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Jewish World Review Dec. 6, 1999 /27 Kislev, 5760

Mona Charen

Mona Charen
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Hillary thumps her Bible --
NOW, AT LONG LAST, Hillary Clinton has really jumped into the Senate race in New York. Her entrance became official not when she donned that baseball cap, nor when she boasted about knowing where Oneonta is, but when she slammed Mayor Rudy Giuliani for his homeless policy.

Speaking to a group of mostly black ministers, Mrs. Clinton dusted off some golden oldies from liberal crusades past. Noting that the mayor has promised to arrest homeless people who decline to take refuge in a shelter or elsewhere, Mrs. Clinton invoked the spirit of the season, "We are celebrating the birth of a homeless child. ... Well, tonight in New York there will be no room at the inn for thousands and thousands." She also accused the mayor of "punishing poverty."

First, let's recall that the "homeless couple" two thousand years ago were not really homeless, they were fleeing taxes, no? Second, Mrs. Clinton seems to get her numbers ("thousands and thousands") from the Mitch Synder school of social research. In fact, there may be hundreds of homeless on the streets of New York, but not thousands and thousands.

We fought this battle over numbers back in the '80s. In the end, after arguing strenuously that there were 3 million homeless (the result of heartless cuts in social programs, we were told), even the liberals finally capitulated and admitted that the late Snyder's numbers were pure invention. The true national number was about 300,000.

Mrs. Clinton echoes the '80s view on homelessness, flaying the mayor for "arresting those whose only offense is that they have no home." Now, actually, the city of New York offers a great many free services for so-called "street people." They get shelter, food, medical attention, job training, even addiction services and psychotherapy. But you cannot give those things to people who refuse to come in out of the cold.

And that brings us to the moral question. Mrs. Clinton is certain that she holds the moral high ground for sticking to the view that homeless people should be permitted to reject help. To paraphrase Anatole France, Mrs. Clinton's position amounts to: "Sane and insane alike have the right to sleep under bridges."

There are some people -- and they comprise roughly 60 percent of those we call "homeless" -- who are so mentally impaired that it is foolish to speak of preserving their "autonomy" or respecting their decisions. If a mentally ill person declines to leave the street in sub-zero weather, is it compassionate to let him freeze?

Liberals imagined that they were fighting for the mentally ill when they emptied the institutions 30 years ago. When forlorn, miserable and sometimes dangerous people began to haunt the parks and subways, liberals at first attempted to use them for political points. They insisted that the homeless were just like you and me.

"We are all one paycheck away from homelessness," went the propaganda of the time. Why were there so many? Reagan was to blame. But some had eyes to see. Mrs. Clinton might wish to peruse "The Perversion of Autonomy" by Willard Gaylin and Bruce Jennings, two psychiatrists with no particular brief for conservatism but who summed up deinstitutionalization this way: "Mentally ill patients were granted their freedom to defecate, urinate, sleep, starve, freeze, murder and be murdered in the streets of our larger cities. All in the name of autonomy."

With a Democrat in the White House, many liberals finally admitted the truth, that the homeless were comprised, almost entirely, of the mentally ill and those who abuse drugs and alcohol (the latter group used to be called "bums").

Giuliani's current push to arrest homeless people came after two extremely disturbing attacks on New York's streets. One homeless person pushed a young woman onto the subway tracks, causing her death. And more recently, a homeless man smashed a brick into the head of a young officeworker, critically injuring her. That is another thing Mrs. Clinton didn't grapple with in her talk -- the right of the majority to be protected from the criminal mentally ill.

Mrs. Clinton thinks she knows how to lift the homeless "out of poverty." If this speech is an indication of her understanding of the issue, she has no idea what she is talking about.

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