McClaughry Memoir: Ford and Carter


The following is the third installment of John McClaughry’s memoir, Promoting Civil Society Among the Heathen.  See the previous chapters here and here.

5. Ford and the Ethnics 

Gerald Ford became vice president and then president after 25 years in Congress. Since he had never sought the Presidency, it was not particularly realistic to expect him to initiate any dramatic domestic policies – and he didn’t. He did, however, have a tantalizing opportunity to make inroads on urban white ethnic support.

Two of Ford’s staff saw the opportunity: Lebanese-American Assistant to the President for Public Liaison Bill Baroody and Ukrainian-American Special Assistant for Ethnic Affairs Myron Kuropas.  But despite the efforts of those two, the Ford White House completely blew it.

Baroody and Kuropas succeeded at getting Ford to agree to host a White House conference on “Ethnicity and Neighborhood Revitalization”. The event, held on May 5, 1976, was cosponsored by the National Center for Urban Ethnic Affairs, whose president was Msgr. Geno Baroni.

This initiative differed in at least two respects from earlier neighborhood appeals. It emphasized working local partnerships among black, Hispanic, and white ethnic city dwellers rather than the polarizing tactics of such self-proclaimed ethnic spokesmen as Philadelphia Republican Mayor Frank Rizzo. In addition, learning from the failure of Sixties-style confrontation politics, this strategy stressed the importance of closer relationships between city halls and neighborhood groups.

Some 78 ethnic leaders attended, people with names like Cyganowski, DiPippo, Pugevicius and Von Riestenberg. The Administration provided Commerce Secretary Eliot Richardson (representing America’s first immigrants, someone noted), SBA Director Mitchell Kobelinski, OMBE Director Alex Armendaris, and President Ford, who spoke informally to the group in the Rose Garden before lunch.

The conference was organized around a powerful position paper written by Baroni, entitled “Neighborhood Revitalization: Neighborhood Policy for a Pluralistic Urban Society”, based on his paper for ILC coauthored with Gerson Green. Arguing that the national policies of the preceding decades had “nearly destroyed the various levels of human associations which make urban life possible,” Baroni called for the beginning of “a new urban policy founded on the rich variety of ethnic differences, and on preservation and revitalization of urban neighborhoods” (i.e., civil society).

“We have failed to recognize that people live in neighborhoods, not cities,” Baroni said. “And worse yet, we have transferred so much authority and decision-making power to various levels of government that the vitality and problem solving capacity of our neighborhoods are steadily disappearing….Power must be returned to the people.”

To begin the move toward that goal, Baroni called for creation of a Presidential Commission on Neighborhood Policy. Its task would be to review all existing Federal programs impacting on neighborhoods, and to develop from that review and from new suggestions a national neighborhood policy.

Baroni’s eloquent address was received with almost wild enthusiasm by the invited ethnic leaders. So was Boston Brahmin Richardson’s, whose previous familiarity with urban problems was certainly open to some question. Kobelinski and Armendaris promised their support, although neither was in much of a position to initiate anything.

The significant elephant not in the room was HUD Secretary Carla Hills, who presumably was in a position to promote such an initiative. In her place, Assistant Secretary Constance Newman, who was black, spent most of her allotted time dwelling on the possibility that “neighborhood revitalization” might be a code word for racism. This feeble HUD participation foreshadowed the flop that was soon to come. (Amusingly, upon taking office in 1977 President Carter quickly appointed Baroni Assistant Secretary for Neighborhood Development, Consumer Affairs, and Regulatory Functions, taking over Newman’s portfolio and adding Neighborhood Development to it.)

As luck would have it, the conference opened on the day after Ronald Reagan had hammered Ford in presidential primary contests in Indiana, George and Alabama. That was certainly a factor in why the White House Press Office, fearing fallout from conservative Republicans, gave the successful conference almost no publicity. Meanwhile, Democratic candidate Jimmy Carter, having taken criticism for earlier remarks on “ethnic purity”, quietly began to develop closer contacts with ethnic leaders around the country.

Following the conference, Baroody and Kuropas urged at least the creation of a high-visibility White House task force to reap the political harvest of the issue. They pointed out that Sen. William Proxmire (D-WI) had introduced a bill to create a presidential commission on neighborhoods. If the White House acted first, it would not be viewed as a belated Ford response to a Democratic initiative.

The opposition to Baroody and Kuropas came from OMB Director and former HUD Secretary James Lynn.  Lynn conceded that the commission would only consume two million dollars (reassigned from another HUD account), but he feared that its recommendations would likely lead to budget-busting program costs if acted upon by a future Congress.

