Ode to Mitch Pearlstein

I have decided that Mitch deserves at least one more post from me looking back at his and the Center’s accomplishments in the “early days” of our existence.  And I just discovered that an “ode” is usually a poem and not just a tribute, but I like the title, so I’ve decided to keep it.  The real “ode,” written and performed by Chuck Spevacek and Robin Kelleher in honor of Mitch at his November 16 Roast, can be found here.

What began as a gleam in Mitch’s right eye nearly 30 years ago has, with the help of many, grown and developed into a respected and influential Minnesota institution.

At the Center we didn’t shoot from the hip and we didn’t call people names.  But we did do our best to summon our courage, to take a stand, and to speak the truth.  And sometimes that meant challenging head-on the central tenets of liberal orthodoxy.

Boy, did some folks get mad back in 1992 when we held a luncheon forum titled “Middle-Class Values:  Cultural Impositions or The Only Real Way Out of Poverty?”  All we were trying to do was put on the table a basic truth that had gotten totally lost in liberal rhetoric.

What did we mean by middle-class values?  Mitch had answered that in a May 20, 1990 op-ed printed in the St. Paul Pioneer Press:

Desperate poverty in America simply will not go away unless more people adopt middle-class values, by which I mean the following, and nothing more:

Go to high school, work modestly hard, and graduate.
If you father or bear children, be married.  If you’re married, try to stay that way, unless conditions are abusive.
Hold a job, unless extenuating circumstances are legitimate.
Don’t abuse drugs or alcohol.
Don’t break the law.

Such things are quite unremarkable, but they were things that needed to be said back then, and things that need to be said even more clearly today, as they are a lifesaving message that our liberal culture can’t seem to reinforce.

In fact Mitch was one of the first people in the country to speak out about the dreadful toll that out-of-wedlock births have been taking on our cities.  Here’s part of his Star Tribune column from May 5, 1990:

We have to acknowledge that all the federal and state dollars imaginable will not help nearly enough people to escape the underclass as long as illegitimacy rates in those (and other) communities remain dreadfully high — far higher than when the War on Poverty and its excuse making and responsibility-sapping began.

This was years before the issue was addressed by Dan Quayle and Bill Clinton, when just bringing up the subject caused many liberals to go nuts and put you on the receiving end of some pretty ugly epithets.

From multiculturalism to X-Generation whiners, Mitch always had a clever thought and a colorful way of expressing it.

Mitch on Multiculturalism (Star Tribune, July 3, 1994)

Is it still possible to argue that multiculturalism’s more ardent outgrowths, particularly as practiced in colleges and universities, are doing more to unite, rather than further divide this wildly diverse nation?

Mitch on the X-Generation (CityBusiness, June 10, 1994)

Please spare me annual recitations about how “the job market is unusually tight this year.”  And I can also do without how many college grads are driving cabs instead of self-actualizing themselves in big-buck jobs three weeks out of school.

I’m 46.  As someone whose parents lived through a world depression, which segued into a world war, forgive me if I persist in believing that it was tougher for those who came before rather than after me.

Mitch has always had a way of writing that is entertaining yet poignant.  If you missed my post that included Mitch’s historic response to the Minneapolis City Council for being one vote short of having a majority declare Lady Margaret Thatcher “persona non grata in our city,” you can enjoy it here.

Peter Zeller is Director of Operations at Center of the American Experiment, where he has been honored to serve since June 1, 1993.