I'll just say up front: mickle, you're going to love this post. *g*
Black and Blue
By PAUL KRUGMAN
Published: July 24, 2006
According to the White House transcript, here's how it went last week, when President Bush addressed the N.A.A.C.P. for the first time:
THE PRESIDENT: "I understand that many African-Americans distrust my political party."
AUDIENCE: "Yes! (Applause.)"
But Mr. Bush didn't talk about why African-Americans don't trust his party, and black districts are always blue on election maps. So let me fill in the blanks.
First, G.O.P. policies consistently help those who are already doing extremely well, not those lagging behind -- a group that includes the vast majority of African-Americans. And both the relative and absolute economic status of blacks, after improving substantially during the Clinton years, have worsened since 2000.
The G.O.P. obsession with helping the haves and have-mores, and lack of concern for everyone else, was evident even in Mr. Bush's speech to the N.A.A.C.P. Mr. Bush never mentioned wages, which have been falling behind inflation for most workers. And he certainly didn't mention the minimum wage, which disproportionately affects African-American workers, and which he has allowed to fall to its lowest real level since 1955.
Mr. Bush also never used the word "poverty," a condition that afflicts almost one in four blacks.
But he found time to call for repeal of the estate tax, even though African-Americans are more than a thousand times as likely to live below the poverty line as they are to be rich enough to leave a taxable estate.
Economic issues alone, then, partially explain African-American disdain for the G.O.P.
But even more important is the way Republicans win elections.
The problem with policies that favor the economic elite is that by themselves they're not a winning electoral strategy, because there aren't enough elite voters. So how did the Republicans rise to their current position of political dominance? It's hard to deny that barely concealed appeals to racism, which drove a wedge between blacks and relatively poor whites who share the same economic interests, played a crucial role.
Don't forget that in 1980, the sainted Ronald Reagan began his presidential campaign with a speech on states' rights in Philadelphia, Miss., where three civil rights workers were murdered in 1964.
These days the racist appeals have been toned down; Trent Lott was demoted, though not drummed out of the party, when he declared that if Strom Thurmond's segregationist presidential campaign had succeeded "we wouldn't have had all these problems." Meanwhile, the G.O.P. has found other ways to obscure its economic elitism. The Bush administration has proved utterly incompetent in fighting terrorists, but it has skillfully exploited the terrorist threat for domestic political gain. And there are also the "values" issues: abortion, stem cells, gay marriage.
But the nasty racial roots of the G.O.P.'s triumph live on in public policy and election strategy.
A revelatory article in yesterday's Boston Globe described how the Bush administration has politicized the Justice Department's civil rights division, "filling the permanent ranks with lawyers who have strong conservative credentials but little experience in civil rights."
Not surprisingly, there has been a shift in priorities: "The division is bringing fewer voting rights and employment cases involving systematic discrimination against African-Americans, and more alleging reverse discrimination against whites and religious discrimination against Christians."
Above all, there's the continuing effort of the G.O.P. to suppress black voting.
The Supreme Court probably wouldn't have been able to put Mr. Bush in the White House in 2000 if the administration of his brother, the governor of Florida, hadn't misidentified large numbers of African-Americans as felons ineligible to vote. In 2004, Ohio's Republican secretary of state tried to impose a ludicrous rule on the paper weight of voter registration applications; last year, Georgia Republicans tried to impose an onerous "voter ID" rule. In each case, the obvious intent was to disenfranchise blacks.
And if the Republicans hold on to the House this fall, it will probably only be because of a redistricting plan in Texas that a panel of Justice Department lawyers unanimously concluded violated the Voting Rights Act -- only to be overruled by their politically appointed superiors.
So yes, African-Americans distrust Mr. Bush's party -- with good reason.
I wrote in with the opinion that the GOP is not intentionally racist (anymore; it certainly was in past decades). I think most of the individuals that make it up, at the leadership level, on a case by case basis would make an effort to treat people in a color-blind fashion. (The fact that these individuals will treat a man in a business suit better than one in a flannel and jeans is a separate issue -- class-ism or Social Darwinism, treating the poor as if they deserve their poverty.) The party is, in practice, institutionally racist (and sexist) because of its amoral (as in, not even taking morality into consideration) pursuit of electoral advantage, in which it has transformed itself into a servant of extreme wealth. The privileged few are, in general, white men, and the poor are disproportionately black, brown, and female (especially single mothers). Here's the text of the exchange, though they edited me down somewhat. I think the full text (which unfortunately I didn't save -- I submitted my note through their web form) more clearly made the point I just described.