While this debate raged within the White House, a group named “National Peoples’ Action” (NPA) sponsored a well-attended conference in Washington on June 13, 1976. Their slogan was “Neighborhoods First”.  Led by Gale Cincotta, a skilled Alinsky-influenced Chicago organizer and orator, the conference-goers pilloried hapless federal officials sent to defend government policies. Kuropas was one of the few Federal government officials to get a decent welcome, and he returned determined to press for White House action despite Lynn’s strong objections.

By late June Ford had decided to create some kind of high level study committee. Richardson was eager to head it, but he was also eager to be named vice president on the Ford reelection ticket, which added another dimension of intrigue. Carla Hills was also eager to head it, to avoid the embarrassment of a HUD Secretary being passed over in favor of a Commerce Secretary with no visible qualifications for the position.

On June 30 Ford announced a “President’s Committee on Urban Development and Neighborhood Revitalization”, chaired by Hills. Its assignment was to “examine urban problems and make recommendations to improve current Federal programs in order to revitalize urban and neighborhood areas.”

The assignment required that the task force stick to reshaping existing programs, not conceiving new programs. More importantly, the focus now appeared to be “cities” not neighborhoods. The need “to place maximum decision making responsibility at the local level” began to look like “power to city hall” rather than “power to the people”.

NPA’s Gale Cincotta eviscerated this feeble response. “President Ford’s response to the challenge has been to name a high level task force chaired by HUD Secretary Carla Hills. That panel is not the proper vehicle for such an effort. That group is riddled with the type of closed-door elitist attitudes which originally fostered neighborhood decline. There are no community people on that Committee.” Ouch!

Three weeks into the committee’s work NPA came back to Washington to find out what progress was being made. NPA had had a running battle with Hills over FHA and HUD policies, adopting as its unofficial slogan “Fire Her Ass”. Nothing they learned in their August 7 meeting with the cautious and uninspired staff director, HUD Assistant Secretary Charles Orlebeke, changed their minds. Orlebeke told them a report would issue by October 1 – five weeks before the election. Cincotta, disgusted with the meeting, said “Back to the streets in September, back to Washington in October.”

Kuropas was alarmed. He saw a long, dilatory process; leadership by a cabinet official whose department was a large part of the problem; staff work by an unimaginative HUD bureaucracy; a steady shift of focus away from neighborhoods and toward larger city issues; and the rapidly approaching election day. The opportunity for making inroads into the urban ethic vote – later known as “Reagan Democrats” – was being lost.

So Kuropas tried another tack. He arranged a meeting with the Vice Chairman of the President Ford Committee, Elly Peterson. As a skillful and experienced political organizer who had herself worked to mobilize ethnic groups for George Romney in Michigan, she would, Kuropas thought, be able to persuade the Ford high command to do something intelligent – and quickly – to attract urban white ethnic votes.

Kuropas appeared at Peterson’s office with Kobelinski and Chicago Republican Congressman Ed Derwinski. To their entreaties Peterson replied that the President Ford Committee was not organized to make any special appeal to white ethnics. The three departed, completely disgusted.

At the Republican National Convention, Rep. John B. Anderson, chairman of the urban policy platform subcommittee, pushed through – against no Reaganite resistance – an affirmation of neighborhoods. Providence Mayor Buddy Cianci used his introduction of John Connally to endorse a Great Society reprise of neighborhood programs, exactly what OMB Director Lynn had feared.

Meanwhile the President’s Committee limped forward. Orlebeke’s pedestrian draft was circulated for member comment on October 4, three days after the announced deadline. Its long-range goal was “to shape policies and programs which make the most of the cities potential so that millions of Americans of diverse ethnic and racial and ethnic backgrounds can preserve or re-create healthy urban neighborhoods.” It promised administrative improvements in block grant programs and extensions of that device to the areas of housing, education, health care, and transportation.

Richardson complained of the lack of a neighborhood focus. Armendaris wanted more neighborhood commercial revitalization. When the final version appeared at the White House on October 11, Lynn recommended that it be pigeonholed. He was supported by Chief of Staff Dick Cheney’s deputy James Cavanaugh, and Domestic Council staffers James Cannon and Arthur Quern.

On October 17 Hills accompanied by Transportation Secretary William Coleman came to the White House to shoot it out with Lynn. President Ford decided in their favor, saying, according to one participant, “They’re always saying that this Administration has no policy for the cities. Now they won’t be able to say it anymore.”  Public release was scheduled for October 20.

