FRONT PAGE CONTRIBUTOR
Instead of Leadership, an Empty Void
One of the things that has distressed me the most about the sad and degenerating Ferguson situation has been Obama’s inability to have any effect on the racial powderkeg that has exploded there. Worse than being unable to step in and help, Obama seems uninterested in even trying. The UK Telegraph has an interesting op-ed by Tim Stanley today which notes that since becoming President, Obama has not really done a lot for the black community, other than being black:
Part of the explanation is that the recession has been especially tough on African-Americans – reinforcing historical disparities of wealth between the races. Before the credit crunch, the median net worth of a black household was $12,124, compared with $134,992 in white households. After the crunch, the black net worth fell to just $5,677, compared with $113,149 among whites. Black home equity fell by an average of 28 per cent and retirement savings by 35 per cent. In May 2014, the black unemployment rate stood at 11.5 per cent – more than double the white jobless rate of 5.4 per cent.
To make matters worse, blacks face additional challenges at home and in the streets. There is a crisis in black fatherhood: while just 29 per cent of whites are born out of wedlock, the figure is 72 per cent for blacks. One result is a racial imbalance in welfare dependency: African-Americans make up about 13 per cent of the population yet 39.8 per cent of those on welfare rolls. Other frightening statistics point to a serious cultural malaise. Four out of five black women are overweight or obese; black women account for nearly 36 per cent of all abortions performed in the United States.
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But what he was never going to be was someone who would confront racism head on or seek a substantial redistribution of power and money of the variety that many civil rights leaders feel is necessary to help the poor.
Setting aside my partisan Republican hat for just a moment, I can accept that there are good reasons politically for Obama not to play the role of race crusader. Ironically, as the first black President, he probably is perversely in a uniquely bad position to play that role.
But for all the policy differences that readers of this website will have with President Obama, he doubtless has a personal story that almost everyone can look up to. Obama’s persistent high approval ratings in the black community reflect the fact that they are proud of the fact that America has a black President; this presents a unique opportunity for Obama to discuss publicly the importance of the fact that he waited to get married to start a family, that he stayed married to the same woman for decades, that he stayed out of trouble, and that he went to school and finished it. And yet, he touches on these themes in only glancing and tangential ways, instead focusing solutions that sound good politically but in fact have the effect of increasing lower-wage unemployment and raising the cost of goods and services primarily purchased by lower-income families (like raising the minimum wage).
It is a bizarre state of affairs that has led to the fact that conservatives have been more vocal about Ferguson than the President:
If there is hope for real change, some of it might come from the Right. In general, they have been horrified by events in Ferguson – not so much by the looting (condemned by almost everyone) but by the obvious iniquities in the law-and-order system. Jonah Goldberg, a highly respected Right-wing columnist, argued that “the idea that police forces shouldn’t take into account the racial or ethnic make-up of their communities when it comes to hiring [is] bizarre.”
Senator Rand Paul, a libertarian Republican who would like to be president, has condemned both the militarisation of the police and the country’s drug laws. Meanwhile, many Republicans are embracing prison reform.
Of course, it will be the black community that will lead the fight for change. Fortunately, there is an expanding black middle class to offer a model of self-improvement and the black church remains a beacon of activism and uplift. Sadly, what they have discovered since the days of the civil rights movement is that government isn’t always their best friend and the promises of the Left can be empty. Change will come from within towns like Ferguson, not from within the White House.
This is true and echoes a theme conservatives have been saying for years. It would nonetheless be helpful if the public had a President who at least gave the impression that he cared.