Is the party of Lincoln the contemporary party of civil rights? Are American conservatives the new civil-rights leaders?
These are far from the most frequently asked questions in American politics, but they’re worth raising. Especially given the potential for liberating results.
The questions are partially calendar-inspired: Martin Luther King Jr. Day. But also some less obvious dates: the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision — and the president’s State of the Union address.
The questions are suggested by two recent incidents, in particular.
First: If his past roles in shameful and deadly incidents haven’t already fully exposed the Rev. Al Sharpton as a charlatan of a self-proclaimed civil-rights leader, his recent performance on Sean Hannity’s television show should do it. Sharpton refused to engage former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum on the issue of the eugenics history of abortion activism in the United States, and on the continuing racial disparity in the number of abortions performed. None other than the New York Times has reported that “data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that black women get almost 40 percent of the country’s abortions, even though blacks make up only 13 percent of the population. Nearly 40 percent of black pregnancies end in induced abortion, a rate far higher than for white or Hispanic women.” On this issue, Alveda King, director of African American outreach for Priests for Life and niece of Martin Luther King Jr., believes Barack Obama is “missing an opportunity.” King insists: “The president has a defining moment before him. The nation has become pro-life. It’s evident. This is a tide. This is a time. It’s a conversation of energy. And the energy is with life.”
Second: The most undercovered story of the recent State of the Union address was who was sitting in the speaker of the House’s box — students, parents, teachers, and the Catholic cardinal of the archdiocese of Washington. The students have had their lives transformed by the chance to get out of the District of Columbia’s failing public schools. The first time I heard their presence there mentioned, though, on national television news, was only days later, in the context of a livid host, beside herself that John Boehner would bother himself to care about the educational opportunity of the inner-city children of Washington, D.C. What could they possibly have to do with jobs? How could they possibly be his concern? (Of course, given the constitutional relationship Congress has with the District of Columbia, not to mention the physical location of the Capitol building, how could they not be a concern?)
Boehner, along with Connecticut independent Sen. Joe Lieberman — joined by Democrats Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California and Rep. Dan Lipinski of Illinois — introduced the Scholarships for Opportunity and Results (SOAR) Act, reauthorizing the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program that the current president and the last Congress killed. The program has been a lifeline to children in D.C.’s predominantly black inner city, who are otherwise largely imprisoned in failing and dangerous schools. It increased graduation rates, serving families with an average family income of slightly more than $17,300.
In both cases, Sharpton and the speaker, there’s an undercovered moral imperative at play.