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Jonah Goldberg

LOCK ‘EM UP“News flash, Rudy — it’s not good to arrest the homeless people,” declared TV “personality” Rosie O’Donnell on her version of Firing Line for the crayon set.

News flash, Rosie — shut up.

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No seriously, just be quiet. I was over-served last night, and my hangover can’t take any shrill, thoughtless, liberal bleating about homelessness. And when I hear it in that over-accented Epcot Center New Yorkese, I feel as if I just drank a glass of warm bourbon with a cigarette in it or ate some day-old fried eggs with James Carville’s hair in them. By trying to make your accent both authentic and cute, it comes across as a Twinkie wrapped in a piece of bad pastrami.

Homelessness was the issue of the 1980s and, as is so often the case, it is more of a nostalgia trip for mindless liberals who feel guilty about the success of their mutual funds. Driving that nostalgia is its use and abuse as a cudgel against Republicans. Imagine — just imagine — how different the issue would be today if it hadn’t been used against Ronald Reagan. Anyway, that topic makes my head throb.

Still the irony is stunning. The same houseplant liberals who were convinced that homelessness was the result of Reagan’s greed-based policies, today can’t imagine that the current president can be blamed for these people. Nope, just as the Left loves to use “the children” to enrich union shills, fatten the waistlines of poverty pimps, and beat up Republicans, they are using the homeless to help the president’s wife get some self-esteem.

Thus we get Hillary Clinton calling Jesus a “homeless child.” First of all, where are the liberals who set themselves ablaze with indignation every time a conservative invokes God in a policy discussion? Second of all — and I could be wrong because, as a Goldberg, I know more about Moses, dentistry, and accounting then I do about Jesus — but Jesus wasn’t homeless. This may come as a shock to a woman who’s lived in public housing almost her entire life, but there’s a big difference between not being able to find a hotel room and being homeless. His parents were honest taxpayers who had to schlep to Bethlehem to pay their taxes (what? I can use “schlep.” they were Jewish).

Rosie went ballistic on her show, asserting that Giuliani wanted to take children away from homeless people. “Is that the most startling thing you’ve ever heard? In America, in 1999?” she said. “It’s unbelievable. … He’s out of control, this guy.” Um. Well, first of all, that’s a bit of a distortion. But let’s pretend it’s not. When exactly does Rosie want Child Services to get off its butt? I mean, I’m not exactly a huge fan of government meddling in family stuff, but when kids come “home” from school to an insane souse rooting through a dumpster, shouldn’t Giuliani see to it that they’re “taken” from their parents? That’s right, yank ‘em right out of there.

Giuliani’s policy is this: If you’re an able-bodied man and you use city-provided shelter, you need to seek treatment. If you refuse to go to a shelter and you continue to violate the law while “living” on the street, the police can issue you a summons. This is the fascist policy that has Rosie so exercised.

What is so dishonest about arguments about homelessness is the fact that liberals refuse to admit that most homeless people are not easily comparable to Jesus (remember that awful movie With Honors, where Joe Pesci plays a homeless Obi-Wan Kenobi who teaches heartless Harvard kids how to love? Well, in the real-life story on which the movie is based, the homeless guy was a dangerous nut who would never leave). Most homeless people fall into at least one of several categories. They are often mentally or physically ill or on drugs and or criminally inclined. More often, they are more than one.

Indeed, as chance would have it, the Census Bureau is releasing a massive new study on homelessness, according to the New York Times. The headline for the story is “Deep Poverty and Illness Found Among Homeless.” How’s that for obvious headlines? Imagine the opposite: “Profound Wealth and Health Found Among Mansion Owners.” Anyway, the new study confirms that homeless people are in need of help; 40% of the homeless who go to soup kitchens and shelters are mentally ill. Two thirds suffer from chronic diseases, not counting AIDS, which if included would doubtless send the numbers higher. Also, one should keep in mind that these are people inclined, for various reasons, to talk to interviewers. Anyway, I spent a lot of time as a think tanker working on homelessness, so I think the data’s pretty interesting. But most of you probably don’t, so instead I’ll tell you a story about the days before Giuliani.

When I was a kid, my neighborhood was invaded by what I thought were monsters. These people would scream at the top of their lungs. They would push and punch people. They would drool on themselves (actually this sounds a lot like me last night). They would yell obscenities and urinate in the street. They would sit down in the middle of the sidewalk and curse at people who made eye contact with them. They would vomit on themselves and on other people. A few blocks from where I lived, the Wild Man of 96th Street — made famous by Law & Order and 60 Minutes — reigned supreme. He had the cute habit of punching children and shoving old ladies into traffic — or maybe it was the other way around. These people would arrive, like migratory herds of damaged people, every summer when it was “safe” for them to sleep on the street.

They were all the victims, it turns out, of liberals, libertarians, and conservatives. The liberals and libertarians banded together under the rubric of “liberating the so-called mentally ill.” The intellectual godfather of this monstrosity was Thomas Szasz, a psychiatrist who had written The Myth of Mental Illness in 1961. He wrote, ” ‘Mental illness’ is [only] a metaphor. Minds can be ‘sick’ only in the sense that jokes are ‘sick’ or economics are ‘sick.’ ” The NYCLU got the fanciful idea that anybody who was restrained against his will was unjustly incarcerated, even if these people thought a duck is a radio transmitter and believed puddle-water had all the vitamins a human needs. So, they emptied out the mental hospitals — which, to be honest, were really awful places — and set the inmates loose on the streets, pumped up with a bunch of drugs that kept them safe and non-violent — until the drugs wore off. The liberators figured that these unhinged people would have the good sense to seek treatment as outpatients.

So why were conservatives to blame too? Because they went along with the whole scheme to save money. Closing the mental hospitals was a revenue windfall, so they turned a blind eye. The fact is, there are some legitimate government functions. Amitai Etzioni, in perhaps the only brief and interesting thing he’s ever said, observed long ago that children do not fit the libertarian paradigm. Well, the mentally ill don’t either. Government needs to make mature decisions about what to do with damaged people. Letting them die of frostbite in the name of liberty or Clintonian compassion is not a mature decision.

I’m sure Giuliani’s plan for the homeless has its faults. But it is a plan. It recognizes unpleasant facts and deals with them. It doesn’t make the people living on the streets into cuddly heroes and it doesn’t make them Jesus either.

MULTIMEDIA ME FYI: Readers often ask me to give them a heads up about my TV appearances. So: I’ll be on Rivera Live tonight, I think. Also I will be participating in a live “chat” on Townhall tomorrow at 4. Click here for details.

If, in fact, I do go on the tube, I’ll expect plenty of grief from you people about my new goatee.



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