I don’t remember how I got my hands on the draft, but I was appalled at what I then described as “the transformation of a project for revitalizing neighborhoods into a groping and totally unsuccessful effort to placate the overwhelmingly Democratic City Halls.” I ginned up a 21 page Presidential statement that reprised Baroni, affirming the primacy of neighborhoods and the necessity for empowering the people of those neighborhoods to mount their own grassroots efforts to deal with neighborhoods problems.

The draft condemned institutional structures and service bureaucracies. It promised a strong Federal effort not to shower more money on City Hall, but to sweep away barriers – many of them erected by government itself –to spontaneous self-help by neighborhood people. It called for strengthening the successful non-governmental Neighborhood Housing Services, Federal reinsurance of private rehab insurance loan pools, a five-year tax writeoff of home improvement and rehab loans in NHS-served areas, and waiving recapture of accelerated depreciation when a slum owner donated a building to an NHS or similar rehab program.

I took this in to Myron Kuropas’s White House office. Myron was by that time thoroughly demoralized – he said he had become “the White House’s token Ukrainian”. When asked to prepare a memo on President Ford’s accomplishments on behalf of ethnic Americans, he was reduced to leading off with the declaration that, as a lad, Gerald Ford had had a pal of Latvian extraction.

Kuropas got me in to Dick Cheney’s office. I knew Dick, though not well, from our earlier service on Capitol Hill. He sent me to talk with his deputy Cavanaugh. The election was now two weeks away.

I suggested rejecting the Hills report, then when that leaked out, using my statement as a presidential message. No, Cavanaugh replied, the President has agreed to release the report and if he doesn’t, his HUD Secretary and his only black Cabinet officer might resign. OK, said I, let’s rewrite this dog to make some sense out of it. No, said Cavaugh, it’s from Hills and can no longer be tampered with.  OK, said I, release the report with little fanfare, then quickly make a campaign trail statement something like my draft, in a large eastern city. No, said Cavanaugh, speeches are controlled by Robert Hartmann and he won’t let the president offer any substantive proposal in a speech.

After this three-and-out performance by me, Cavanaugh had one positive idea: beefing up the statement the President will make when the report is released. I asked how we can do that when Hartmann commands the thought police. Cavanaugh says “presidential addresses are controlled by Hartmann, but presidential statements are written by Jim Reichley, who was brought on board by Cheney and works for us.”

Grasping at this straw, I rushed back to Kuropas’s office and began reducing my 21 page tome to a seven page statement draft. A few minutes before a 10:00 pm deadline, I delivered the draft to Domestic Council chief Jim Cannon. The draft directed the Hills Committee to continue beyond its “interim report” and provide detailed recommendations on twelve clearly defined issues.

The statement would, I hoped, reaffirm the President’s nebulous commitment to neighborhoods and give a indication of the direction he intended to move if reelected. It was late, very late, but it still might be possible to rush it out to the front lines as last minute ammunition in ethnic-rich industrial states where the election would be decided.

Then something very curious happened. Bill Baroody returned from a trip the following morning. He urged a pro-neighborhoods statement of some sort to Cannon and Cavanaugh. But Baroody didn’t know what had happened the previous evening, or that both Cannon and Cavanaugh had the draft language on their desks – and they didn’t let on that they did.

The result, apparently agreed to by Cannon, Cavanaugh and Cheney, was a presidential statement praising the woeful Hills report and reciting the now-familiar (and not very persuasive) list of the President’s achievements. The only concession to Baroody was inclusion of one paragraph recognizing “the rich variety of urban neighborhoods” and pledging to work with citizen groups to preserve and improve them. There were no specifics.

The tedious report and the self-serving statement aroused no interest in the media. Perhaps the lack of media attention was merciful.

On election night five Eastern and Midwestern industrial states –New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Missouri, and Wisconsin – went narrowly for Carter. Had Ford won 31 more electoral votes, he would have been reelected. As the Ripon Forum observed two years later, “had Ford campaign strategists perceived the receptiveness of these working class votes to a neighborhood preservation strategy, Jimmy Carter might well be back in Georgia shelling peanuts.”

Suppose Ford had squeaked through to victory. Would a second Ford administration have moved into a new pro-neighborhood mode? Almost certainly not. That White House was so devoid of imagination and so inflexible in its policy making apparatus that little or nothing could have been expected.

