Monday, April 04, 2005

Assertion City

In an otherwise insightful post about the Democrats' inability to sound sincere on national security, Mark Kleiman includes this gem of an attack on the Republican Party:

The Democrats support lots of policies that are demonstrably contrary to the interests of African-Americans, especially policies that maintain cruddy school systems in big cities and that can't be changed for fear of offending the teachers' unions. When Republicans such as GWB try to make that issue, black voters laugh at them: "As if you gave a rat's ass about our kids."

The fact that the Republicans are obviously and comfortably the party of those who think that black folks have gotten too big for their britches makes them simply not credible when they argue that some particular policy they oppose for other reasons is actually bad for African-Americans. The fact that they often play the race card when it's not there to be played -- as on Social Security -- and never, never, ever support something they would otherwise dislike simply because it's actually good for blacks makes it obvious that their invocations of the needs of African-Americans are insincere and therefore to be ignored. So does the fact that they're so indifferent to the real issues facing black America that they don't bother to learn anything about the details, and therefore often wind up sounding disconnected from reality when discussing race.

Kudos to him for at least admitting that "the Democrats support lots of policies that are demonstrably contrary to the interests of African-Americans." But, I am not quite sure how "obvious" his claim that Republicans are the party of people who think that blacks have become too uppity is. What evidence does he have of this?

The use of Social Security as an example of Republicans playing the race card in contexts where it is inappropriate actually works against him, for he doesn't seem to understand the argument I have usually heard about why blacks ought to favor Social Security reform. One can't collect his Social Security check if he is dead. Only about 55.5% of all black males survive to age 70, whereas 71.5% of white males survive to that age. The life expectancy for black males who are now 30 is 71.6. Contrast this with 76.7 for white males (data courtesy of National Center for Health Statistics). So, assuming a retirement age of 67 (for those born after 1960), white males have more than twice as many years to collect Social Security as black males do, even though both had been paying into the system for the same number of years. This sounds like a raw deal to me. I am not saying that that means that Social Security privatization or any other reform is necessarily a good idea. But to claim that there is absolutely no argument to make that the current system hurts black males is to refuse to look at the numbers. Maybe I am not getting what race card he is talking about, but this is the common argument I have heard from conservative PAC's like BAMPAC about why Social Security harms blacks.

I am not saying that there are no people in the Republican party who use race to their political advantage without actually caring about the plight of African-Americans. But to say that these are the majority or that they dominate Republican Party policy is rather unsubstantiated. In fact, there's plenty of people on the Democratic side of the aisle who do the same. Doesn't Kleiman's own example of the Democats hurting blacks by opposing inner-city school reform because this reform is opposed by the Dems' more important constituency of big labor, sort of demonstrate this point? This isn't to shout, "well they do it too!" But it is to say that the Republicans aren't uniquely guilty of refusing to sacrifice on their core ideological priorities (Wait, I thought that civil rights was a core ideological priority of the Dems? Maybe campaign contributions by the unions has something to do with it --Ed.)

A better explanation I would have for why blacks reject arguments made by Republicans about particular policies that hurt them is that for years the Democrats have successfully painted the Republicans as the party of rolling back civil rights and returning America to the time of Jim Crow (cf. the confirmation fight over Charles Pickering whom the Democrats have successfully managed to paint as a racist despite the facts).

It seems that Kleiman's main argument is that if you care about black people, then you will "feel their pain" and have "good intentions" to help them. Never mind that years of good intentions on the part of Democrats and the American left haven't done much for the black community (affirmative action being a good example). Someone once said, "the road to hell is paved with good intentions." Too few politicians and pundits heed these words today. If Kleiman and other Democrats continue with this condescending and somewhat hateful attitude towards Republicans then -- no matter how many Southern Democrats who don't look like Charlie Brown when riding around in a tank they have running for President -- they will remain, as they are now, without a great deal of political power in national politics.

3 Comments:

Blogger Sammler said...

I would like to examine the other part of Mr. Kleiman's attack.

"The fact that they ... never, never, ever support something they would otherwise dislike simply because it's actually good for blacks makes it obvious that their invocations of the needs of African-Americans are insincere and therefore to be ignored. So does the fact that they're so indifferent to the real issues facing black America..."

It seems to me that the responsible Republican position would be to seek the solutions that are best for Americans as a whole. If a solution is to be "disliked" on those grounds, it is ipso facto not best in this way, and the fact that it is "good for blacks" cannot save it.

This is of a piece with Mr. Kleiman's next statement, which assumes that there are "issues facing black America" rather than different problems facing different people, regardless of race.

Mr. Kleiman wants to consider blacks as a group separated from the rest of the country. The Democratic hold on the black vote is precisely related to the black willingness to be lumped together in this manner.

12:49 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

Run the numbers. The combination of survivors' benefits and the fact that Social Security is a better deal for those toward the bottom end of the income distribution means that, on balance, it slightly favors blacks compared to other races.

Until the Republicans stop making federal judges out of people who left the Democratic Party because they couldn't stand the civil rights laws, they'll have no claim on the votes of black people, or those who care about racial justice.

2:20 PM  
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