Even before President Bush gets to Los Angeles, he is blaming the riots there on the Great Society programs of the Sixties. Such finger-pointing won't work. Mr. Bush and Ronald Reagan before him have spent the past dozen years eviscerating these programs without putting anything in their place. Our current president not only lacks an urban policy; there is reason to doubt he knows in his own mind just what he stands for in America's troubled cities because, until the wake-up call came last week, he chose to ignore them.
This is not to say Bill Clinton and the Democrats have put forward compelling answers. Far from it. The prospective Democratic nominee was content to downplay the urban issue, with its backdrop of racial tension, because he saw it as a loser with white suburban voters. Within his own party, there is also a feeling that the formulas of the past no longer work, if they ever did, and new approaches have yet to be defined satisfactorily
Yet the Democrats have one thing going for them. Since the cities are a major part of their constituency, they can play the part of activists and doers. In the Sixties, their party was in charge. As the cities burned, they threw money at urban problems and enlarged a welfare program that today is widely seen as a source of perpetual dependency and family break-up among the very people they sought to help.