6.  Carter and the Neighborhoods Commission 

On September 14, 1976, the House Banking, Currency and Housing Subcommittee had reported out the “National Neighborhood Policy Act” (HR 14756). It did not, however, move on to passage in the few remaining weeks of the session. Early in 1977 both House and Senate passed bills, which were consolidated as the Supplemental Housing Authorization Act of 1977 (PL 95-24). Title II of this short bill created the National Commission on Neighborhoods.

The Ford administration had been a disappointing failure for the neighborhood movement, but Jimmy Carter had realized that the neighborhood movement could be a vote-rich environment. When he became President in 1977, he named Geno Baroni as Assistant Secretary of HUD for Neighborhoods, Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, replacing Ford’s inept Constance Newman.

Carter and his Georgia staff had an awful time creating a White House mechanism to deal with “urban policy”, which turned out to be more the care and feeding of Democratic Mayors than responding to neighborhood based activists.

Congress had forced upon the President a neighborhoods commission that appeared to the Carter staff to potentially be a publicity-seeking activist threat to whatever public policy Carter needed to invent to keep his Democratic mayors and machines Carter-friendly. Between enactment of the law and the time the White House had named and cleared its 20 members, seven months had elapsed.

Carter’s appointees were a mixture of true neighborhood advocates (me, Arthur Naparstak, Norman Krumholz, Macler Shepard, Gale Cincotta, Robert O’Brien), and one current and three wannabee Mayors (incumbent Maynard Jackson, Atlanta;  Peter Ujvagi, Toledo; Nicholas Carbone, Hartford; and chairman Joe Timilty,  Boston.) The latter three all failed of election, and the hapless Timilty ended up in jail. )

Four members of Congress were also named: Senator William Proxmire (D-WI), Sen. Jake Garn (R-UT), Rep. Yvonne Burke (D-CA), and Rep. Joel Pritchard (R-WA). The only one of the four ever to make an appearance was Pritchard; the others sent staffers.

I got on the commission, interestingly, because Landon Butler of Georgia had become a top staffer in the Carter White House. Landon had worked for me for a couple of years when I (at least figuratively) headed a short-lived consulting company named McClaughry Associates.

The Commission statute required that no more than eight of the 20 public members be from one political party. Only four of the 20 were Republicans: me, O’Brien, Sen. Garn, and Rep. Pritchard. I suppose that it was at least theoretically possible that eight of the 18 Democrats named as public members were actually independents of some kind.

It was clear from the Commission’s first meeting (January 1978) that the Carter White House wanted to keep as far as possible from its deliberations. This was amusingly demonstrated when we assembled at the White House to be sworn in. We were informed that the President was alas, unavailable, but Vice President Mondale would do the honors.

Then followed a half an hour wait during which staffers entered and exited the Roosevelt Room surreptitiously asking each other “doesn’t anybody know where the Vice President is?” At last, in despair, we were sworn in by an unidentified little man, possibly a notary public. I still believe that I saw the same man later in the day filling vending machines in the Executive Office Building.

Since this account focuses on right-leaning efforts to advance civil society, I won’t go into detail about the (Democratic-led) Commission’s troubled operations. Suffice it to say that by the eight month mark of the Commission’s year-long life, its executive director Robert Kuttner  (a Proxmire legacy and later a noted left wing pundit) had spent or committed essentially all of the allotted $1 million, leaving the Commission to face the perils of the Anti-Deficiency Act. Kuttner was summarily fired, despite his desperate but not believable threats to bring Proxmire’s wrath down upon all those on the firing squad. A hard -nosed union activist named John Eades was brought in to lay off seven of our inflated staff, and say goodbye to three others who resigned to protest the layoffs.

Early during the Commission’s life I penned a Ronald Reagan radio script boosting the Commission, that aired nationally in March 1978. The Commission, he said (hopefully), “recognized that foolish government policies over the past decades have often worked to undermine, even destroy, established neighborhoods. Building codes, zoning laws, federal mortgage insurance, highway construction, urban renewal, the so-called model cities program, forced school busing – these and other factors have often combined to depress the value of neighborhoods and undercut the fullness of their life… What America’s neighborhoods need, of course, is not a massive ‘delivery of services’ from government, but a massive rebirth of opportunity.”

The final report led off with predictably liberal recommendations. Cincotta’s whole career was aimed at forcing banks to make mortgage loans in unstable urban neighborhoods. She and NPA played a large role in pushing the Community Reinvestment Act through Congress in 1977. Accordingly, the Commission’s lead recommendation was “to outlaw geographic discrimination against neighborhoods.” (!) The newly-enacted CRA needed to be strengthened to “encourager lenders to increase lending levels in low and moderate income neighborhoods.”

