Archive for April, 2001

In Search of a Black Republican

Saturday, April 28th, 2001

The comedy show Saturday Night Live used to run a skit, “In Search of a Black Republican.” The skit would show people talking at a party and just when you thought they might have found a black Republican, the search would end in disappointment. Though the skit played many years ago, the results of the November elections would suggest the same search remains largely in vain.The conventional wisdom or, more accurately, fervent hope among Republicans is that they can penetrate this Democratic strong hold and radically shift electoral politics to their benefit. Without the largely monolithic black vote in their favor, Democrats would be uncompetitive. While Republicans can manage to squeak out victories without the black vote, Democrats, as presently constituted, could not.

Even though African-American leadership is strongly Liberal, the African-American community as a whole is far more Conservative than its leadership. Especially in the inner cities, black Americans have endured Democratic leadership that has given them high taxes that still yield poorly performing schools and higher than average crime rates. It is blacks that have suffered the most from failed Democratic policy prescriptions.

As measured by church attendance, African-Americans are more religious than the rest of America. This religiosity is correlated with social Conservatism and provides another potential opening for Republicans. Republicans have believed if they could just find a way to explain to the African-American community how Republican Conservative policy principles would help address their problems, they could peal off support.

Eric Cohen writing the article “Race and the Republicans” published in the Weekly Standard argues that Republicans must do more than “criticize the excesses and destructiveness of race-based thinking.” Articulating Conservative ideology is not only insufficient but off-putting.

Republicans must engage the African-American community in a way that acknowledges their unique history and experience. Republicans must come to recognize that because of their “history of slavery and freedom, segregation and civil rights, bigotry and courage” black America “retains a special moral authority.” In essence, Republicans need to enlist the black Americans in a way that allows them to embrace and speak for a Conservative policy agenda out of that same moral authority.

For example, before his sell out to the Democratic Party establishment, Rev. Jesse Jackson used the historical experience of blacks in his critique of the abortion culture. In 1977, Cohen reports that Jackson explained, “There are those who argue that the right to privacy is [a] higher order than the right to life … That was the premise of slavery.”

Republicans need to embrace the black experience and to learn from African-Americans how their history informs and enriches Conservatism. Republicans need to allow African-Americans to claim an important measure of ownership of Conservatism. There are a number of Conservative blacks from Alan Keyes to Thomas Sowell that can help lead this movement.

The Lexus Runs Over the Olive Tree

Sunday, April 15th, 2001

Confucius was asked, “What say you of the remark, ‘Repay enmity with kindness?”’ And he replied, “How then would you repay kindness? Repay kindness with kindness, and enmity with justice.” Lun Yu (The Book of Analects).

A few years ago, Thomas L. Friedman penned a book about globalization entitled The Lexus and the Olive Tree. The title embodies a metaphor. The Lexus represents the wealth and prosperity brought on by the relentless forces of markets, capitalism, and free trade associated with globalization. The olive tree represents “everything that roots us, identifies us, and locates us in the world … a family, a community, a tribe, a nation, a religion or, most of all a place called home.” The olive tree can represent the values and institutions we wish to nurture with the wealth represented by the Lexus.

While wealth and connectedness symbolized by the Lexus and the olive tree can both be part of a healthy society, the forces of global markets often bring these values into conflict. The economic and regulatory walls erected by societies to protect communities and cultures make it difficult to partake in the growth and wealth production made possible by global markets. Modern markets depend on rapid communications and travel and the free flow of trade and capital. To reap the benefits of globalization requires that societies open themselves up to the world. Openness and market transparency are important values, but they can also overwhelm local cultures as McDonald’s restaurants, Disney World, and the cell phones replace local cultural symbols and practices. What pleases global markets is not always what is culturally, morally, or religiously uplifting.

