Black Voter Breakthrough?

Vouchers = a good education.

No matter who wins in November, the 2008 Presidential election will be historic.  That's been apparent for a long time; since early this year, our next president could only be either the first black man, the first woman, or the oldest newly elected American president ever.  And, at least according to the polls, it looks most likely to be the former: Barack Obama is in the lead and is on his way to breaking the ultimate glass ceiling for black Americans.

There is, however, another possible black breakthrough, which to our surprise, John McCain seems to be taking tentative steps to encourage.  For many years, the black vote has been almost entirely captured by the Democratic party; Democratic nominees regularly break 90% among blacks, and majority-black jurisdictions like Washington, D.C. routinely see Soviet levels of support for whomever wins the Democratic primary.  Any Republican candidate, if one even bothers, is an also-ran from the moment he declares.

As a result, the Democrats have gotten used to pandering to blacks while ignoring their needs.  After all, if all the black folks are going to vote Democratic regardless of what Democrats do, why listen to them?  This has allowed race-baiters and flimflam artists such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton to carve themselves a niche of prominence: any Democrat can put on the cloak of a "friend to blacks" by appearing with one of the self-anointed "black leaders" and bowing to whatever trend happens to strike their fancy.

If you find this discussion offensive, that's because it is offensive.  American voters, blacks as well as whites, ought to be courted as intelligent people who are fully capable of making their own informed decisions based on the policies that affect their lives.  They certainly shouldn't be treated as sheep who merely follow whoever is in front of them, not knowing or caring which direction they happen to be leading in.

This presents an unusual and somewhat counter-intuitive opportunity for Republicans.  Democrats, insofar as they actively court black Americans, concentrate on those who claim to be black leaders - extreme leftists to a man.  Democrats ignore the point that the views of those men are often wildly different from the views of the actual black voters.

For example, Al Sharpton has thoroughly allied himself with the homosexual rights movement, including "marriage" rights; Jesse Jackson supports all but.  Ordinary black voters, though, are overwhelmingly opposed to the whole idea.

For whatever reason, the Christian right has not managed to take advantage of this rift; it just lies there as a potential for the future. But the question of homosexuality, while it has resonance as a moral issue, does not affect the lives of most ordinary people on a daily basis.  There is another hot-button black issue that does: education.

What Black Voters Really Want

American inner-city schools are notoriously awful.  For many reasons, black Americans are disproportionately poor; schools in poor areas are particularly bad; and schools in the ghetto are execrable.  Once upon a time, excellent public schools were an escalator out of poverty, moving countless children of poor families into the middle and even upper classes.  Alas, these days of effective public education ended many years ago.

For a long time, the local (almost invariably Democratic) politicians claimed that the problem was simply a matter of money; the inner-city schools were being starved of resources by racist whites out in the suburbs.  That excuse never had much merit, but it's been known to be completely false for at least two decades now.

In fact, the American school districts that spend the most money per student are the places where the results are the worst: Washington, D.C.; New York City; and other inner-city areas.  Money is definitively not the problem.

Middle-class families figured this out years ago and moved to the suburbs in such numbers that the phenomenon got its own term: "white flight".  While the suburban schools are nothing to crow about by international standards, they are generally leagues better than the hellholes that "white flight" left behind.

Why is this?  Well, middle-class Americans tend to move house pretty often, and when they do, they tend to carefully research the schools.  They'll go where the schools are good, even if they have to pay extra; they won't go where the schools are bad, even if the houses are cheap.  This has led to all kinds of other bad effects, as The Two-Income Trap brought to national attention; but regarding schools, the mobility of middle-class Americans has allowed them to somewhat choose how their children will be educated.  This is a luxury the poor simply don't have.

And as with other luxuries, decent education is something that poor people desperately want.  As long as ten years ago, two-thirds of poor blacks supported the idea of school vouchers.  The residential districts of Washington, D.C. - a Republican-free zone if ever there was one - overwhelmingly supported the voucher pilot program put in some years back.  Even Marion Barry, as far from a conservative as it is possible to imagine, came out in favor of the program, which also had the backing of the Washington Post.

