As we speak this morning (Fri, Jan 16, 2008, 7:53 a.m.), in just 4,987 minutes we will have a new president. And not just any new president. As we have been reminded almost constantly since late in the evening of Nov. 4, we will have the first African-American president. It is a signal moment in American history.
On Nov. 6, just after the election, I spoke in this space on one very significant aspect of Obama’s victory. In that piece, I put forth the idea that Obama attained the highest office in the world by employing some very basic principles. Principles such as stay in school, embrace education, learn to communicate effectively in English, be faithful to your wife and be a father to your children. I put forth the proposition that if large numbers of black kids wind up adopting the example set by the first black president, Obama’s presidency will have accomplished something very worthwhile.
Mark Goldblatt in an article in National Review goes me one better. He puts forth the idea that one upside of Obama’s presidency could be to put an end to white liberal guilt. Lord knows, that would be a great thing. Because white liberal guilt is at the root of much needless suffering in the past 40 years.
You don’t have to look far for examples. Our economy is reeling and credit markets are in lockdown in significant measure because of the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977. It was signed by Jimmy Carter under noble intentions that were rooted in race consciousness. The act sought to compel banks to loan money to black borrowers in order for them to be able to buy their own homes. The reasoning was that banks wouldn’t loan to black families because of racism and as a result, it was necessary to pass legislation to compel banks to move beyond their racist policies.
That underlying assumption was fatally flawed. Banks were reluctant to loan because low-income, low-collateral borrowers mean greater risk of default. The math is the math.
But under the Community Reinvestment Act the loans got made and the program got enhanced under Bill Clinton and warnings of its pending consequences got ignored and then boom, the underlying economics finally asserted themselves. And now that home foreclosures are at obscene levels, guess who’s suffering disproportionately. You guessed correctly. Black families.
In the 1960s, a liberal administration animated by white guilt made the decision to expand benefits under the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program. AFDC came from the Roosevelt administration. It was intended to help children of impoverished widows and children of parents with disabilities have the basics necessary to sustain life. But by 1963, because out-of-wedlock birth rates among black women stood at an appallingly high 23.6 percent, the Johnson administration expanded AFDC to cover children of single mothers.
The federal government thus began subsidizing illegitimacy. Today, the out-of-wedlock birth rate among black women stands at 70 percent. This one statistic lies at the root of almost all of the pathology that grips black neighborhoods, from crime to dropout rates to drug use to incarceration to premature death.
The 1970s brought us forced busing. The intent was to raise the academic performance of black school students by forcibly integrating them into predominantly white schools. This ignited white flight to suburban schools, the decay of metropolitan schools, a more hardened school segregation than what had prevailed before and a severely eroded local tax base that served to cut funds for the very schools and students that forced busing was intended to help in the first place.
In all three of these illustrations, policies born of white liberal guilt served to make worse the very problems they were intended to improve. And in the cruelest irony, those that were to have benefited were instead made to suffer more.
But we’ve elected a black president and we have done so decisively. White liberals can now afford to shed their guilt. And in the absence of that guilt, we could wind up with fewer well-intentioned policies that hurt the very people they are intended to help.
If you’re a black kid you can’t help but notice. Obama isn’t being held down by the man. He is the man.
And maybe, just maybe, as a long-term result of Obama’s stunning accomplishment, we’ll see fewer unemployed black males with their pants halfway down their legs, fewer bejeweled tattooed foul mouthed athletes and rappers on television, more black kids finishing school and more black men marrying and raising the children of the women with whom they have sex.
If that happens, it will actually deliver on Obama’s campaign promise of ‘Change We Can Believe In.”