In choosing to address the NAACP national convention Wednesday, Mitt Romney reached out to an organization whose leaders and rank-and-file members alike will support, with virtual unanimity, President Obama’s reelection bid this November. Nonetheless, the audience greeted Romney respectfully when he first stepped to the podium. That tenuous respect, however, quickly dissipated when Romney began to talk about Obama. Murmurs of disapproval ran through the crowd when the Republican candidate asserted that the President had not fulfilled his promises while in office, and that Romney’s own policies were likely to help “families of any color more than the policies and leadership of President Obama.” But when Romney pledged to reduce government spending in part by eliminating “expensive, non-essential programs” such as “Obamacare,” he was met with loud, sustained boos.
Following the speech, NAACP chairman Ben Jealous wasted no time in issuing a statement indicating that Romney’s agenda was not only “antithetical” to the NAACP’s interests, but also reflective of “his fundamental misunderstanding of the needs of many African Americans.” No matter that the “Obamacare” legislation, as a major stepping-stone toward the Left’s ultimate goal of a single-payer system, will propel the country in the direction of a healthcare model that has already led to colossal levels of inefficiency, fiscal waste, and human tragedy wherever it has been tried.
The disapproval of Ben Jealous and his fellow NAACP members was of course entirely predictable, for they reside near the far left of the political spectrum, where any pledge to curb or reverse the growth of government constitutes heresy. Romney’s theme touched a collective raw nerve among the NAACP faithful—analogous to an outsider telling a Catholic congregation that the trinity and the doctrine of transubstantiation will lead them only to a spiritual dead-end.
The Left’s track record of economic, social, and moral destruction is easily observable to anyone willing to look at it. But as far as that goes, modern-day leftists are akin to the 17th-century philosophers who, professing certitude that mountains and valleys could not possibly exist on the moon, famously refused to condescend, even for a moment, to look through Galileo’s newly developed telescope. Indeed, contemporary leftists are likewise wedded to a faith they cannot bear to see challenged in any way, lest the carefully crafted towers of their understanding suddenly be washed away like sandcastles on the shore. Thus they turn a blind eye to the legacy of chaos and suffering that big government has brought to mankind generally, and to African Americans in particular.
Consider, for instance, what the Left did to the black community by way of government-mandated policies regulating the mortgage-lending industry. In 1977, progressive Democrats in Congress engineered the passage of the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), which required banks to make special efforts to lend to minority borrowers—particularly mortgagors—of meager to modest means. In the 1990s, the Clinton administration effectively placed the CRA on steroids, transforming it from an outreach program into a strict quota system that imposed oppressive penalties on banks which fell short of their quotas. With no recourse other than to drastically lower their standards and to issue multitudes of subprime loans to borrowers with weak credit credentials, banks embarked on a path of ill-conceived practices that would ultimately lead to the housing-market collapse of 2008.
Because of their comparatively poor credit ratings as a demographic group, blacks were disproportionately represented among those who fell into the financial trap of subprime loans. Thus the subsequent foreclosure rates among black homeowners dwarfed those of their white counterparts. Because of this, the median net worth of black households declined by 53% between 2005 and 2009—the single greatest economic blow ever delivered to the black community. Then, from 2009-2012, African Americans collectively lost another $193 billion. When the bottom fell out of the housing market, it inevitably fell out of the jobs market as well. Between January 2007 and August 2011, the black unemployment rate spiked from 8% to 16.7% (and 19.1% for black males). Hoover Institution Fellow Thomas Sowell observes that although “many blacks got loans that they could not have gotten otherwise,” in the final analysis they “lost out, big time, from this ‘favor’ done for them by politicians.”
The ceaseless proliferation of big-government welfare programs and expenditures during the past half-century has likewise inflicted incalculable harm on poor blacks in the U.S. When President Lyndon Johnson in 1964 launched the so-called War on Poverty, he gave form to what Thomas Sowell has described as “the crowning triumph of the liberal vision of society—and of government programs as the solution to social problems.” With the expansion of the welfare state, Americans’ dependency (which previously had been declining for many years) on the federal government suddenly rose to unprecedented heights. By 1974, government-provided benefits were an astounding 20 times higher than they had been in 1965. From 1965 to the present day, more than $16 trillion of taxpayer money (in constant 2012 dollars) has been spent on welfare programs for the poor, yet the poverty rate is essentially unchanged.
The most devastating by-product of the mushrooming welfare state has been its corrosive effect on American family life, particularly in the black community. Rising illegitimacy rates are the key indicators of this development. The out-of-wedlock birth rate among blacks spiked from 24.5% in the mid-Sixties, to 50.3% in 1976, to 73% today. To be sure, there were cultural influences that helped to ignite the dissolution of American families generally, and of black families especially. But the ramifications of those influences have been amplified exponentially by provisions in welfare laws that offer substantial economic incentives for shunning marriage and avoiding the formation of two-parent families. For decades, means-tested welfare programs such as food stamps, public housing, Medicaid, day care, and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families have penalized marriage. George Mason University professor Walter E. Williams puts it succinctly: “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. And that is to destroy the black family.”
