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Liberal Moral Cowardice

The unwillingness to face unpleasant decisions is by no means a conservative exclusive, merely a conservative specialty. Liberals specialize in avoiding other kinds of realities. Because liberals are includers, because they see a kinship to others, even those markedly different from themselves, they sometimes blind themselves to differences that are, in one way or another, unpleasant.

One minor way we avoid unpleasant realities is with the use of euphemisms. Take our attitude toward the physically handicapped. We are not supposed to say “crippled.” But why not? From an objective point of view is it not the same? What are we afraid of? Does the word “cripple” suggest inferiority; does it denote a lesser being? Or is our actual attitude toward the handicapped confused and ambivalent? Do we avoid certain words to avoid our own secret attitudes?

Let us be honest. Most of us emphatically prefer to have full use of our eyes, ears, and limbs. We regard the loss of such abilities as distinctly undesirable. But that does not mean that those who have lost them are “inferior.” That is a pretty simple idea, but it confuses people because in some sense, having no legs is clearly “inferior” to having two sound legs. We should be able to accept the idea that all souls are equally valuable even while honestly acknowledging that some bodies are preferable to others. There is no need to pretend that the “disabled” are really just “differently-abled.”

We can be quite superstitious about words. We give them enormous, and unwarranted, power. There are handicapped people who proudly call themselves “crips,” and homosexuals who defiantly wear the label “queer.” That is sensible. If you accept that “crip” or “queer” is pejorative, you tacitly agree that it is bad to be a “crip” or a “queer.” You consent to the idea that it is something shameful.

That is the problem with euphemisms. We use them because we cannot face the truth about something. We imagine that giving it a different name will make the truth go away. In many cases the truth that cannot be faced is our own attitude, an attitude we know is wrong — say that we are repelled by those with physical or mental disabilities — but cannot yet bring ourselves to relinquish.

There is no subject more sensitive, or more apt to inspire evasion and dishonesty than race.

In 1965 Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then Assistant Secretary of Labor under President Lyndon Johnson, issued the results of research done by the Department of Labor under the title The Negro Family: The Case for National Action, which has come to be known simply as the Moynihan Report. It was, and is, extremely controversial. The reason for the controversy was its conclusion that inner-city black families were entangled in a self-perpetuating cycle of social pathology which would not allow them to break out of poverty.

Much of the discussion of the Moynihan Report centers around the program called Aid to Families with Dependent Children, usually just referred to as “Welfare.” This is actually a separate controversy, and is greatly misunderstood. You can check it out here.

[Next: Poor Folks Have Poor Ways]

This is the online text of the Moynihan Report, but it lacks the graphs & charts in the original. And yes, Moynihan's name is misspelled in the URL, but the URL is the correct one.