Anecdotal evidence abounds of impoverished D.C. students in failing public schools who were granted a voucher, transferred to a private school at public expense, and have gone on to graduate with honors.  The fact that parents - poor, ill-educated parents - have built a miles-long waiting list for vouchers proves that they know enough to care passionately about education.

In spite of voters' desire for vouchers, the Democratic national leadership stands foursquare with the teachers' unions in full-throated opposition to any kind of voucher, choice, or accountability for public schools.  Obama's "Hope and Change" candyfloss has no effect here.  Back in February, he said he was open to the idea of vouchers as long as they work (which has been amply proven).

That lasted about as long as it took for the phone to ring with a union boss on the line.  Now, quoth he, "What I do oppose is using public money for private school vouchers. We need to focus on fixing and improving our public schools; not throwing our hands up and walking away from them."

Barack Obama has missed a critical opportunity to improve life for the poor and to provide real "Hope and Change" for poor black children.  That's no surprise, politicians demonstrate their venality every day.  What may, just possibly, be more momentous, is that Obama has chosen to side with his party's moneymen against its voters.

Don't Dis Your Base

This is always dangerous; John McCain is suffering from siding with open-borders corporatism against his base's hatred of untrammeled illegal immigration.  Unlike Obama, McCain has noticed his opponent's weakness, and may be making a play.  In a profoundly unusual and gutsy move for a Republican, he appeared before the NAACP convention, promising... school vouchers.

If I am elected president, school choice for all who want it, an expansion of Opportunity Scholarships, and alternative certification for teachers will all be part of a serious agenda of education reform. [emphasis added]

Needless to say, he was greeted by boos, but the NAACP represents the self-appointed black leadership not the actual voters.  The guys who run the NAACP have already made their fortunes.  The single mother in a crumbling tenement in Brooklyn, though, may see some ray of hope which is invisible to her "leaders."

The earliest leaders of the American black community were men who had a very personal experience of lifting themselves up from the lowest possible degradation.  Men like Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, and Dr. George Washington Carver started out in a far worse situation than even the most impoverished American alive today: they were born into chattel slavery.

Upon being freed through their own efforts or the Civil War, their very first order of business - their overriding goal, to which all else was secondary - was obtaining an education.  Dr. Carver said, "Education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom;"  Booker T. Washington's life work was establishing the Tuskegee Institute as a place where black Americans could reach their full intellectual and economic potential through their own effort and hard work.

Today's older generation of black "leaders" would rather demand a handout from white taxpayers than earn wealth by their own labors.  Many younger blacks, though, don't care about the abstract liberal principles of unions, public school bureaucracies, and government regulations.  They just want a good education by whatever means possible.

John McCain is offering it to them - through a program that has been tried, tested, used by hundreds of poor minority parents, and is beloved by them.  Barack Obama and the teachers' unions, on the other hand, have declared their commitment to keeping the poor trapped in worthless high-cost disasters that are schools in name only.

The contrast is so stark that even some of the most devotedly liberal members of the media have been forced to change side.  CNN's Roland Martin found himself saying,

There is no doubt that on this issue, McCain has it right and Obama has it wrong.

Hearing this sentiment from this source, one can almost envision the Devil reaching for his ice skates.  If McCain is able to communicate with this core Democratic constituency by offering what is to many their heart's fondest dream, the election in November may be a shocking one.  Not only poor blacks, but all Americans, would be the better for it.

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other articles by Petrarch or other articles on Politics.
Reader Comments
Thanks for the update on Obama with vouchers. I thought he was in favor of them before; this shows he is not. To be clear - NO ONE can be in favor of vouchers and say "but not with public money". The POINT of vouchers is to redeem the current mess by USING public money in the first place. If Obama wins, what a joke of a President he'll be. It'll be like having a 1st grader be hall-monitor for the whole elementary school.
July 25, 2008 8:49 AM
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