Growing up in the Vladeck Housing Projects in lower Manhattan in the 1960s, I had a unique childhood experience. The area known as the “Lower East Side” was without a doubt one of the most diverse neighborhoods in America, and perhaps in the world. There were tens of thousands of Jews, Italians, African-Americans, Puerto Ricans, and Chinese crammed within one square mile, with many in poverty. And yet I was able to learn important life lessons by socializing with kids from the various groups.
One aspect of my life from which I benefitted enormously, was the presence of strong black men in the community. My first counselors in the Henry Street Settlement (Google it) were black men. My first baseball coach was a black man. My first football coach was a black man. And my first boss, Bill Wallace, an anti-poverty community organizer (but a good one), was a black man.
For these very reasons, I am particularly grieved when I consider the toll that welfare and other “anti-poverty programs” have exacted on the black community. If you study the history of welfare, you know that it was well intentioned and designed in part to help those black workers who fled the South during World War II and sought jobs in defense plants in the North. But when the atomic bomb was dropped and the war suddenly ended, the jobs went away, and the last hired were the first fired.
We all know that good intentions can have disastrously unintended consequences – even in the political sense. Prior to The New Deal, those blacks who could vote, were almost as likely to vote Republican as they were Democratic. Even in 1960, Nixon was able to get over 30% of the black vote. Now, the GOP is lucky to get 10%.
What is particularly ironic is the detrimental effects Democratic policies have had on blacks, but particularly black men. No one can tell me with a straight face that our teacher-union dominated public schools have served black students well, many of whom have never been in a well-run, well-disciplined school setting, so essential for learning. No one can tell me with a straight face that this tidal wave of low-skilled immigration has not cost young black men entry-level jobs and good paying opportunities in building and road construction. In fact, in 1955, the year I was born, the teenage unemployment for black males was actually lower than that of white males.
And finally, no one can tell me with a straight face that social security is a good deal for black men, who live on average to be 67, just when they can draw social security at the full rate. In effect, since white women live on average to age 82, one can argue that social security is an income transfer from black men to white women. And when I bring this point up to black men, you should see the light go off in their heads.
The time is right for our side to play the race card for a change, by appealing directly to black male voters and making the case that our policies (school choice and vouchers, strongly reduced flow of low-skilled immigrants, and targeted privatization of social security, etc.) are more beneficial to them than anything the Democrats can offer. We should remind them that their political elites are as out of touch with them as our political elites are with us, and that even a black Democratic president has had no impact on alleviating the problems they face.