Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Bernie Sanders, Black Voters and Republicans

I know I have covered this issue before, but I seem to have the urge to come back to it.  It is a regular conservative complaint that black people only support the Democrats because they offer free stuff.  If there is one thing that Occupy Wall Street, Bernie Sanders, and Black Lives Matter should prove, it is that that is not true.

Take Occupy Wall Street.  They addressed in particular bread-and-butter issues of economic hardship, unemployment, foreclosures, and the like.  Their motto "We are the 99%" was intended as one of inclusion -- people of all races and ethnicities are oppressed alike by Big Money.  Black people suffered disproportionately from unemployment and foreclosures.  But Occupy Wall Street remained resolutely white.  Its bizarre antics no doubt went a long way toward driving off potential allies.  So, no doubt, did the perception that it was just a bunch of whiny college kids upset at not getting top-of-the-line jobs right out of college.

But it also seems fair to say that a lot of black people did not want to hear about an undifferentiated 99% all equally oppressed by the 1%.  Being regularly pulled aside, frisked, and singled out for attention was not the experience of the 99%; it was the experience of the black minority.  Nor could the 1% credibly be blamed for the harassment black people were experiencing.

Republicans debate who is the true Tea Party candidate, but can anyone doubt that Bernie Sanders is the true Occupy Wall Street candidate on the Democratic side?  He talks about a more equal distribution of income, about raising minimum wage, about making education, health care, and opportunity more readily available.  He implies (without quite saying) that these can bring back the good paying blue collar jobs of yesteryear.  But black people aren't interested in those things.  They are a whole lot more interested in abusive cops and an extortionist criminal justice system.

Ultimately, black people's top concerns are not about bread-and-butter issues, but about race and the coercive power of the state.  In the clear light of hindsight, maybe that shouldn't be so surprising.

Think in terms of the hierarchy of needs.  Or imagine yourself living in a slum in some Third World country.  Government is corrupt and stifles dissent, your neighborhood is one of hovels and open sewers and garbage dumps and armed gangs (sometimes police, sometimes drug traffickers) drive through your neighborhood, harassing, extorting, and sometimes beating or killing residents.  What is your top priority?  Probably stopping the armed gangs and ensuring basic safety.  Better housing and cleaning up sewers and garbage dumps will probably only become top concerns when basic physical safety stops being an issue.  And worrying about corruption and dissent is far off in the distance.

So it is, in milder fashion, with Black lives matter.  It would appear, that in the taxonomy of property rights/political rights/civil rights, bread-and-butter issues and economic equality fits more into the category of political rights/majority rule than the category of minority rights.  Besides, as this article comments, the political rights/majority rule populist approach is poorly suited to defending minority rights:
Arguably, plebiscitary appeals about crime and punishment have contributed to the policies that created mass incarceration. Furthermore, economic populism identifies economic elites as the cause of the problem, stealing the American Dream from ordinary citizens. The intellectual foundations of the BLM movement implicate the majority and the American Dream.
So how are Republicans responding to all this?  Are they relieved to learn that black people really are less interested in free stuff than in being left alone by the state?

There is some favorable response in the more libertarian precincts of spectrum.  Although Campaign Zero no longer has an evaluation of Rand Paul, he had useful suggestions of four of their ten proposals -- coming in ahead of Hillary Clinton with two.  Marco Rubio has made at least some sympathetic comments.

But by and large, most Republicans' hostility to the state does not extend to its more coercive and punitive aspects.  The are "core functions" and not seen as part of Big Government.  And the main conservative reaction to black people wanting relief from the state in its more punitive aspects is, once again, to call for more individual responsibility.  Or rather, more collective responsibility.  Any singling-out black people in general receive is understandable in light of high black crime rates.  Bring down those crime rates, and the problem will go away.  A particular black person may be very individually responsible and refrain from crime and violence and still be singled out because of his race.  By all means, we do need black people to make a more concerted effort to bring down black crime rates, but no individual can do so alone -- nor will individual virtue necessarily be rewarded in this case.  That is not a comfortable message to most Republicans.

No comments:

Post a Comment