Magazine April 6, 2020, Issue

The Blind Spots of the ‘Bootstraps’ Debate

From the cover of Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope (Knopf)
Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope, by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn (Knopf, 320 pp., $27.95)

‘It’s a physical impossibility to lift yourself up by a bootstrap, by your shoelaces,” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a bartender turned congresswoman, recently told a House of Representatives committee meeting. “The whole thing is a joke.” Evidently not the ha-ha kind: Perhaps democratic socialists have a greater appreciation for the gravity of metaphors.

AOC cited Martin Luther King Jr., who had once criticized the “bootstrap,” observing that African-American emancipation in 1863 had done next to nothing to improve the material fortunes of blacks, who were subjected to yet another hundred years of shame, stigma, and segregation. What MLK had actually said was that

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This article appears as “Balancing Act” in the April 6, 2020, print edition of National Review.

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