Published on January 28th, 20132
The GOP & African-Americans: The Way Forward
Dr. Milton Friedman, as one of the pre-eminent fiscal conservatives of the 20th century, was perhaps also one of the most eloquent voices in support of libertarian values as moral values. Alongside Dr. Walter Williams, Dr. Thomas Sowell, and others, Friedman opposed programs like affirmative action, minimum wage laws, and welfare. All three were also strong opponents of government restrictions on school choice.
At its core, these beliefs came from two sources. Firstly, they stemmed from a recognition of the history of unintended consequences of “progressive” liberal policies intended to support the disenfranchised, and African Americans in particular. They argued that affirmative action failed to address the core challenges of Black employment. Instead, they pointed out to a direct correlation between the implementation of minimum wage laws, and the rise of black youth unemployment; without being able to pay unskilled workers at a rate that accurately represented their capacity to contribute to the company, they were effectively “frozen out” of the job market, rather than being able to choose to start at a lower rate, and then learn the valuable on the job training that would empower them to demand higher wages in the future. Instead, they find themselves doubly trapped—being supplied with an inferior government education system, without being allowed the means to pursue other alternatives, and then again being refused the opportunity to supplement this education with on the job training.
The government welfare initiatives, they argued, further compounded the malaise. If human action is governed by incentives, and if good governments are those who provide a society of positive incentives that create responsible, productive citizens, then what would the effects be of offering more earning potential from a welfare system than from applying for an entry level position in the job market? The consequences, of course, was actually what was to be expected—one more disincentive to equipped African Americans and other disenfranchised groups with the skills training required to progressively demand higher and higher earning power in the free market. Expressed and expanded upon in a wealth of critically acclaimed literature and academia, these core ideas formed the underpinning of the Republican agenda for African Americans ever since.
Looking at moving away from traditional welfare systems with the passing of the 1992 Republican Congress’s welfare reform legislation, the steady rise in African American per capita GDP, and the success of numerous school choice programs in raising academic achievements across all ranges of African American socio-economic brackets—why is there still the continued belief in the mainstream media and the Black community that the Republican party and its ideals have “failed” African Americans? Some of it, clearly, is out of pure ignorance. For Kanye West to suggest that “George Bush hates black people,” when President Bush has saved more lives in Africa than any other President in American history, is simply nonsense.
At the heart of such notions is the idea that the Republican party is somehow oblivious or opposed to the best interests of African Americans and other minorities—from allegations of the Tea Party being a racist institution (despite supporting the political rises of numerous African American candidates), to claims by media personalities like MSNBC’s Chris Hayes that “It is undeniably the case that racist Americans are almost entirely in one political coalition and not the other.”
One of the key kernels of this notion sprang from the Goldwater refusal to categorically support the civil rights act of 1964. Goldwater did so not out of a support of racism—he was one of the leading advocates for civil rights himself—but out of a fundamental belief in the unconstitutional authority of the government to dictate morality. As the argument was laid out by Friedman in 1962 in his work, Capitalism and Freedom:
Is there any difference in principle between the taste that leads a householder to prefer an attractive servant to an ugly one and the taste that leads another to prefer a Negro to a white or a white to a Negro, except that we sympathize and agree with the one taste and may not agree with the other? I do not mean to say that all tastes are equally good. On the contrary, I believe strongly that the color of a man’s skin or the religion of his parents is, by itself, no reason to treat him differently; that a man should be judged by what he is and what he does and not by these external characteristics. I deplore what seem to me the prejudice and narrowness of outlook of those whose tastes differ from mine in this respect and I think less of them for it. But in a society based on free discussion, the appropriate recourse is for me to seek to persuade them that their tastes are bad and that they should change their views and their behavior, not to use coercive power to enforce my tastes and my attitudes on others.
It’s obvious that such an argument is not coming from a place of hatred of racial intolerance. Nevertheless, the optics of a presidential candidate opposing what was felt to be the necessary means to end Jim Crow held profound ramifications for the resultant exodus of Blacks from the Republican Party.
