Features

The homeless comeback

National | Democrats rediscover an old political tool

Issue: "Daniel of the Year 1999," Dec. 18, 1999

The homeless are making a comeback in the public mind, just in time for Hillary Rodham Clinton's prospective run for a New York Senate seat. The major media forgot about the homeless after Bill Clinton's election because they were only useful in bashing Republican presidents Bush and Reagan for their "heartless" and "uncaring" policies. In the aftermath of an attack on a woman by a man thought to be homeless, New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani ordered police to get the homeless off the streets and put them in shelters, even if they did not want to go. Giuliani said there was no constitutional right to sleep in public places. This demonstration of Republican and Giuliani heartlessness fired up Democrats, including Mrs. Clinton, who saw this as an opportunity to revisit the homeless issue, which should not be confused with actually solving the homeless problem. Mrs. Clinton is trying to grab the compassionate high ground. She said recently that the homeless who are mentally ill should be in institutions. Trouble is, some of Mrs. Clinton's ideological compatriots-civil liberties groups-two decades ago successfully sued and won the release of large numbers of mentally ill, drug- and alcohol-addicted people from the very institutions to which Mrs. Clinton wants them returned. Leonard Rubenstein, an attorney and co-author of The Rights of People with Mental Disabilities, tells me that while many people have been helped to get proper treatment and find work because of the lawsuits, the cases led to several states closing institutions, which caused a significant rise in the homeless population in New York City and other places. Mrs. Clinton has another problem in trying to make the homeless issue her own and paint Mayor Giuliani as the Scrooge of New York. Her husband's secretary of housing and urban development, Andrew Cuomo, son of the former governor of New York, issued a report in 1993 that concluded a lack of housing is only one contributing factor to homelessness. Mr. Cuomo cited the familiar reasons why most homeless people are unable to get their lives back on track: drugs, alcohol, and mental illness. Seeking to exploit not only the homeless but the religiosity of the Christmas season, Mrs. Clinton has said that the baby Jesus was also homeless and that had He been born in New York City during the administration of Mayor Giuliani, He would have been mistreated. The record indicates that while Jesus was born in a stable because "there was no room in the inn," Mary and Joseph had homes and they presumably returned to them after fulfilling the purpose for their trip to Bethlehem-paying taxes, something that should please a liberal Democrat like Mrs. Clinton. Later this "first family" moved to Egypt and then back to Israel, settling in Nazareth. Presumably they had homes to live in because Joseph and later Jesus had a carpentry trade. It would appear that Mrs. Clinton's theology is as bad as her politics. If Mrs. Clinton wants to travel the theological road on the issue of the homeless, she might consider setting a good example by taking a homeless person or two into her big new mansion in Chappaqua, N.Y. There's plenty of room in that "inn," and she would then have reason to claim "good Samaritan" status and challenge Mr. Giuliani by the depth of her commitment to this issue. But that won't happen because liberals never want to solve problems. If problems were solved, grievances would be put to rest and much of the class warfare would end. Where would Democrats then go for votes?

-© 1999, Los Angeles Times Syndicate

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Cal Thomas
Cal Thomas

Cal, whose syndicated column appears on WORLD's website and in more than 500 newspapers, is a frequent contributor to WORLD's radio news magazine The World and Everything in It. Follow Cal on Twitter @CalThomas.

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