The Ezra Klein Show: Best of: What ‘Drained-Pool’ Politics Costs America

New York Times Opinion New York Times Opinion 7/6/21 - Episode Page

In February, I spoke with Heather McGhee. I’ve been thinking about the conversation ever since. 

“The American landscape was once graced with resplendent public swimming pools, some big enough to hold thousands of swimmers at a time,” writes McGhee in her recent book, “The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together.” These pools were the pride of their communities, monuments to what public investment could do. But they were, in many places, whites-only. Then came the desegregation orders. The pools would need to be open to everyone. But these communities found a loophole. They could close them for everyone. Drain them. Fill them with concrete. Shutter their parks departments entirely. And so they did.

Drained-pool politics — if “they” can also have it, then no one can — are still with us today. They help explain why America still doesn’t have a truly universal health care system, a child care system, or a decent social safety net. Why policy changes that seem incredibly modest by international standards are so often met with backlash. And there are plenty of recent examples: A few weeks ago, Sen. Tom Cotton proposed that rather than abolishing the racist sentencing guidelines for crack cocaine possession, we extend them to powder cocaine, too. 

This conversation is just as relevant today as it was at the time we recorded it. The lens it offers into American policy and politics is truly invaluable for making sense of so much of what’s going on around us. And it’s message is ultimately a hopeful one: There is a $20 bill lying on the street of American public policy. It’s the vast “solidarity dividends” waiting for us, if we are willing to stand with, rather than against, each other.


"Parable of the Sower" by Octavia E. Butler

"The Color of Law" by Richard Rothstein

“Good Times” (TV series)

"The Word Collector" by Peter H. Reynolds

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“The Ezra Klein Show” is produced by Annie Galvin, Jeff Geld and Rogé Karma; fact-checking by Michelle Harris; original music by Isaac Jones; mixing by Jeff Geld; audience strategy by Shannon Busta. Special thanks to Kristin Lin.