Nonetheless, globalization is a moderating influence between nations. Economically interdependent nations entwined in trade are less likely to begin wars with each other. Even the forces of nationalism and cultural exclusivity, values associated with the olive tree that sometimes lead to war, are often modulated by economic imperatives. War is bad for business.

Those who support free trade with a brutal authoritarian regime like the People’s Republic of China (PRC) do so with the faith, borne out by some empirical evidence, that the requirements of global trade, the rule of law, financial accountability, and open communications, serve to undermine the Communist regime there. Even though authoritarian structures may appear solid on the surface, economic freedom eats away at the foundation of authoritarian regimes.

Others are less sanguine about the salutary benefits of trade. They recall Lenin’s prediction that the capitalist will sell you the rope with which you will hang him. However, the regime that Lenin begat is as dead as he is. It turns out that people are not particularly anxious to hang people with whom they can conduct profitable business.

In an important way, last week’s release of the 24 American crewmen from the reconnaissance plane, which was forced to land after a collision with a Chinese fighter jet, is evidence of the effect of trade. If the United States and the PRC were not engaged in extensive trade, the 24 crewmen would probably still be in China. When the North Korean government seized the reconnaissance ship the USS Pueblo in 1968, they held the crew for eleven months. Of course, the North Koreans to this day have an impoverished and insular economy. There was little economic incentive for the North Koreans to be accommodating.

In this case, the Chinese government realized that a prolonged incident would decrease the likelihood they would be admitted to the World Trade Organization. The US represents a large fraction of the export trade of China. If this trade were reduced it could cause economic turmoil in the PRC, which in turn could lead to political instability. It is probably not entirely coincidental that the day before the crewman were released Kmart informed the Chinese that American consumers were intent on boycotting goods from China.

By the same token, the US reaction was also modulated. Part of the restraint on Americans was the fact that the PRC held Americans in custody; part was an unwillingness to see the matter escalate to the point of affecting trade. Many of us Americans love commerce more than we hate communism.

Although we did not explicitly apologize, we said “very sorry” in such a way that the Chinese could deliberately misinterpret it as an apology. The US got the crewmen back through the use of what diplomats call “constructive ambiguity.” The imperatives of globalization overwhelmed other considerations. The Lexus mowed down the Olive Tree.

However, it is in the American parochial interest and in the interest of international trade and global economic prosperity if this incident is not simply forgotten in the service of economic amicability. Lawlessness and mendacity are not appropriate character traits of those who wish to be part of the world economic community. As Jim Hoagland of the Washington Post pointed out the lie that the American’s caused the plane collision “is a reflexive act of pride and pride is driving force for [the Chinese President] Jiang as he draws an even clearer line in the sand for Bush.” Trade may have restrained China’s hand, but the PRC is still intent on politically dominating the Pacific region.

Now that the American crewmen rest comfortably on American soil, the PRC government, particularly the Chinese military whose incompetence and intransigence was the cause of the aircraft collision and protracted detention of 24 Americans, needs to learn there are importance consequences to unlawful behavior. A price needs to be extracted so that similar actions by the Chinese in the future are discouraged. However, using trade as a weapon may be counterproductive, harming the Chinese people as opposed to the Chinese government. We want to drive a wedge between the Chinese people and their government, not push them together in common cause.

First, Americans should resume reconnaissance flights along the same flight paths they previously used. At least in the near future, we should devote the resources necessary to accompany to the aircraft with fighter escorts. The Chinese should be warned they within a mile of these reconnaissance it will be considered an attack on the plane and defensive action will be taken. The right to fly in international airspace needs to be asserted if it is to be maintained. International bullies should not be accommodated.

Secondly, the US needs to sell Aegis cruisers to the Taiwanese. The anti-missile defenses of the ships will partially offset the buildup in southern China of missiles capable of reaching Taiwan. Moreover, it must be privately made clear to the Chinese that the decision to make the sale was cemented by their illegal actions.

Globalization has made the world safer. However, the world is not yet given over entirely to commercialization. Sometimes more traditional responses remain necessary.

