Jewish World Review Sept. 9, 2003 / 12 Elul, 5763

Thomas Sowell

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A new contract?

http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | A caller on the Rush Limbaugh show recently had an inspired suggestion for Republicans: Since the "Contract with America" was such a political success back in 1994, why not a Contract with Black America during next year's election campaign?

The original Contract with America promised that specific legislation on specific issues would be introduced and brought to a vote in Congress -- and that promise was kept. There are a growing number of important issues today on which the Republican position has more to contribute to the advancement of blacks than the position of the Democrats on those same issues.

Education is the most obvious example. Poll after poll shows that most blacks want school vouchers. But Democrats -- black and white alike -- bitterly oppose anything that would offend the teachers' unions, who are among their biggest political backers, in terms of money, votes, and the ability to mobilize precincts on Election Day with manpower and phone banks.

The teachers' unions are the 800-pound gorilla of the Democratic Party. So there is no way the Democrats can match what the Republicans can offer black parents on vouchers. But someone has to bring out that fact -- and a Contract with Black America would be one of the best ways of publicizing and dramatizing this difference between the parties.

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It is not just on the need for school choice, but also the need for school discipline and school safety, that the Republicans can offer what the Democrats cannot. The kinds of liberal judges appointed or approved by Democrats have created so many "rights" for disruptive students that a few classroom clowns and hoodlums are able in many cases to destroy any hope of educating the rest of the students.

In an increasingly education-based and high-tech economy, lack of a decent education is a lifetime sentence to the bottom of the pile. Liberal judges and the American Civil Liberties Union may feel good about themselves for making it hard to expel or suspend disruptive students in ghetto schools, but the price of their little glow of self-righteousness will be paid by millions of other people -- for as long as they live.

Another exercise in self-righteousness by another key Democratic Party constituency is environmental extremism. When they make it an ordeal, and sometimes virtually impossible, to build homes or offices, for fear that some toad or worm will be inconvenienced, that means sky-high housing prices that working people cannot afford and fewer businesses to provide jobs that they need.

Census data make it painfully clear that blacks are being forced out of many communities where affluent liberal Democrats have had unchallenged control for years and have let the green agenda run amok. In such communities on the northern California coast, the numbers of blacks have fallen absolutely, even while the population as a whole has grown.

Liberal Democrats do a lot of talking about a need for "affordable housing." The time is overdue for Republicans to call them on it, expose their hypocrisy, and get out the message that there is no free lunch -- because those who end up having to pay are often those who can least afford the green agenda.

On these and other issues like crime control and gun control, Republicans hold the high cards and they just need to know how to play them. For at least a quarter of a century, Republicans have done a lousy job of getting their message out to blacks.

One reason is that so-called moderate Republicans have taken the lead on racial issues and have tried to win the black vote by offering watered-down versions of what the Democrats offer. The ultimate farce in this approach was last year's attempt by Senator Trent Lott to save his job as Majority Leader by going on Black Entertainment TV and being urged by Jack Kemp to schmooze with left-wing blacks like Kweisi Mfume.

Trying to be imitation Democrats is a strategy that has completely failed the Republicans for decades now. The time is long overdue to put their own principles in a contract and begin the process of making a coherent appeal to black voters -- one that is believable, as well as one that offers some real hope of racial progress.

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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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