August 23, 2012
Obama and the Asphalt PlantationBy Lee Cary
President Obama has done nothing to address the problems of the black community defined in a 1965 report by Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
And by doing nothing, he's made the problems worse.
Forty-seven years ago, Moynihan (1927-2003) was the assistant secretary of labor in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. In the context of helping formulate policy concerning Johnson's War on Poverty, he wrote "The Negro Family: A Case for National Action." Later, he served four terms as a Democrat U.S. senator from New York (1976, 1982, 1988, and 1994).
Moynihan projected the image of an erudite born into wealth, with easy access to the finest Ivy League colleges. In fact, he grew up poor, attended high school in East Harlem, worked nights as a longshoreman while in high school, once shined shoes on a street corner, and received an M.A. and a Ph.D. from Tufts University. Later, he studied economics as a Fulbright Scholar at The London School of Economics. Concerning his education -- he built it.
His 17,000-word report is stacked with statistics that painted a dismal future for the "Negro" in American society, if the trends were not reversed. He wrote:
Moynihan linked the erosion of the black family with chronic unemployment among blacks (italics in source version).
Moynihan's conclusion was controversial in 1965, and it still is today.
And should the reader have missed his point along the way, Moynihan ends with this paragraph (boldface in source):
To the debatable extent that the War on Poverty aimed toward "enhancing the stability and resources of the Negro American family," it failed -- miserably. A case can be made that the effort led to an outcome opposite of its intention.
We are now in that worse future for the "Negro" community that Moynihan predicted would happen with the wrong "national effort." For his presidential part, Barack Obama has done nothing to reverse the failed policies of the War on Poverty.
Had he truly been the transformational leader that some thought he would become, he would have declared the War on Poverty as lost and, therefore, over. Then he would have led an altogether different approach to addressing a situation that has worsened since Moynihan's report. But his response has been to push more of the same.
A different approach would, surely, have involved engaging the American business community, large and small companies alike, as allies, rather than as greedy, tax-dodging capitalists (as a dirty word).
We now leave Moynihan's report and fast-forward to the September/October 2012 issue of The American Interest and (Professor of Foreign Affairs and the Humanities at Bard College) Walter Russell Mead's article entitled "The Great Compromise."
Never mind that Professor Mead avoids the role of the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 and blames the lenders for bringing about the "housing bubble." (He doesn't teach economics at Bard.) And let's not quibble with his somewhat artificial time-stamping of 1977 as the end of the post-Reconstruction era that ran from 1877-1977. Many of his points are, nonetheless, worth considering.
Although many blacks have entered the middle class, the problems within inner-city black communities are worse than ever. Mead's analysis mirrors Moynihan's, but it is forty-seven years later and uglier.
By now, the reader may be asking: How much worse will things get before the consequences are so socially traumatic as to require a dramatically new direction in city, state, and federal governments' policies and practices? After all, isn't doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome one definition of insanity?
Upon his election in 2008, President Obama had the political capital to tackle this problem, but he wasn't up to the task. In fact, the task doesn't, in retrospect, appear to have even been on his agenda.
The lack of interest he showed for the plight of the poorest constituents in his Illinois State Senate district should have been a clue as to his intentions -- or better, to his disinterest in the matter.
When Barack Obama said "I'm not the president of the black America," he was telling the truth. He hasn't been blacks' president because he hasn't acted as the nation's president.
And so it is that in the nation's urban centers today, too many black communities remain asphalt plantations where corrupt politicians are the overseers -- with most from the same political party that the president leads.
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