opinion web
Liberal Opinion Conservative Opinion
Thomas Sowell
Thomas Sowell
24 Nov 2015
The Disappearing Governors

There is a painful irony in a recent decision of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, on the side of … Read More.

17 Nov 2015
Random Thoughts

Random thoughts on the passing scene: Some financial institutions may be considered "too big to fail," but … Read More.

17 Nov 2015
Stop the Bleeding

There was a painful irony when France's immediate response to the terrorist attacks in Paris was to close the borders.… Read More.

Political Translations


It is amazing how many different ways the same thing can be said, creating totally different impressions. For example, when President Barack Obama says that defeating ISIS is going to take a long time, how is that different from saying that he is going to do very little, very slowly? It is saying the same thing in different words.

Defenders of the administration's policies may cite how many aerial sorties have been flown by American planes against ISIS. There have been thousands of these sorties, which sounds very impressive. But what is less impressive — and more indicative — is that, in most of those sorties, the planes have not fired a single shot or dropped a single bomb.

Why? Because the rules of engagement are so restrictive that in most circumstances there is little that the pilot is allowed to do, unless circumstances are just right, which they seldom are in any war.

Moreover, the thousands of sorties being flown are still a small fraction of the number of sorties flown in the same amount of time during the Iraq war, when American leaders were serious about getting the war won.

Politics produces lots of words that can mean very different things, if you stop and think about them. But politicians depend on the fact that many people don't bother to stop and think about them.

We often hear that various problems within the black community are "a legacy of slavery." That phrase is in widespread use among people who believe in the kinds of welfare state programs that began to dominate government policies in the 1960s.

Blaming social problems today on "a legacy of slavery" is another way of saying, "Don't blame our welfare state policies for things that got worse after those policies took over. Blame what happened in earlier centuries."

Nobody would accept that kind of cop-out, if it were expressed that way. But that is why it is expressed differently, as a "legacy of slavery."

If we were being serious, instead of being political, we could look at the facts. Were the kinds of problems we are concerned about in black communities today as bad during the first century after slavery or in the first generation after the vastly expanded welfare state?

What about children being raised with no father in the home? As of 1960, nearly a century after slavery ended, 22 percent of black children were being raised in single-parent families.

Thirty years later, 67 percent of all black children were being raised in single-parent families.

What about violence? As of 1960, homicide rates among non-white males had gone down by 22 percent during the preceding decade. But, during the decade of the 1960s, that trend suddenly reversed, and the homicide rate shot up by 76 percent. The welfare state vision was often part of a larger, non-judgmental social vision that was lenient on criminals and hard on the police.

Few people today know that marriage rates and rates of labor force participation were once higher among blacks than among whites — all of this during the first century after slavery. In later years, a reversal occurred, largely in the wake of the welfare state expansions that began in the 1960s.

Another fashionable phrase that evades any need for evidence is "disparate impact" — a legal phrase accepted in the Supreme Court of the United States, despite being downright silly when you stop and think about it.

Whenever there is some standard for being hired, promoted or admitted to a college, some groups may meet that standard more so than others. One way of expressing that is to say that more of the people from group X meet the standard than do people from group Y. But politically correct people express the same thing by saying that the standard has a "disparate impact" on group Y. Once it is expressed this way, it is the standard that is suspect — and whoever set that standard has to prove a negative, namely that he is not guilty of discrimination against group Y. Often nobody can prove anything, so the accused loses — or else settles out of court.

Stupid? No. It takes very clever people to make something like that sound plausible. But it also requires people who don't bother to stop and think, who enable them to get away with it.

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305. His website is To find out more about Thomas Sowell and read features by other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at



4 Comments | Post Comment
How is presenting a false dichotomy different from nuanced thinking? For one, its dishonest. ISIS is not a nation-state. It is a terrorist organization that controls some territory. This is not an easy-fix situation. If we send in the military, we will own Syria, or at least the bit that the Russians aren't defending. Then what? Nobody bothered with the "then what' question last time and we are still paying the price. We also will not have defeated them, unless we also intend to occupy Somalia, Yemen, and a big chunk of North Africa. A terrorist organization does not need a particular piece of territory to continue being a problem.
Or do you favor loose rules of engagement on bombing of civilian areas where the bad guys now mix in? There is nothing like a good photo of bombed children to get the Muslim world to sing our praises. Better than flying back without having bombed something? I know you have a hard time getting past the "If Obama is doing it, it must be wrong", but you really should try. It just might be that Obama is not doing that simple, decisive move that will permanently vanquish ISIS because that move does not exist.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Mark
Mon Nov 23, 2015 10:55 PM
Mark, am I to believe there is nothing to be done? There are no steps to be taken, this is another new reality of 21st century life.

