Saturday, July 14, 2012

In the Lions' Den



Earlier this week, Mitt Romney delivered a speech for the NAACP, the nation's oldest civil rights organization. Given that over 90% of African-Americans supported President Obama in the 2008 Presidential election, one might have thought that Romney's speech was quite risky, if not unnecessary. Many conservatives analogized it to Daniel in the lions' den, though this is something of an exaggeration. Even so, Romney's attendance was a bold move; even bolder was his refusal to pander to the audience, a constant temptation for all politicians. If you read only mainstream newspapers, then you probably know that Romney was booed when he promised to repeal Obamacare. This is true, but it leaves out not only the scattered applause Romney received throughout and the standing ovation he earned at the end, but also that Romney, despite many claiming him to be a political weathervane, nonetheless adhered to a stance he knew would be unpopular with his audience.

It also leaves out what one report calls the real talk of the NAACP: President Obama's absence. Some attendees claimed that Obama is unwise to take the voting bloc the group represents for granted. Although embattled Attorney General Eric Holder and gaffe-prone Vice President Joe Biden did attend and speechify, I would consider the latter to be an insult, considering Biden's general--though largely unnoticed--incompetence and ineloquence. That Obama can--and probably will--get away with sending mere surrogates to the NAACP while skipping its event speaks to a reality about our politics that has been extant since 1932, when FDR was elected: blacks are a core constituency of the Democratic Party. What many may forget, however, is that from the end of the Civil War to that 1932 election, blacks tended to vote Republican, from the legacy of Lincoln, the county's first Republican president. Since then, however, Democrats have successfully claimed to represent the interests of this group.

But what if that weren't true? What if some of the big government policies advocated by the Democratic Party were actually impeding the progress of blacks in this country? Romney's speech might serve as a good reason to ask questions like these. And as it turns out, the answer is "yes." Working off the theories of prominent conservative commentators on the state of black America, here are four key current Democratic Party stances that genuinely harm the group whose interests they claim to represent:

1) Democrats oppose charter schools and support public teachers unions. Both of these policy programs have demonstrably lowered the quality of schools that blacks often attend, locking young students into failure. As Romney noted in his speech:
Today, black children are 17 percent of students nationwide – but they are 42 percent of the students in our worst-performing schools.
President Obama himself has consistently opposed expanding the D.C. voucher program which would allow black students to escape these failing schools, and D.C. Democrats viciously opposed the bold reforming efforts of the former area schools Chancellor, Michelle Rhee, whose policies threatened the teacher-benefiting but student-harming status quo in the city (see also the recent documentary, Waiting for Superman, about this subject). Obama would have a difficult time turning on the teachers' unions even if he wanted to, as they are a core democratic constituency as well, accounting for many of the attendees of the Democratic National Convention.

