenants would be African American or minority. The Mayor, Aldermen, Plan Commissioners, and staff at DCD were aware that community opposition was based in part on race," according to the complaint.

"The communications they received over several weeks contained express and implied racial terms that were derogatory and based on stereotypes of African American residents. These communications referenced 'niggers,' 'white flight,' 'crime,' 'drugs,' 'gangs,' 'families with 10 or 15 kids,' of needing 'to get a gun,' of 'slums,' of not wanting New Berlin to turn into 'Milwaukee,' of moving to New Berlin 'to get away from the poor people,' of not wanting to provide housing to people 'who work but do not live here.'"...

Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. seeks an order requiring the affordable housing project to be approved and built, and damages for discrimination.

But its not just DOJ. Over a year ago, John Judis wrote an article titled The Quiet Revolution in which he pointed out the clean-up underway in the alphabet soup land of federal agencies: EPA, OSHA, FEC, etc.

Yet there is one extremely consequential area where Obama has done just about everything a liberal could ask for--but done it so quietly that almost no one, including most liberals, has noticed. Obama’s three Republican predecessors were all committed to weakening or even destroying the country’s regulatory apparatus: the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and the other agencies that are supposed to protect workers and consumers by regulating business practices. Now Obama is seeking to rebuild these battered institutions. In doing so, he isn’t simply improving the effectiveness of various government offices or making scattered progress on a few issues; he is resuscitating an entire philosophy of government with roots in the Progressive era of the early twentieth century. Taken as a whole, Obama’s revival of these agencies is arguably the most significant accomplishment of his first year in office.

The whole article is worth a read to get the full weight of the task that I imagine is still underway. And I suspect that some good reporting on this (yeah, I won't hold my breath) would update a very important story.

All of this is not only a reason to give our full weight of support to President Obama. Its also an indicator of what the long hard slog of reforming our country actually looks like on the ground level. The best legislation that can be passed will never be successful without competent people and well-run departments to implement it.

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