Gypsy Encampments of the Hollywood Freeway

On our way to downtown Los Angeles Saturday night for the annual Churchill Dinner of the Claremont Institute at the venerable Biltmore Hotel, my wife Sheryl and I took the Hollywood Freeway, a route we had taken uncountable times before.

Only something was different.  Small encampments of homeless had been set up on the edge of the freeway.  We were used to them under freeway bridges, but these were more elaborate, makeshift tents and blankets positioned on slopes along the freeway, so that, we speculated, they were in full view of the constant passing traffic.  That way the violence frequently visited on the homeless by themselves and by others would at least partly be discouraged.

I was reminded of Victor Hanson’s poignant descriptions of the California Central Valley and also of when I lived in Southern Spain and would see impoverished gypsy encampments along the roads to Grenada and Seville.  But that was decades ago and that part of Spain, Andalucia, was desperately poor then, struggling to play catch up with the rest of Europe. It did -- for a while anyway.

The Hollywood Freeway was not so simple.  This was a parade of the haves and have-nots, Mercedes and Lexuses, streaming past the tattered homeless:  Obama’s America.

The president has a solution to this problem, even as it gets worse.  Tax those folks in the Mercedes. Only that’s been tried a thousand times, most notably in the Great Depression, and it never worked. For someone so versed in Frankfurt School “critical theory,” the president has a convenient way of forgetting history.

He prefers, as we know, the pursuit of “fairness,” but in so doing he has seemed to make things less fair.  The stock market is up at the same time as the number of those who have dropped out of the labor force reached a jaw-dropping 89 million in January.   I wouldn’t be surprised to find gypsy encampments along all the freeways soon. African-Americans, as we also all know, have been hurt worst of all.

And yet Obama’s adversaries are accused of racism. La vie à l’envers, life upside down, as the French say.

Off the freeway and approaching the Biltmore, Sheryl and I saw the new Broad Art Museum under construction. Designed by architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro and only a block or so from Frank Gehry’s now-landmark Disney Hall, it is an avant garde structure with an “estimated” 130 million dollar cost.   I’m not gainsaying Eli Broad’s devotion to the arts in L.A., but that budget could feed and house a lot of homeless, possibly all of them, for some time.

Or could it?  I don’t think we have any way of knowing.  The future is a complex thing.  Men like Broad should be applauded for building it, even if in a way that might seem too refined for perilous economic times.

The real problem is our president who seems bent on preventing the future, whether by restricting energy development or unleashing nanny-state bureaucrats whose jobs and power depend on the erection of barriers.

Optimism for the future is the necessary motor for human progress.  When you look out at the Hollywood Freeway and see gypsy homeless encampments, it’s hard not to be pessimistic.  But that pessimism is the very thing that creates poverty and despair.  The mindset of Barack Obama must be overcome.

ADDENDUM:  My bleak mood lifted somewhat when we arrived at the Churchill Dinner -- and not just because there was an open bar. I was among friends. Bill Bennett spoke and glasses of brandy were passed around to toast the great, late prime minister.  As many will recall,  one of Barack Obama's first actions in office was to send the bust of Sir Winston in the Oval Office back to England.  We'll know good times have returned, when it comes back again.  As the man himself said, "Never give in--never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy."

(Thumbnail on PJM homepage assembled from multiple images.)