Off The Wall: Forcing an Overdue Conversation

Holly Meikle Clawson‎ to Mike Rowe:

Mike, being from Baltimore I’d love to hear your thoughts on this video and this woman.

Hi Holly

Being form Baltimore, how can I say no?

I don’t know Kim Klacik, but I’ve seen her video, and I can certainly understand why it’s gone viral. A black republican in a red dress strolling through the worst parts of Baltimore in high heels while accusing democrats of not caring about black lives is going to get a lot of attention. And so, it has. Over ten million views on Twitter alone. It’s also broken a few eggs, especially over at The Baltimore Sun.

If you watch her video, you also should read the Sun’s response to it. It’s very instructive. And if you read the Sun’s response, you should absolutely read Klacik’s reply, posted yesterday morning. And if that sounds like too much reading and watching for a Sunday, allow me to sum it up for you in two paragraphs.

1) In her video, Kim Klacik blames the current conditions in Baltimore on 53 years of democratic leadership, and 53 years of democratic policies. She accuses Baltimore’s elected officials of claiming to care about black lives, while ignoring the daily struggles faced by the black community – a community that represents 60% of Baltimore’s population. She also challenges the idea that black people want to defund the police.

2) In their response, The Editorial Board of the Sun questions Kim Klacik’s sincerity. They say that her decision to run for Congress, as opposed to Mayor or City Council, indicates a lack of seriousness in making a real difference in Baltimore. They also argue that Baltimore’s problems are not a reflection of democratic leadership. Specifically, they write, “It’s ludicrous and overly simple to blame the city’s ills on party affiliation.” They also accuse Klacik of running for a congressional seat in a part of the city where she doesn’t actually live, and producing a campaign ad that offers “not one” concrete solution.

I really encourage everyone to read both columns, but that’s the gist of the disagreement. Klacik believes that democratic policies are the proximate cause of Baltimore’s problems, and the Editorial Board of the Sun does not. They blame “concentrated poverty, substance abuse, a war on drugs that disproportionately criminalized low-income African Americans, racism and red-lining, the loss of blue-collar jobs, collapsing public infrastructure, and broken families and failing schools.” Obviously, these are all real problems, but is it really “ludicrous,” as the Sun says, to suggest that party affiliation has little impact on the current state of things in Baltimore? “Overly simple,” maybe, but “ludicrous?” One might be tempted to ask the Sun, if there’s no real difference between the parties or the policies they implement, why bother to endorse one candidate or the other? Why even bother with a two-party system at all?

To answer your question, Holly, I’m glad that someone is challenging the party in power – not because the party in power is democratic, but because the party in power has been there for a very long time, and the city is desperate for change. Is Klacik the kind of change the city needs? I don’t know. To the Sun’s point, her ad offers no specifics on what she would do differently. (On the other hand, no political ad ever does. Her website spells out her platform, as does her reply to the Sun.) However, when she says, “this is the real Baltimore,” I cringe. The streets she’s walking are certainly real, and they are most assuredly in Baltimore, and they are undeniably a real disaster. But to suggest that those streets represent the totality of the town, is a bit like grabbing and elephant by the tusk and concluding the entire animal is made of ivory. Many areas of Baltimore have grown and flourished over the last twenty years. It would be great to see the seventh district among them.

The “real” Baltimore, much like the “real” Seattle and the “real” San Francisco, is a place that includes many different neighborhoods and districts. Some are pretty, some are ugly. It’s unfair to portray the entire town as one or the other, but it’s completely fair to point out, as Klacik does, that Baltimore’s black community is suffering terribly under the leaders they elected. The murder rate is ten times the national average. The poverty rate is at 20% and climbing. People are leaving Baltimore in droves. The Sun disputes none of this. Instead, they question the relevance of “political affiliation,” and call Klacik a “political stalking horse.”

“Her true purpose,” they say, is to “blunt Black support for Democrats on behalf of Mr. Trump, who in 2016 won all of 8% of Black votes.”

Maybe the Sun is right? Maybe Klacik is on a mission to challenge the idea that black people should all vote for the same party? I have no idea what her “true purpose” is, or whether her agenda goes beyond serving the people in Baltimore’s seventh district. But I have to wonder – if republican mayors and republican city councils had been calling the shots for the last 53 years, and Baltimore were in the same condition it is today, would the local media still dismiss the relevance of “party affiliation?” Or would they would be calling for some kind of political accountability?

Ultimately, I agree that Baltimore won’t be saved by Congress. If the city survives, it’ll be saved by the people who live there, the local representative they elect, the policies those representatives implement, and the businesspeople who are willing to invest the community. And that doesn’t mean fewer police; that means more police. A lot more.

Again, that’s not a political statement. At least, I don’t mean it to be. But honestly, what city can hope to recover, let alone thrive, if its citizens and its businesses aren’t protected? What tourist can be expected to visit a town where the elected officials entertain cuts to law enforcement during a crime wave? People love to dismiss these questions as “GOP talking points,” or “conservative narratives,” and maybe they are. But they’re also legitimate concerns that any rational citizen would consider before visiting or investing in or moving to a city with Baltimore’s challenges.

Finally, because nothing “goes without saying” anymore, let me say that I strongly support better and ongoing training programs for our police, and I sincerely hope we’ll see the day when the number of cops in our cities can be dramatically reduced, along with the budgets for local law enforcement. But I’m afraid that today is not that day, and pretending otherwise is driving taxpayers into the suburbs, and making life a lot worse for those who choose to remain or have no ability to leave. According to Klacik, “tens of thousands of black families” – over half of the families in her district – have already moved out of the city. That’s an unmitigated disaster, and I don’t think it’s “ludicrous” to wonder if the party in charge might bear some responsibility; I think it’s ludicrous not to.

Anyway, Holly, that’s a long way of saying that I like the video, because it’s forcing a long overdue conversation. I know that some people here will object. Others will find my answer too political for what they’ve come to expect from this page, and I’m sorry about that. I have no wish to swim outside my lane. But the stakes are very high for Baltimore, and the people who still call it home. If we can’t discuss the problems honestly, we can only expect more of the same.

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