19 December 2009

Trickle-Down Obamanomics?

The President has been accused of many things this year, but for the most part, outside of the crazy basements of dead-ender racism, he hasn't been accused of giving the country to the blacks or whatever might have terrified some people about the advent of an African-American chief executive. But by doing nothing or little to provoke such fears, he has disappointed both progressives and "race men" who insist that justice requires special measures for the benefit of oppressed minorities. One such disappointed person is Derrick Z. Jackson, a columnist for the Boston Globe. One of his recent pieces appeared in a local paper this week. In it, he audaciously equates Obama's approach to social justice with Ronald Reagan's approach to economics.

Even though Obama is President of "all the people," he knows that the black male unemployment rate of 16.9 percent needs disproportionate remedies, compared to the 9.8 percent unemployment rate of white men. Yet he remains wedded to the trickle-down rhetoric of "The most important thing I can do for the African-American community is the same thing I can do for the American community, period, and that is getting the economy going again."...Trickle-down rhetoric did not result in a flash flood of equity under Ronald Reagan and it will not under Obama.

There is one questionable premise and one insulting one in that excerpt. The questionable premise is that the disparity in racial unemployment rates (for men only, apparently) is based on some sort of discrimination that requires a discriminatory (or "disproportionate") government remedy. The insulting one is the assumption that policies designed to benefit "the American community, period," can only "trickle down" to African-Americans. Basically Jackson is denying that there can be a color-blind American economic policy and arguing that any policy that is not color-conscious (i.e. "disproportionately" beneficial to blacks) amounts to whites being first at the trough.

Jackson's meditation was actually inspired by the election of an open lesbian as mayor of Houston. He seems disappointed that Mayor-elect Parker did not or would not run an uncompromising gay-rights campaign, and he sees her apparent reticence as analogous to Obama's refusal to use his power to press for greater racial equality. Jackson is, to venture a guess, a radical egalitarian. From that perspective, common sense dictates that to establish equality you can't treat all people in an existing unequal society equally. We may presume that Jackson will not be satisfied until there are no discrepancies in economic statistics across racial lines, but I wonder if he'd stop there. I don't assume that he would, but I'm just curious. In any event, there remain people in this country who would not take the kind of discrepancies that offend Jackson as proofs of injustice that require state intervention. While Jackson himself notes that Obama has made small steps toward minority-conscious allocation of stimulus money, for all we know the President himself may not share the columnist's egalitarian standards. But the egalitarian must make common cause with the Democrat for now, seeing no alternative and having done nothing to create one as far as we can see.

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