Politics & Policy

Careless Caucus

Radical, unserious "leaders."

I’m thinking of a cabal of radical legislators who don’t reflect the views of average Americans or even the interests of their own constituents. They use wedge issues, play the race card, and push their party to the ideological extreme. They collude with outside activists, many of whom use religion as a Trojan horse for a radical political agenda.

Sound like those perennial paladins of villainy, the congressional GOP? Guess again. This is the Congressional Black Caucus.

The caucus lives in a fantasy in which it is the “conscience of the Congress.” Immune to the sort of scrutiny that many other groups receive, it has benefited from the soft bigotry of low expectations for decades.

As The Economist recently noted, gerrymandering and Democratic politics have resulted in a caucus well to the left of black America. Only four of 43 members of the group voted to ban partial-birth abortion in 2003, even though a majority of blacks favored such a ban. Most African Americans favor school choice, but because the caucus is firmly ensconced in the teacher-union racket, it bars the schoolhouse door to black kids who want a better education via vouchers. A majority of blacks oppose outright racial quotas, but don’t tell that to the caucus. Or that blacks are heavily opposed to gay marriage.

Why pick on the blacks in Congress? Because they represent black leadership in America, and it has been on their watch that black America has descended into such a mess.

A slew of new research shows how sorry the plight of American blacks is–most acutely black men. They, particularly those who do not finish high school, have been falling off a cliff for decades. If you include blacks in prison or not seeking work–which conventional unemployment surveys don’t–the jobless rate for black men in their 20s without a high school diploma is 72 percent. At the height of the economic boom in 2000 it was still about 65 percent, according to the New York Times. This is twice the rate of white dropouts and three times that of Latinos. A UC Berkeley researcher found that black dropouts in their late 20s are more likely to be in prison than working.

Statistics on the black family are, if possible, even more depressing. In a moving essay in the Washington Post, Joy Jones lamented how wedlock has become unfashionable in much of black America. A sixth-grader recently informed her that “marriage is for white people.” The statistics back the kid up (though marriage among whites isn’t that rosy either). More than two-thirds of black babies are born out of wedlock. Sociologist Andrew J. Cherlin of Johns Hopkins University says blacks were more likely to be raised by both parents during slavery than they are today.

There’s a lot of Marxist-infused nonsense about how economics are at the root of black America’s problems. But this doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. Of course poverty makes social pathologies worse, but it’s the pathologies that cause poverty in the first place.

Family breakdown in the black community has occurred despite a steady rise in the wages of blacks since World War II, when 80 percent were born to married parents. Racism alone cannot be blamed anymore for causing all black problems. By every measure, racism, particularly official racism, has declined even as these problems have worsened.

Racism is surely still a problem, but it pales in comparison to family breakdown. Nothing perpetuates the cycle of moral and financial poverty more so. If you are raised by two married parents today, black or white, it is unlikely that you will be poor, or, at the very least, poor for long. Blaming slavery and historic white racism for family erosion may be satisfying–and sometimes accurate–but it promises few solutions.

Pat Moynihan predicted all of this chaos more than 40 years ago in his report, “The Negro Family: the Case for National Action,” which urged the government to help stop black family breakdown before young men raised without fathers sowed chaos in their own community and the nation. Moynihan was greeted with denial and outrage by black and feminist ideologues, who insisted he was trying to impose white middle-class norms on the benign, even “superior,” female-headed black family. The PC mob won, and U.S. social policy was pushed in exactly the wrong direction until the welfare reform of the 1990s.

The Congressional Black Caucus and its sundry enablers are the intellectual heirs of Moynihan’s critics. Indeed, many of them are the same people. Given the state of black America, their priorities often seem otherworldly: giving felons the vote and pushing for slavery reparations.

Obviously, black America’s problems are larger than the black caucus. But the caucus has failed to provide the morally serious leadership–the kind that builds on the historic social conservatism and self-reliance of African Americans–that is sorely needed.

(c) 2006 Tribune Media Services


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