Article in N.Y. publication depicts ‘worst’ of Marietta

The citizens of Marietta can rightfully be proud that their city was named by Smithsonian Magazine writer Susan Spano as #6 in her list of “America’s Best Small Towns”.

That April, 2014 article was a positive reinforcement of the notion that economic and cultural revitalization is possible in a community that, like so many others in this region and across the nation, was hit hard by the triple-whammy of industrial outsourcing, automation, and the after-effects of the September, 2008 Wall Street collapse that created further massive reductions in the availability of living-wage jobs …

However, some of the luster of the Smithsonian article has now been dimmed by the appearance of a puerile and condescending bit of hackery by Forbes Magazine and National Review writer Howard Husock entitled “A Connecticut Yankee in Appalachia” that appeared in the Spring, 2014 issue of a lesser-known publication called The City Journal, which is the NYC-based propaganda-outlet of an alleged “non-profit think-tank” called “The Manhattan Institute”, that claims to promote “personal responsibility” and the “entrepreneurial spirit”. The Journal has a certain following among far right ideologues who still fervently believe in the sort of elitist, “trickle-down” nonsense that cost Mitt Romney the last presidential election.

In the article, Mr. Husock (who claims to be a “scholar” and is coincidentally also the Manhattan Institute’s “Vice-president for Policy Research”) depicts Marietta as a “Rust Belt city of 14,000” plagued by “inter-generational poverty” and “a host of social problems – family breakdown, dependency, drug-abuse, and educational indifference.” Attempting (unconvincingly) to appear familiar with the area, he claims that such “pathologies run as deep here as the confluence of the Muskingum and Ohio on Front Street”, but reveals a bit of his own “pathology” by adding the words “notwithstanding the fact that the city is 97% white”. Digging himself in even deeper, he concludes that same paragraph by saying that “locals speak (sometimes softly as if it were politically-incorrect) of a pervasive culture of ‘Appalachian values’, reminiscent of the values and behaviors often thought to be confined to America’s black urban underclass.” … Besides using loaded words like “under-class”, Husock gives himself away further by including admiring references to the controversial writer, Charles Murray, whose 1995 book, “The Bell Curve” presented to a late-20th century world the Neo-Social-Darwinist view that inner-city black students perform poorly because of “inherent intellectual inferiority”. Husock cites other alleged conservative “gurus” like Edward Banfield (“The Unheavenly City”) and right-wing columnist Thomas Sowell to promote his underlying view that only healthy doses of unrestricted “free-market” capitalism (i.e. giving unlimited access and influence to the oil-gas industry?), “Victorian values” (which ones – slavery or imperialism?), fundamentalist religion (the notion that dinosaurs and cavemen cavorted together 6000 years ago?), and the “Protestant work-ethic” can save Marietta’s “unwashed masses” from the pit of Hell …

All this is pretty heady stuff for an article that pretends to be about the genuinely praiseworthy efforts of Connecticut native Alice Ely Chapman (who founded The Ely Chapman Educational Foundation after her arrival here in 1996) to provide Marietta’s young-people (from a variety of backgrounds) with after-school activities, worthwhile extra-curricular programs, and some positive encouragement they might not receive at home … Mrs. Chapman’s work is beyond reproach and a credit to our community …

But the “Connecticut Yankee” article is not so much about Mrs. Chapman or her good work as it is about promoting the economic theories and hard-core Calvinist views of Mr. Husock and (since it is quite apparent that the City Journal writer never came within 100 miles of Marietta) whichever of the anonymous Calvinistic locals who likely provided him with the depressing photos (one is a night shot of a West-side house scheduled for demolition last winter; the other a possibly photo-shopped picture of an alleged “single mom ” playing with her child in a sparsely-furnished room) and cherry-picked descriptions of local crime and economic conditions he used to put together his long-distance hatchet-job on our town … While space is too limited to go into detail, it will be sufficient to say that Husock goes on for a considerable length describing the worst possible aspects of our community – drugs, child-abuse, the lack of jobs, the proliferation of “payday lending” shops. For good measure, he throws in the usual right-wing polemical attacks against public-education (which he claims “encourages failure”) and public-assistance programs like HUD, WIC, HEAP, and SNAP (which he claims “erode the work ethic”) and FOX-fixated fabrications about people “irresponsibly using” government-provided cell-phones and “buying” cigarettes and drugs with food stamps … Husock’s bottom line (and that of his supporters) is that if you happen to be poor, you must have done something wrong to deserve it …

Do any of the problems described by Mr. Husock really exist in Marietta? Of course they do – just as they exist in other towns and cities from NYC to Pittsburgh to Podunk, Iowa. Is there really a significant drug problem here? Yes there is, and it might be alleviated if certain office-holders provided funds for more counselors and facilities to treat addicts. Do our public-schools need help? Yes they lack adequate funding, and they need support instead of the constant anti-educational harangue they get from local tea-partiers. Is there a scarcity of living-wage jobs in both Marietta and the surrounding area? Most certainly, and that problem might be fixed if more profit-making entities like Wal-Mart paid their workers in accordance with prevailing prices …

Yes Marietta needs jobs. It needs valid solutions to the problems of drug-addiction, child-abuse, and poverty, but one thing it certainly does NOT need is a highly-paid big-city pundit from a dubious “think tank” (especially one that enjoys the benefits of the current flawed tax code to designate itself as a “social-policy-organization”) telling us what is or is not “behaving responsibly”!

Fred O’Neill lives in Marietta