Another popular item was “neighborhood economic development”, to deliver “community full employment” through “a federal economic planning strategy which would concentrate on creating jobs in and restoring economic vitality to distressed urban neighborhoods.”

All of this, and more, was in the spirit of a massive new national effort to spend money and issue mandates to improve the lot of neighborhood residents. The one interesting chapter was the one on Legal, Fiscal and Administrative Obstacles. That was because the corresponding committee was effectively run by me and Bob O’Brien, aided by our consultant Dr. Walter Williams, libertarian economist and author (1982) of The State Against Blacks. I don’t believe that Kuttner was aware of Walt’s libertarian leanings, but quickly approved his hiring because he wanted more black faces.

Although some statist notions crept in, the major thesis of this chapter was that neighborhood people were too often handcuffed in building civil society by obsolete or malicious laws and regulations that defeated their efforts. Building on my earlier work for OMBE, we advocated rapid and efficient legal recycling of tax-foreclosed properties into new ownership; a report on home owner’s equity insurance; a study of carried interest and compulsory unitization of derelict urban neighborhoods, built on the principles of Texas petroleum law; transparent land and title information systems; model uniform conveyancing statues; continuation of five year amortization of rehab expenditures; tax shelter partnerships and corporate tax credits for support of neighborhood corporations; various property tax reforms; privatization of building code enforcement; and (seriously watered down) joint labor union- neighborhood organization efforts “to resolve problems arising from the prevailing wage and work rule provisions of the Davis-Bacon Act.”

Three of the four Republican members –O’Brien, Garn and I – joined in what amounted to a minority report. It recognized a number of positive features of the official report, but put forth this libertarian analysis, influenced both by Walter Williams and Rep. Ron Paul, who made made much the same points in his views on the 1976 House bill that died in the Senate. We wrote:

One thing that our service on the Commission has brought home to us is the fact that government – city, state and federal –has all too often stood in the way of neighborhood people seeking to achieve these important goals. Governments have claimed an ever-increasing portion of the citizen’s paycheck, and yet an increasing number of citizens are coming to believe that they simply are not getting their money’s worth… All too often thoughtless and unwise government programs have contributed to the destruction of otherwise viable urban neighborhoods. Legal and regulatory ground rules established by government have in practice frequently favored the privileged and denied opportunity to the powerless. Instead of giving neighborhood people he resources and the opportunity to speak and act in their own self-interest, governments have imposed a whole procession of ill-conceived programs upon neighborhood people, heedless of their aspirations.

A further observation was that “we express considerable skepticism at the recommendation advocating direct federal funding of neighborhood groups… We believe that much more consideration should have been given to techniques for leaving resources in the pockets of neighborhood people, to be used under their own direction for their own benefit.”

This point referred to an interesting – dare I say it, ingenious – plan I developed for a “neighborhood fiscal empowerment experiment”.  This was introduced as a bill by Reps. Pritchard and Jim Blanchard (HR 13894 of 1978).

It would have authorized a HUD demonstration grant whereby residents of the selected neighborhood would vote, by depositing their own small matching amount at a local bank, to assign the available government funding to any of a list of neighborhood institutions and programs. The groups thus favored by neighborhood people would share the funding proportionately, so naturally each group would work to build community support and involvement to attract both local and matching federal funding.  This, I believed, had real promise as a civil society builder.

Said Rep. Pritchard in introducing the bill (Congressional Record of 8/27/78): “the leaders of the neighborhood organizations, under this approach, must appeal not to city hall or Washington for support, but to their own neighbors who, thanks to this program, [would] have fiscal power in their own hands.” Needless to say, this really subversive idea did not make much headway. If it were tried and succeeded, the question of the source and magnitude of the grant funding would have become serious.

The Commission’s three Republicans concluded their additional views with a powerful civil society quote from everybody’s neighborhood movement hero, Geno Baroni. One exasperating difficulty in getting these views out was Rep. Pritchard. Time and again I watered down the draft’s critique of government policies that throttled neighborhood self-help, at the insistence of his staff member, to keep Pritchard on board. When all the water threatened to drown the message, Pritchard at the last minute declined to join our views. By then it was too late to revert to the earlier more hard-hitting language, which I regret to this day.

All in all the National Commission on Neighborhoods, crippled by uncertain leadership and poor management, evoked little interest in the White House, in Congress, or with the public.  (The NCN report, I have been told, may be found in a satellite warehouse of the Library of Congress, filed next to the Tibetan Book of the Dead.)