Don't make the Muslims mad. That is the nuanced policy we must adhere to...
There is no question that foreign policy over the last fifteen years has brought us to this moment of conflict. We have sacrificed integrity in the name of industrial profit and foreign casualties have far exceeded the number killed in Paris two weeks ago. It is a tacit fact that the military/industrial complex is overseen and run for the benefit of government and business, not the citizens. Sowell says simply that the policies adopted are not working. Many people would agree. It is hard to get past the "Criticizing Obama is always unacceptable", but that is the American way. We criticize all Presidents. Sometimes for very good reason.

If all of these policies Sowell criticizes, from Rules Of Engagement and leading from behind to a welfare system that has stripped generations of a father, have been so successful why is there unrest on campus and violence in the streets? It is not nuanced to say "Thing need to change, but the policies and policy makers may not be criticized".
Let's not be silly.

If all is fine and we will just have to live with collateral casualties in the Mid-East and the occasional bombing of Western cities, okay, that leaves you out of the discussion because the status quo is cool with you. Like you I don't believe there is a "simple, decisive move that will permanently vanquish ISIS" but I do believe a series of wise, forceful and tactical moves does exist. No one wants to die for a losing cause - let's make Jihad a losing cause. Right now they are winning, they are emboldened. Those wins must come at a very high premium if you don't want to live under Sharia Law some day. We may not have seen our Munich yet, but the day might be coming. People will have to decide if they blame and hate America enough to see her vanquished and replaced, or if there is something of intrinsic value worth fighting for. The stage is set...
Comment: #2
Posted by: Tom
Tue Nov 24, 2015 4:50 AM
I don't think there have been many good options at any point in the Syria mess. Do we attack ISIS in support of Assad who we said must go? Do we attack the Syrian government, a nation that has not attacked us? If we invade like we did in Iraq are we really prepared to put Humpty Dumpty back together again? What would indicate that this situation is better suited for "nation building" than the last one? I would like to hear the Sowell strategy for this mess, but we get drivel like comparing the number of sorties flown against Iraq, a nation with a vast military infrastructure (ie, things to bomb) at the time, to those flown against ISIS, a diffuse terrorist group that controls territory. (On the plus side, Obama has recently added oil tanker trucks to the target list, limiting the ability of ISIS to sell oil.) Note that Mr. Sowell reports that they often come back with bombs not dropped, yet he apparently thinks we should be flying a lot more sorties.
I do not find the current situation acceptable, but I am realistic about our prospects for an effective fix anytime soon. Nothing I have heard from the GOP candidates sounds any better than what Obama is doing now and a lot of what I have heard sounds a lot worse.
Comment: #3
Posted by: Mark
Tue Nov 24, 2015 10:17 PM
I get your idea,it does seem a lost cause. And I agree that just bombing the hell out of sovereign nations both created and will not help the situation.

The outrage dims as days pass after an attack like Paris. A new attack will stoke the fire to new levels. We are in quite a fix.

Comment: #4
Posted by: Tom
Wed Nov 25, 2015 4:07 AM
Already have an account? Log in.
New Account  
Your Name:
Your E-mail:
Your Password:
Confirm Your Password:

Please allow a few minutes for your comment to be posted.

Enter the numbers to the right: comments policy
Thomas Sowell
Nov. `15
Su Mo Tu We Th Fr Sa
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
8 9 10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18 19 20 21
22 23 24 25 26 27 28
29 30 1 2 3 4 5
About the author About the author
Write the author Write the author
Printer friendly format Printer friendly format
Email to friend Email to friend
View by Month
Authorís Podcast
Marc Dion
Marc DionUpdated 30 Nov 2015
Suzanne Fields
Suzanne FieldsUpdated 27 Nov 2015
Jamie Stiehm
Jamie StiehmUpdated 27 Nov 2015

19 Oct 2010 The Multicultural Cult: Part II

26 Oct 2010 Brass Oldies: Part II

16 Oct 2007 Crime and Rhetoric