Like Oil and Vinegar
Paul Krugman responds to readers' comments on his July 24 column, "Black and Blue"
R. Michael Harman, Palo Alto, Calif.: You wrote recently about class. I think it's worth remembering that one of the worst practitioners of the G.O.P.'s racial disenfranchisement strategy is a black man, Ken Blackwell of Ohio. One could see Blackwell simply as a toadying race-traitor, but I think that misses the point. The G.O.P. strategy is not actually about race, it merely happens to be the case that a lot of urban poor are black and Hispanic, and the urban poor -- unlike the rural poor -- tend to vote Democratic. The G.O.P. is happy to play on white rural poor perceptions of racial competition -- with Affirmative-Action-aided blacks, and undocumented Hispanics -- but it is not actually interested in pursuing a racist agenda.
We must get through to poor whites that the suppression of votes is a perversion of democracy being pursued by a corrupt party that wants to transform America into an oligarchy, where a few hundred ultrawealthy families will determine policy, and the rest of us -- including those poor whites currently voting Republican -- will have no say in our destiny.
Paul Krugman: I don't usually write about what motivates my columns, but I thought it might be worth saying a bit more in this case.
You see, my wife is African-American, which gives me at least a bit of a personal connection to race issues. (Wait until the right-winger who just sent me a fax that begins "Leftist Jew Slime Paul Krugman," then goes downhill from there, hears about that!) Last week we had my mother-in-law's pastor, a black South African woman who grew up under apartheid, over for dinner. And afterwards, I decided I really needed to say something about race and politics.
Let me mention in particular one thing that didn't make it into the column. In 1986 Dick Cheney, then a congressman, voted against a resolution calling on the apartheid regime to release Nelson Mandela from prison. At the time he had, alas, plenty of company -- and the Reagan administration blocked all efforts to impose sanctions on the regime. But what's truly amazing is that in 2000 Cheney was still defending his vote, on the grounds that the African National Congress was "then viewed as a terrorist organization." The truth is that even in the mid-'80s most of the world viewed the A.N.C. as a group legitimately fighting for its people's freedom.
It's things like that which make me doubt the sincerity of the Bush-Cheney administration when they claim to be crusaders for democracy and human rights. In practice, they always end up defending privilege. And even before 9/11, they were both promiscuous and selective about whom to call terrorists: to Cheney, the A.N.C. -- which did pursue violent resistance, in which some innocent people were killed, but was remarkably restrained considering the situation -- was a terrorist organization, while the apartheid regime, which relied on brutal repression to stay in power, somehow escaped the label.
I never knew that, about Robin. (Though I did know the bit about Cheney.) Quite fascinating. Only an indirect response to my actual point, but it sheds a lot of light on where the column was coming from.
ETA: BTW, Phil Angelides, as an early-adopter of the concept of Socially Responsible Investment, was involved with the South Africa divestment campaign.
ETA: While I'm in partisan mode (OK, I confess, I'm almost always in partisan mode, but I don't do more than one or two partisan blog entries per day), I want to note this really interesting post from a right-ish econ professor (note that he's opposed to taxes on entrepreneurship and investment -- he says "Unfortunately, the way California taxes the rich is a *cause* of the problem."), explaining that Schwarzenegger's budget plans don't make any more sense than Bush's. I happen to disagree with him about the harm of taxing the rich (CA and the Feds taxed the rich much more than it does right now during the '90s and, strangely, lots of people kept going into business and trying to get rich), but certainly I agree that Arnie's budget is a pipe dream. Phil, on the other hand, is a fantastically successful businessman and financial manager, and if he can't get all of his tax plans through the legislature (which is a possibility), I'm sure he'd find some sort of compromise to balance the budget -- the same as Clinton did for the federal gov't, and the same as Warner did in Virginia. Democrats are the fiscally responsible party in this country, and have been for at least twenty-six years.