The neighborhood movement had lost its ablest leader – Geno Baroni – to a low-power federal post; the passage of the Community Reinvestment Act in 1977 had marked a high water mark for grassroots activism; and the Carter administration had by then been told by Mayors and Governors to give little shrift to these unruly anarchists. I regret that the contributions of the Obstacles task force and the views of the three Republican members didn’t get more attention, because the subject matter was ably developed and, I believe, could have had a powerful effect if marketed through the nation’s urban neighborhoods.

Before leaving the Carter years, I need to note the publication in 1977, by the American Enterprise Institute then led by Bill Baroody, of Peter Berger and Richard John Neuhaus’s important monograph To Empower People: From State to Civil Society. This little booklet (only 51 pages), amply commented upon by intellectuals, brought the idea of civil society and the terms “mediating structures” and “empowerment” to far wider public attention.

The authors defined mediating structures as “those institutions standing between the individual in his private life and the large institutions of public life.” They advocated for empowerment of people-sized institutions reflecting the values of the underlying community. “What is new” in their book, they wrote, “was the systematic effort to translate [the concept of mediating structures] into specific public policies.”

I read on eagerly – only to find none of the promised “specific public policies” were presented, other than a broad discussion  of the worth of mediating structures and the general need for empowerment. Frankly, I felt cheated.

At that point, for ten years, I had been wordsmithing, bill drafting, sponsor recruiting, and publicizing a host of “specific public policies” in aid of strengthening civil society: the Percy home ownership bill, the Community Self Determination Act , Nixon’s voluntary action program, and the ILC neighborhood renewal papers, just to name the most obvious of many examples.  I had, so far as I know, been the first person in national public life to take Dr. Nathan Wright’s obscure 1966 call to empower, make it into a noun, and push it into widespread usage.

Now out of nowhere come these two academics, sponsored by AEI, who apparently had no idea that any of this had been going on. They latched on to the word I had made commonly recognizable – empowerment,  promised “specific public policies” to advance the concept, failed to deliver on anything beyond thoughtful generalities, and reaped substantial publicity and recognition. I was honked off.

One of the half dozen letters I should not have mailed in my life was to Bill Baroody at AEI. The pungent phrase in it was “Where are these guys from? Mars?”  No wonder I was not invited to any follow-on AEI activities.

Berger and Neuhaus nonetheless did an important service. They reconceptualized Burke’s evocative but imprecise “little platoons” into “mediating structures”. They revived the Catholic idea of “subsidiarity”, first defined by Pius VI in his 1931 encyclical Quadregesimo Anno. They prescribed that “public policy should protect and foster mediating structures… and wherever possible, use mediating structures for the realization of social purposes.”

Berger and Neuhaus recognized that the latter half of this prescription – which they call the “maximalist” version – bore risks. “The goal in utilizing mediating structures,” they wrote, “might be ‘co-opted’ by the government in a too eager embrace that would destroy the very distinctiveness of their function.” As Alperovitz and I realized when designing the Community Self-Determination Act a decade earlier, empowerment requires independence from government funding, at least after an initial period. Otherwise public policy will degenerate into funneling taxpayer dollars into dependent local enterprises deemed worthy (and non-threatening) by the government. A century of the federal government’s policies toward American Indian tribes well and sadly illustrated the sad consequences of this practice.

The conclusion of the chapter by Michael Joyce and William Schambra in a 20-year retrospective on To Empower People is worth quoting at length:

They [Berger and Neuhaus] understand that only strengthened local government and revitalized intermediate institutions – families, neighborhoods, churches, schools, and ethnic and voluntary associations – will permit them to reestablish fundamental decency and basic civil order within their immediate surroundings. They wish to make the most important decisions about their own lives for and among themselves, so that once again things are seen to be ‘under control’. In short, the American people will no longer settle for occasionally casting a ballot for one or another set of elites. They insist on becoming, once again, genuine self-governing citizens.

The restoration of civil society will require nothing less than a determined, long term effort to reverse the gravitation of power and authority upward to the national government and to send that authority back to local government and civil institutions. (in Michael Novak, ed. To Empower People: From State to Civil Society, 20th anniversary edition, AEI Press, 1996)


  1. Is it too much to ask why a great deal of chuffering about ‘neighborhood revitalization’ was being done by federal officials? We do have these things called ‘county’ and ‘municipal’ governments. Also, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development has a long history of bumbling and corruption.

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