Dangerous Redistricting

Sunday, April 8th, 2001

The year after the decadal census is always an interesting political one with many opportunities for mischief. The growth and redistribution of population necessitates the redrawing of Congressional districts. The party that controls a state legislature has an important chance to cleverly redraw Congressional districts for its own political advantage. By concentrating areas that strongly vote for the opposition party into a relatively few districts where the opposition party can win by large margins, a party can create a larger number of districts where they can win with more modest margins. The party in control of the state legislature can thus increase the likelihood of gaining seats for itself in their Congressional delegation.

Of course, the courts constrain the shape of the Congressional districts from getting too ridiculously far out of control. Nonetheless, Republicans have gained control of more state legislatures and stand to gain a few seats in Congress simply by virtue of redistricting. Some analysts have suggested that Republicans could add 10-15 seats this year.

However, in a less well-known way, Democrats and Republicans have conspired to draw districts that create greater Republican, yes Republican, representation in Congress. The key to understanding how this is possible lies in appreciating the conviction by many African-Americans that the best way for black candidates to win is by creating districts where blacks constitute a majority. Since blacks vote overwhelmingly for Democrats and whites tend to be more divided, any majority-black districts will likely vote heavily for Democrats. African-American Democrats insist that the Democratic Party help them create such majority-black districts. Unfortunately, Republicans are all too happy to oblige.

The indirect consequence is to thin out Democratic votes from neighboring adjacent districts. This improves the chances for Republicans in the remaining districts. Despite the fact that Democrats used to exercise greater influence in district drawing, Republicans have a disproportionate number of seats.

The effect can be seen in the relative proportion of votes Republicans receive versus the proportion of Congressional seats won. In 1998, the last election I was able to conveniently find the statistics for, Republicans won 31,983,627 popular votes versus 31,255,470 for the Democratic candidates in Congressional elections. In other words, Republicans won 50.58% of the votes casts versus 49.42% for Democrats.

However, in 1998 Republicans won 225 versus 210 Congressional seats. If Congressional seats were won in proportion to the popular vote, Republicans would have five fewer seats. If you go through the numbers, this is far more deviation than could be explained by statistical fluctuation. The districts are drawn to both give Republicans and black Democrats more seats.

The concentration of Democratic voters in fewer districts is even more obvious in uncontested elections. There were 96 uncontested Congressional elections in 1998 and 60% of these were in Democratic districts. Democrats, in essence, squandered their votes in places were they did not really need to win by such large majorities. Florida represented a particularly egregious case. In 1998, 16 of 21 Congressional races were uncontested.

The other unintended consequence of this redistricting is that the parties become more polarized. When many Congressional districts are competitive, representatives are forced to be more moderate and to accommodate factions within their own district. When districts are either strongly Republican or strongly Democratic, extremes in both parties hold more sway. Moreover, this process insures black representatives will almost always be Democrats. This is unhealthy, unhealthy for both Republicans and African Americans.

Given Republican control of state legislatures and the continual insistence by Democrats on majority black districts, Republican chances to hold a very split Congress should improve. However, not everything that helps Republicans is a good thing.

Racial Profiling in College Admissions

Sunday, April 1st, 2001

`But let someone actually advocate a prohibition against considering the color of our skin, and we know at once that we’re hearing the words of an enemy — either a white racist or a black sellout.” — William Raspberry, columnist for the Washington Post, March 30, 2001.

Statistical correlation is a valuable thing, but when we start to apply statistical generalizations to individuals, a mathematical calculation can turn pernicious. This is certainly true in the case of racial profiling, where law enforcement officers single people out for scrutiny on the basis of skin color. Even if there is a real correlation between race and ethnicity and likelihood of crime, it is immoral to leap to the presumption that a person of a certain group has particular characteristics. Unless people are judged on how they act and what they do as opposed to membership in an ethnic or racial group their humanity is ignored.