It is crucial to realize that this exodus was not the result of Barry Goldwater taking a principled if controversial stand in support of his libertarian values. His true failure came from an inability of the campaign, and the party as a whole, to present a viable, attractive alternative to end the Jim Crow era capable of gaining widespread support. In not doing so, the Democrats were allowed to paint themselves as the lone defenders of the interests of African Americans—an article of faith liberals have attempted to ingrain into the national conscious ever since.
In many ways, this is the same challenge that Libertarianism and the Republican Party is faced with today. As a party focused on personal liberty, and especially focused on, as Martin Luther King aspired, to “judging a man not by the color of his skin but by the content of his character,” developing any kind of “racial agenda” has often been viewed as something of an anathema to the worldview of most modern Republicans. Much like Goldwater, however, despite expressing a noble, laudable, and sincere principle, such positions are inadequate when they are not accompanied by an alternative series of policies capable of addressing these same specific challenges in a way that is both adequate and capable of winning large scale public support.
Boiled to its essence—the Republican Party can no longer afford to be silent on the specific issues unique to the African American community, nor to lack a systematic, proven policy for addressing the urban issues of the nation.
In theory, this shouldn’t actually be a particularly difficult agenda to pursue. After all, given the near monopoly Democrats have had in many major urban centers to improve the lives of African Americans over the last 40 years—how much can be said for their track record? In particular, it’s worth noting that some of the most significant roadblocks to overcoming poverty in urban black communities are precisely the sorts of things libertarians like Friedman warned against.
From failed schools, to crime ridden public housing projects, to intergenerational poverty traps, to egregiously high levels of black youth unemployment, a disproportionately high number of socioeconomic challenges today are the result of misguided government policies—specifically, misguided Democratic policies. Consider that out of the top ten US cities with the highest poverty rate in the nation, all ten are governed by Democratic leaders. The ten poorest performers among America’s 50 largest school districts? All led by Democrats.
Similar rankings on crime, urban decay, failing infrastructure and public transport all point overwhelmingly to the same conclusion. What’s more, all of these failings have disproportionately influenced African Americans. In Democrat governed Detroit, the eleventh largest school district in the nation, Black dropout rates approach an unprecedented 80%. In Democrat led Washington DC, HIV rates among African Americans hover over 3%–surpassing Somalia, Sudan, Ghana, Ethiopia, and several other third world African nations—only slightly surpassed by the Republic of the Congo.
Among the 25 most dangerous cities in America for violent crime (again, disproportionately effective low income black urban communities), not one of the failed cities were governed by a Republican.
Given such consistent records of lackluster leadership, it becomes a wonder of modern marketing that the Democratic Party has managed to brand itself as a party of responsible stewardship for the Black community. It’s an even more amazing failure of modern marketing that the Republicans haven’t wiped the failed urban Democratic brand off the map by shining a massive spotlight on their history of dismal leadership, while offering up attractive, systematic alternatives with proven track records.
The opportunities to compete and win back the African American community are very real. Dissatisfaction with the status quo is palpable. Our values—access to on the job training, expanding options for quality education, and eliminating incentive structures that reinforce intergenerational poverty—equip us with the intellectual framework we need to be able to institute effective long term change. But in the same way that many African Americans were well aware of Lyndon Johnson’s questionable track record on civil rights prior to 1964, this uncertainty and openness to new alternatives will only be relevant if Republicans are capable of offering up clear, attractive, specific solutions to the challenges faced in modern Black communities—in a way that we were unable to offer to the ending of segregation.
About the Author: Andrew Simon is the editor-in-chief of Hip Hop Republicans. As a world public speaking champion and professional web designer, Andrew has provided public speaking consulting, speech writing, and web design services for a wide range of political and business professionals. His political focus is on minority outreach, urban socioeconomic development, and policy promoting entrepreneurship and school choice as a tool for social mobility. He can be reached for web design, speech writing or public speaking consulting, and media requests at andrew.simon@hiphoprepublican.