(The violence in Philadelphia has been reduced since 2008 thanks to new policing strategies. The larger problem of urban violence remains, however. In 2012, 532 people were murdered in Chicago. Nationwide, gang membership has increased by roughly 40%.)
To give you a sense of the scale of this, there's an article called "The War in West Philadelphia," written by Dr. John Pryor, who was an Iraq combat surgeon and an emergency room doctor in Philadelphia. This is what he said:
"In the swirl of screams and moving figures, my mind drifted to my recent experience in Iraq as an Army surgeon. There we dealt regularly with 'MASCALS,' or mass-casualty situations. In Iraq, ironically, I found myself drawing on my experience as a civilian trauma surgeon each time a MASCAL would overrun the combat hospital. As nine or ten patients from a firefight rolled in, I sometimes caught myself saying 'just like another Friday night in West Philadelphia.' The wounds and nationalities of the patients are different, but the feelings of helplessness, despair and loss are the same. In Iraq, soldiers die for freedom, for honor, for their country and for their buddies. Here in Philadelphia, they die without honor, without purpose, for no country, for no one."
Now how can you hear that about your country and a great city and young people being killed, and not have some sense of anger? You should have a sense of anger about problems not solved, conditions not improved, and people not helped.
The question is -- and I think this is where (President) Obama began to get a little off the mark -- what do you do with the anger? We have to move from anger to courage, from blaming to solving. But if we want to save lives instead of being angry about their loss, we have to have real courage. As Lincoln said, we have to think anew.
Now, let me say, the rest of what I'm going to say today -- if you think the current system is working -- what I'm going to say is far too bold and far too willing to change what's happening.
But is anybody really prepared to defend the current system? And I think it will be very hard to go around this country and find anyone willing to stand up and suggest that the current system is working, particularly for the poorest and weakest of Americans.
The tragic truth is that the current system is not working because of two topics we don't like to talk about: bad culture and bad government. And bad culture and bad government intersect to reinforce each other, to create human and financial cost beyond anything we could have imagined a quarter-century ago.
The tragic truth is that at the end of segregation, the great moment of opportunity for African-Americans, we had a failure of government and a failure of culture. The rise of big bureaucracy in the Great Society starting in 1965 combined with the rise of a counterculture which despised middle-class values and which taught the poor patterns and habits of destruction -- and those two patterns of bad bureaucracy reinforcing bad culture have led to a disaster.
Charles Murray captured part of this in an extraordinary book in the mid-1980s called "Losing Ground," which was the seminal work in being able to pass welfare reform, in which he demonstrated that the patterns we were building were actively destructive of the poor.
Marvin Olasky extended that critique in a brilliant book written in 1994 called "The Tragedy of American Compassion." Olasky outlined the values and principles of the great 19th-century social reformers, who all believed that helping people out of poverty required tough love and work requirements. He cited reformer after reformer who condemned the compassionate wealthy who wanted to give people something for nothing. The reformers of the 19th century were convinced that giving away money subsidized bad behavior and encouraged people to remain dependent, and in many cases, to remain addicted to drugs and to alcohol.
The modern redistributionist model of bureaucratic welfare was an outgrowth of a leftist social critique of society, according to Olasky. He documented the leftist desire to create a right to money without effort. He cited advocate after advocate on the 20th-century left who insisted that a large underclass of permanently poor people was acceptable, and that it was cultural imperialism to insist that they acquire habits of discipline and self-management in order to lead full lives as independently productive citizens.
"The Tragedy of American Compassion" made clear that the fight over welfare reform was, at its heart, a cultural and moral fight over the nature of being American and the requirements of a full and healthy citizenship. Understood on those terms, the existing welfare system was indefensible as bad government and bad culture. It was bad government and bad culture combined in a way that crippled the lives of people.
In 1996, we reformed the welfare system, but we did not change the cultural values which were destroying opportunities and crippling lives, nor did we uproot the destructive institutions of bad government in education, urban bureaucracy, and tax policy. The bad cultural signals are routine, they're pervasive in the mass media. They surround us. They're in songs, they're on television, they're in radio, and they are really destructive of sound behavior and of the opportunity to get out of poverty.
You don't have a community that creates wealth, that ends up prosperous and safe and gives kids a better future, if everyone is taught to stand around demanding that somebody else pay for everything. And this is a core challenge.
Should this be a country in which every person learns to work, every person learns to save, every person learns to have a better future, and, by the way, is therefore responsible for working, saving, and creating a better future?
Or is this a country where you shouldn't have to do all those things because it's too hard, and someone should take care of you? In which case, the question becomes: Who's the someone, and why do you think they'll stay here? It's a fundamental question.
This is a cultural problem, and I want to start with that. Because ... if you want to replace a world of poverty with a world of prosperity, it begins with fundamental cultural change. And if you want to reinforce that cultural change, you want to design government policies that reward the right behaviors and make it expensive to have the wrong behaviors.
This is not complicated, but I want to repeat it. The first step is to decide the culture that you want. And if you want a culture of prosperity, you have to establish the values of that culture. You then have to redesign government so it is rewarding those who follow the culture of prosperity, and making it expensive for those who in fact are determined to reject being part of the world of prosperity. Because you want to send signals that say this is the right way to go, this is the wrong way to go. This is the heart of how healthy societies operate. It's what Bill Cosby in many ways has been trying to say both in his speeches and in his recent book.
We need bold, courageous solutions that dare to be politically incorrect.
(President) Obama quoted Faulkner, but he would have done well to have quoted more from Faulkner, especially Faulkner's 1950 Nobel Prize acceptance speech. Faulkner at that point describes the importance of faith and the importance of optimism. He says:
"The poet's, the writer's duty, is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure, by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to helping him endure and prevail."
So how do we endure and prevail?
There are seven areas. Stopping crime and ensuring public safety; replacing the destructive culture of adolescence with the return to young adulthood; creating a new dynamic of jobs, health, and wealth creation for all Americans; using modern technology and modern science to turn disabilities into capabilities; replacing cities of poverty with cities of prosperity; ensuring true happiness and a true citizenship with a real right to pursue happiness for all Americans; and creating a 21st-century system of law enforcement and appropriate punishment with a decisively new model of prisons.
I have given you a large and sweeping overview. I hope this is the beginning of a genuine dialogue. I think it would be tremendous if (President) Obama would be willing to actually talk about solutions, not merely the analysis. How would you truly help Native American reservations? How would you truly rethink the process by which Detroit has become a disaster? And how would you learn the lessons of economic growth around the planet? And apply them to try to create, once again in America, the fastest growing, most dynamic, and most entrepreneurial society in the world?