The devastating societal consequences of family dissolution cannot be overstated. Father-absent households—black and white alike—are 700% more likely to experience poverty than two-parent families. A Heritage Foundation analysis notes that youngsters raised by single parents, as compared to those who grow up in intact married homes, are far more likely to be physically abused; to smoke, drink, and abuse drugs; to behave aggressively and violently; to engage in criminal activity; to perform poorly in school or drop out; to be treated for emotional and behavioral disorders; to serve jail time before age 30; and to experience poverty as adults. With regard to girls in particular, those raised by single mothers are more than twice as likely to give birth out-of-wedlock, thereby perpetuating the cycle of poverty.
Yet another area where big government has sown seeds of enormous destruction is in the public education system, which for decades has yielded a meager return on a very large, ever-escalating financial investment. Over the past half-century, the annual per-pupil costs of educating children in public elementary and secondary schools have risen (in constant present-day dollars) from $2,808 in 1962, to nearly $11,000 today. Yet the performance of America’s public-school students has not improved in the least. Between 1973 and 2008, the math and reading scores of 17-year-old high-schoolers taking the National Assessment of Educational Progress were unchanged. SAT reading scores for the high-school class of 2011 were the lowest on record. According to the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), an evaluation of high-school students in 34 countries which belong to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the U.S. today ranks 25th in math literacy, 17th in scientific literacy, and 14th in reading proficiency. African-Americans have been particularly shortchanged by the public-education system’s inadequacies. If black students in the U.S. were counted as a self-contained “national” group, their average PISA reading scores would rank them 31st among the 34 OECD nations. Black high-school graduates nationwide perform, on average, at a level that is four academic years below that of their white counterparts.
Moreover, large numbers of African American public-school students fail to obtain a high-school diploma—very significant, in light of the fact that dropouts go on to earn substantially less money during their working lives than students who graduate. Dropout rates are especially high in urban areas with large black populations, including such academic basket cases as Washington, DC (57%), Trenton (59%), Camden (61.4%), Baltimore (65.4%), Cleveland (65.9%), and Detroit (75.1%).
The failure of public schools to properly educate American students—blacks in particular—can be attributed largely to the priorities of the teachers unions. Far more devoted to promoting left-wing political agendas than to improving the quality of public education, these unions rank among the most powerful political forces in the United States. The National Education Association (NEA), for instance, employs more political organizers than the Republican and Democratic National Committees combined. Of the $59 million in combined political donations which the NEA and the American Federation of Teachers have made during the past 20 years, more than $56 million has gone to Democratic candidates. Meanwhile, the teachers unions have endeavored to prevent even the most ineffective instructors from losing their jobs, lest their mandatory union dues—which in turn are funneled into political activism—be lost. For instance, during a recent ten-year period in Newark, New Jersey—where the high-school graduation rate was just 30.6%—only one out of every 3,000 public-school teachers in the city was terminated in any given year.
In summation, big government has shown itself, time and again, to be the problem for black Americans rather than the solution. Yet the Left’s deep and abiding faith in big government remains unshaken. The NAACP is part and parcel of that Left. As such, the organization is utterly intolerant of opposing points of view—i.e., political heresies. Its hostility to opponents of big government is particularly evident in its profound contempt for black conservatives, who, as the self-identified black conservative Shelby Steele explains, “dissen[t] from the victimization explanation of black fate … when it is made the main theme of group identity and the raison d’Ãªtre of a group politics.” Indeed, the NAACP’s longtime chairman Julian Bond once referred to Ward Connerly, a black California Board of Regents member who led the fight to end affirmative action in California’s public sector, as a “fraud” and a “con man.” Moreover, Bond has described black conservatives in general as “ventriloquists’ dummies” who “speak in their puppet-master’s voice.” Former NAACP executive director Benjamin Hooks sang a similar tune years ago, when he denounced black conservatives as “a new breed of Uncle Tom” and “some of the biggest liars the world ever saw.”
As a white man addressing the NAACP on Wednesday, Mitt Romney—though he was booed several times during the course of his speech, and though chairman Ben Jealous derided Romney’s agenda as “antithetical” to NAACP values—still received a more amicable reception than a black conservative would have gotten. At the end of his talk, in fact, Romney was cheered after having praised his listeners for “all that you bring to the work of today’s civil rights cause,” and for lauding the “spirit [that] has carried the NAACP to many victories.” For the Left, run-of-the-mill heretics who challenge a congregation’s pious devotion to big government are ultimately less objectionable than race-traitors.
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