Jonah Goldberg

There's an intriguing double standard that tangles up the right and the left. We're told it is outrageous for government to assume that a young black male (in some contexts) is more likely to commit a crime; we're also told that government should target young black men for help because they are more likely to commit crimes. Most liberals hate law enforcement profiling but support -- for want of a better term -- social justice profiling. For conservatives, it's vice versa (though Clegg opposes both kinds of profiling, it's worth noting). Yet the empirical arguments for positive and negative profiling are the same: The plight of young black men is different.

Clegg says that the initiative should be aimed at all at-risk males. Maybe that would be ideal -- on paper. The hitch is that a program that appeals to all young males may not be as effective as one that focuses on young blacks in particular. Relatively benign appeals to racial solidarity and pride by definition don't work on groups of different races.

The point is even more obvious when you consider sex differences. A strong male role model can tell boys to "act like a man" in ways women can't. Sure, a woman can say the words, but she can't be a man. For some boys, particularly ones without fathers at home (the majority of at-risk youths), that's still a huge distinction.

That's why I agree with those liberals who think Obama should have done more sooner for young black men. It may be irrational in a legalistic sense, but in human terms it is utterly obvious that the first black president of the United States -- raised by a single mother no less -- might have special standing with at-risk black youth.

Real life happens outside the neat boundaries of rigid legalisms. It also happens upstream of government. I'm very skeptical this program will do much to fix the deeper problems, but if it causes Obama to focus on them, it's probably worth it.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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