2) Democrats support a higher minimum wage. Any serious economist will tell you that a higher minimum wage reduces employment among low-skilled workers, many of whom are younger. In effect, a higher minimum wage knocks the bottom rungs off the ladder of success. Economist Thomas Sowell puts it thus:
It is not written in the stars that young black males must have astronomical rates of unemployment. It is written implicitly in the minimum wage laws...[t]he economic reason is not complicated. When you set minimum wage levels higher than many inexperienced young people are worth, they don't get hired. It is not rocket science.
 3) Democrats support more generous welfare policies. The welfare policies begun by Lyndon Johnson in the Great Society programs were intended to help blacks; they have had the opposite effect. Economist Walter Williams, in an interview with Jason Riley of the Wall Street Journal, notes the pernicious effect of these policies on the destruction of the black family:
Even in the antebellum era, when slaves often weren't permitted to wed, most black children lived with a biological mother and father. During Reconstruction and up until the 1940s, 75% to 85% of black children lived in two-parent families. Today, more than 70% of black children are born to single women. "The welfare state has done to black Americans what slavery couldn't do, what Jim Crow couldn't do, what the harshest racism couldn't do," Mr. Williams says. "And that is to destroy the black family."
 4) Democrats passed and continue to support the Davis-Bacon Act. The Davis-Bacon Act was passed in the 1930s by Democrats as both a pro-union measure and a means of giving an advantage to mostly unionized white laborers over mostly un-unionized black laborers. It did this by forcing federal construction projects to pay workers at a “prevailing wage,” which tended to mean whatever local unions demanded. This had the effect of pricing black laborers out of the market; some of the original sponsors of the bill which became this Act were outright racist in their intent, as Damon Root, of the Reason Foundation, notes:
[Davis-Bacon] was introduced in response to the presence of Southern black construction workers on a Long Island, N.Y.. veterans hospital project. This "cheap" and "bootleg" labor was denounced by Rep. Robert L. Bacon, New York Republican, who introduced the legislation. American Federation of Labor (AFL) president William Green eagerly testified in support of the law before the U.S. Senate, claiming that "colored labor is being brought in to demoralize wage rates."...
The result was that black workers, who were largely unskilled and therefore counted on being able to compete by working for lower wages, essentially were banned from the upcoming New Deal construction spree. Davis-Bacon nullified their competitive advantage just when they needed it most…

In sum, we have a law that drives up the costs of federal projects, hurts unskilled workers, unfairly advantages organized labor, and has explicitly racist roots.
The overall result of these all of these programs, conservative columnist Star Parker has argued, is to keep blacks on "Uncle Sam's plantation":
Trillions of dollars later, black poverty is the same. But black families are not, with triple the incidence of single parent homes and out of wedlock births. It's not complicated. Americans can accept Barack Obama's invitation to move onto the plantation. Or they can choose personal responsibility and freedom. Does anyone really need to think about what the choice should be?
There are other examples of the the policies of the Democratic Party being at odds with the interests of blacks; for example, many of them, Church-going and not, oppose gay marriage and abortion.

Obama’s election in 2008 proved that America had settled its racial conflicts to such a degree that we could elect a black president. Obama's term, however, has proven what I suspected before it began: he is an inexperienced ideologue tied to traditional Democrat liberal programs which simply don’t work and cost a lot of money.  In this respect, I wish we could have elected a different first black president. If it had to be a Democrat, then someone like James Clyburn, who has many years of experience in congressional leadership, would have been preferable. Or perhaps Cory Booker, currently the mayor of Newark, New Jersey. Obviously, given my ideological propensities, I would have wanted someone like, say, Freshman Republican congressman Allen West, or maybe even Condoleeza Rice. 

But now that the presidency is open to people of all races, I, for one, am ready to move on from thinking about it in racial terms. And there is an interesting historical precedent that suggests black voters might be ready to do the same. In 1960, a young, inspiring Democratic candidate from a group that had never before won the presidency squared off against a relatively uninteresting Republican naval veteran after eight years of a Republican president (sound familiar?) The candidates that year were John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon, vying for the vacancy left by Dwight D. Eisenhower. One of the many nuances of the race was Kennedy's Catholic faith; no Catholic president had won before. Alfred E. Smith's presidential candidacy in 1928 failed, perhaps in some part due to rumors that the Pope would have undue influence on his presidential decisions.

But Kennedy won in 1960. American Catholics, composed then mostly of immigrants or their recent descendants, were a key part of the Democratic coalition of that era and voted for JFK, and predominately voted for other Democrat candidates especially in the northeast and upper Midwest.  However, their voting patterns have since changed, and are now essentially aligned with the rest of the country. Will the same happen with blacks? Only time will tell. Wall Street Journal columnist James Taranto, from whom I first read of this theory, thinks so. And if black voters accept the insights of opinion leaders like Star Parker and Walter Williams, that existing policies and programs advocated by Democrats harm rather than help blacks, who knows? Stranger things have happened in American politics.

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