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Jewish World Review July 9, 1999 /25 Tamuz, 5759

Mona Charen

Mona Charen
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Econophone

Bubba goes native

http://www.jewishworldreview.com --
PRESIDENT CLINTON VISITED an Indian reservation the other day to remind us how morally superior he is to nearly all of his predecessors. No doubt the apology for Wounded Knee will be forthcoming. The president loves to preen by apologizing for the sins of others -- it's his own sins that leave him tongue-tied.

Anyway, speaking at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, home to the Oglala Sioux tribe, the president noted: "No American president has been anywhere in Indian country since Franklin Roosevelt was president. That is wrong, and we're trying to fix it today."

One question: Is it politically correct to say "Indian country"? Admittedly, "Native American country" offends the ear, but the p.c. crowd -- the folks who brought you "chairperson" and "differently abled" -- have never let that stop them. Bill Clinton is p.c. What gives?

Perhaps Clinton's predecessors ought to have found the time to visit a reservation, but far better for the Indians would be for this or any president to correctly analyze their plight. The president, face-to-face with some of the worst poverty in America (unemployment on the Pine Ridge reservation is 72 percent), urged the Sioux to cultivate the Internet, promising that, if they acquire the skills, "we can get the jobs to come here." The president is also hawking a basket of new tax credits, loan guarantees and other incentives to lure business to the reservations.

None of that will succeed. With no disrespect intended toward American Indians, it would be pouring good money after bad.

Let's clear the decks about history. It is a simple fact of life that European civilization contended with Indian civilization for dominion over this patch of North America and the Indians were vanquished. It is inarguable that along the way, terrible atrocities were committed on both sides, and many a treaty was broken by the United States.

But white guilt over that history has harmed modern Indians, not helped them.

In fact, Indian reservations are little laboratories of liberalism -- cautionary tales about the effects of too much benevolence. For years, but particularly since the 1960s and '70s when the Indian cause became chic, the U.S. government has lavished freebies on Indian reservations. Hendrik Mills, writing in the November/December American Enterprise magazine, described the cornucopia available to reservation Indians: free health care (including dentistry) with no co-payments, extra education funds, tribal colleges complete with full scholarships and living expenses, exemption from many local and state taxes, Head Start, loads of free food, and -- of course -- welfare.

Mills, who was drawn to the reservation initially by leftist idealism, was appalled to see the unopened packages of fruit juice, canned fruit, macaroni, soup, rice and beans -- most with Department of Agriculture stamps -- rotting in local dumps. He was shocked that many Indian parents effectively have made their children orphans by failing to provide the most basic care. And he was disillusioned to discover that many Indians wait for the government check to come on the first of the month and then blow it all at the casino.

There are exceptions, of course. Southern reservations have fewer alcohol problems than Northern ones, and many Indians do lead productive, orderly lives. But the overall state of Indian reservations is one of poverty, decay and despair. Alcohol has ravaged the reservations. According to Alcohol Health and Research World, the alcohol-related death rate among Indians in 1992 was 5.6 times greater than among the U.S. population in general. Alcohol-related fatal car accidents are three times as prevalent; alcohol-related homicide is 2.4 times higher; and fetal alcohol syndrome is 4.5 times higher than among the general population. Among juvenile Indians who drink, those who live on reservations tend to drink more heavily.

The answer to what ails the reservations is probably exactly the reverse of what President Clinton is recommending. It is an end to the dole; an end to paternalism. If we continue to "help" in the way we've been doing for decades, we may soon have no Indians left.


JWR contributor Mona Charen reads all of her mail. Let her know what you think by clicking here. Please bear in mind, though, that while all letters are read, due to the heavy amount of traffic, not all letters can be answered.


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©1999, Creators Syndicate