Viewpoint: Getting Down to the Well on Busing

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Consider the maddening halfway argument on marijuana and its similarity to recent developments on the antibusing front. The "liberated" (but not "radical") line on grass goes: decriminalize its use, yessirree, but retain punishment for its sale, and send the pushers away for life. Or worse.

Have you ever tried growing marijuana? If you've a perfect field with lots of sunlight, or a huge closet fitted out with special lights, and you can recognize a female plant (women's lib take note: male plants just can't do it), and you've studied horticulture long enough to grow orchids in an icebox, you're golden. But if you're a civilian marijuana plant grower? Forget it. For kicks, I tried it one summer down on Cape Cod, in a well-lit window with a big pot, and with the advice and counsel of one of those phases-of-the-moon type fellows, the kind who's got an optimum moon phase for everything. I got four inches on a thin reed, then nowhere.

You just can't grow your own marijuana. So if the state finally goes ahead and decriminalizes marijuana use, without decriminalizing marijuana sale, it means about as much as voting for a constitutional amendment against busing but not voting to get such legislation to the floor of the House, or creating a nationwide antibusing movement without proper leadership.

Which is what this column is all about. Boston's forced busing has proved to be such a disaster, and the threat of it elsewhere is so real, that nationwide attention has focused for months on the Bay State situation. Until now most Massachusetts politicians have hemmed and hawed. Oh just everybody is against busing, all the polls, that is, but they plead impotence in the face of Judge Garrity's abysmal forced busing orders.

Now comes Congressman Thomas P. ("Tip") O'Neill, Majority Leader of the House, who, though representing the "advanced" constituency of Beacon Hill and university-heavy Cambridge, has dropped a bombshell: he has indicated that he will vote for such an amendment to curb that wacky bit of social engineering, but—there's always a fatal but—but our avatar of change and all things good and true says he will not support moves to get the amendment bill out of committee and onto the House floor.

The Majority Leader's position is simple: he's voted for every constitutional amendment reaching the floor since he entered Congress but he'll do nothing to expedite the awesome journey through the bottlenecking committee.

Well, it is a break in the ranks. Tip O'Neill's son, wee Tommy O'Neill, the boy lieutenant governor, of whom it is rumored that he has at last found his way from the playpen to his office, parrots our new governor's line. Says Tip's boy child: abolition of busing as a means to integrate schools would "destroy the most viable tool we have right now to implement integration." Pishtush. Busing's precisely the most viable tool to impede integration—white flight, the whole ritual jitterbug out to the suburbs. And everybody knows it.

Another break on the antibusing scene was the major rally held in Washington in March. Irony of ironies, the Boston antibusing contingent bused themselves down to Babylon on the Potomac. There they met with busing opponents from other cities, rattled their sabres, and popped up with a first-ever national anti-forced busing leader: Mrs. Louise Day Hicks, of, you guess it, South Boston.

Mrs. Hicks is much maligned by the liberals: she is overweight, underlovely, with a tinny little voice, and she's fought forced busing for years. So she's a "racist," don't you know. She isn't, and in fact she impressed me mightily as an intelligent and courageous woman when I interviewed her long ago. Problem is, she's got no clout outside Boston—she's a city councilwoman), and the national anti-forced busing movement needs a star, a name. So long as the movement remains South Boston controlled, it isn't going to convince America. Now if they can prevail upon Sam Ervin to change his mind, or upon Tip O'Neill to go the whole route.…But that's like convincing The Law to go the whole route on marijuana.

David Brudnoy teaches at Harvard University's institute of Politics. Dr. Brudnoy's Viewpoint appears in this column every third month, alternating with the viewpoints of Murray Rothbard and Tibor Machan.