Assumptions lurking behind the use of racial profile float over the different but intimately linked issue of racial preferences in college admissions. Both seek to classify using race on the grounds that skin color is associated with other characteristics. Recently, United States District Judge Bernard A. Friedman of the Eastern Division of Michigan ruled that the use of race in the admissions process at the University of Michigan Law School “violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.” The court further ordered relief to plaintiff Barbara Grutter who had been denied admission to the law school.

The case, which will likely be appealed to the US Supreme Court, is particularly interesting since many of the arguments in favor of using preferential treatment based on race were adjudicated and found wanting.

In the Bakke decision, the US Supreme Court hinted that if race were just one factor in the admissions process, essentially breaking ties in close decisions, it might be constitutionally permissible, even given the “strict scrutiny” the Court applies to considerations of race by the state.

Evidence presented at trial provided, in the view of the judge, “mathematically irrefutable proof that race is indeed an enormously important factor” for admissions at the University of Michigan’s Law School. Statisticians found that minority applicants with similar credentials were far more likely to be admitted than similarly situated white students. “For example if a Caucasian applicant has a 6-7% chance of being admitted, an African-American with a similar index score would have a 93% chance of being admitted. If a Caucasian applicant has a 10% chance of being admitted, a Mexican-American applicant with a similar index score would have a 90% chance of being admitted.”

The evidence is so overwhelming that no one can really believe that race is merely one of many factors used in admissions. Even the statistician for the University of Michigan admitted that if color-blind admissions were used, African-Africans would constitute 4% instead of 10-17% of the entering classes. One can argue that there are valid reasons for weighting race so heavily, but it is not honest to argue that race is not a definitive factor in admissions.

The judge found that the effect of the University of Michigan’s admissions policy was indistinguishable from a formal quota system.

The University of Michigan Law School argued that “diversity” in the classroom was an educational value. By admitting a “critical mass” of minority students, the defendants argued, the law school insured a diversity of ideas in the classroom.

Judge Friedman was uncomfortable with the generalization that different ideas are associated with race. Friedman wrote, “[A] distinction should be draw between viewpoint diversity and racial diversity. While the educational benefits of the former are clear, those of the latter are less so. The connection between race and viewpoint is tenuous, at best.”

Indeed, the former dean of the law school admitted that, “I cannot recall an instance in which, for example, ideas were presented by a black student that have not also been expressed by white students.”

To argue that we can presume that people of a different color will have different viewpoints is to engage in the same type of stereotyping that should have expired decades ago.

Few involved in the admissions process at many universities really believe that race plays a minor factor in admissions or that viewpoint diversity is the real goal. The hidden, but by no means ignoble, truth is that the Liberal attitude, so pervasive on college campuses, worships at the altar of equal outcomes. Liberals believe that unless outcomes are equal, society is unfair or racist and that the state is justified in taking extreme steps to alleviate the disproportionately low representation of minorities. But to clearly express this view and not hide behind the diversity argument or the fiction that race plays only a minor role in admissions would be to acknowledge the unconstitutionality of their remedy.

William Raspberry, a Liberal African-American, sympathetic with preferential treatment in the admissions process, admits as much when he laments, “…we are required to dance on legal and definitional pinheads to defend policies we believe ought to be sustained for at least a while.”

The other sad truth is that some conservatives who rail against affirmative action do not demonstrate similar concern for persistent under-representation of minorities. As Raspberry complains, “…we want the rest of Americans to desire — really desire — fair outcomes.”

Efforts to alleviate the problems of minorities will not succeed if the primary modality of the solution starts at college admissions or at the time people apply for jobs. Our job collectively via government action and through individual and private efforts is to nurture those institutions, schools, churches, and families that will ultimately provide the intellectual, emotional, and spiritual resources necessary for success. As long as minorities are given preferential treatment and as long as they believe they cannot compete with out it, they will be relegated to second-class status.