Jewish World Review August 26, 2003 / 28 Menachem-Av, 5763

Thomas Sowell

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Old rhetoric in new times

http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | There is nothing new about organizations and movements beginning with idealism and ending up as cynical rackets. Nevertheless, it was painful to listen to speakers who addressed a scattering of people gathered at the Lincoln Memorial for the 40th anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech.

Both the speakers and the small numbers of people gathered to hear them were a sharp contrast with the multitudes who covered the whole area around the Lincoln Memorial 40 years ago, when Dr. King spoke the immortal words that he dreamed of a time when people would no longer be judged by "the color of their skin" but by "the content of their character."

Yet the speakers on the 40th anniversary of that occasion clearly rejected the idea of a color-blind society. These were no longer demands for equal treatment but for special benefits, based on the color of their skin. Speakers like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson certainly can't afford to be judged by the content of their character.

The aging veterans of the civil rights struggles of the 1960s keep fighting the wars of the past with the rhetoric of the past, while the very different problems and opportunities of the present are either not addressed or are given prescriptions that fit an earlier time and a different disease.

Not only have the times changed, so have the demographic realities that translate into political realities. Blacks are no longer the nation's largest minority group. Hispanics have taken over that role.

In California, Asians as well as Hispanics outnumber blacks. While some rejoice that whites are now a minority in California, do not expect Asians and Hispanics to have any feelings of guilt about the past that would lead them to pay reparations or make any other atonement for slavery or anything else.

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Hispanics and blacks are not allies. They are rivals for everything from government largess to turf in neighborhoods and in prisons.

Demographic realities threaten to push blacks more and more toward the periphery of public concerns and political attention. The old, broken-record rhetoric of black "leaders" tends likewise to marginalize blacks.

The Democratic Party will still make its symbolic obeisance and even pretend to take race hustlers like Al Sharpton seriously. But the interests of its other constituents increasingly take precedence over the interests of blacks.

Nowhere is this more blatant than in the most vital of all black interests — the education of their children. Poll after poll shows blacks to be the strongest supporters of school choice to give their children a chance for a decent education, but vote after vote in Congress shows Democrats — black as well as white — to be the strongest opponents of such choice.

When push comes to shove, the teachers' unions mean more to Democrats than the future of the next generation of blacks.

It is the same story, though not as widely known, when it comes to the environmentalists' restrictions against building, which push housing prices out of sight. These skyrocketing apartment rents and home prices are in turn pushing more and more blacks out of northern California communities controlled by liberal Democrats. Politically, green trumps black.

Another constituency whose interests trump those of blacks are groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, whose ideology favors the kinds of liberal judges who make it hard to control disruptive students in school or to keep violent criminals behind bars.

A handful of hoodlums can prevent a whole class from learning and a handful of criminals can make a ghetto neighborhood a hell to live in. But what the ACLU wants trumps what blacks need.

What is vital to the interests of black "leaders" and the Democratic Party is to keep blacks paranoid and dependent. For that, everything must be blamed on "racism."

In medicine, it has long been recognized that even a quack remedy that is harmless in itself can be fatal when it substitutes for an effective medication or treatment. The time is overdue for that same recognition to apply to politics.

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JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author of several books, including his latest, "Controversial Essays." (Sales help fund JWR.)

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