Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
The media court-encomiasts of the Democrat Party were gushing last week over Hillary Clinton’s supposed “victory” in the first primary debate. “Crushed” was the cliché de jour used to describe Clinton’s besting of the cranks, has-beens, and nobodies running against her. Such praise is akin to calling her the tallest building in Wichita Kansas, to paraphrase William F. Buckley.
Yet when it comes to substance, there was little or nothing specific or fresh or even rational in the various nostrums the candidates shouted out like the expletives and epithets involuntarily vocalized by victims of Tourette’s Syndrome. Except for a brief tussle over who hated the NRA the most, and the occasional good sense from Jim Webb, the debate was a dreary list of reflexive progressive talking points utterly disconnected from the real world.
When gun control came up, for example, candidates immediately started twitching and barking out “assault rifles!” and “gun shows!” The facts suggest otherwise. As BusinessWeek pointed out, fewer than 3% of the 12,000 murders in 2014 involved rifles of any sort, let alone semi-automatic assault rifles––a percentage less than knives (13%) and feet and hands (6%). As for gun shows, sellers are subject to the same federal licensing laws as sellers in retail stores, and in any case guns purchased at gun shows account for no more than 2% of the guns used in crimes.
“Income inequality,” of course, is a staple of Democrats’ political logorrhea, along with “fair share” and “2%” and other political expletives demonizing the well off, who are supposed to foot the bill for the grandiose federal programs that are supposed to right this injustice. All this agitprop ignores the huge redistribution of wealth that already takes place––14% of GDP is already being spent on social welfare transfers.
This largesse can be funded because of one of the most progressive tax regimes in the world. As NRO’s Kevin Williamson reminded us recently, “Americans earning $100,000 or more pay basically all of the federal income taxes, about 80 percent. That is far in excess of their portion of national income . . . and they are only about 15 percent of all taxpayers. Households earning $250,000 or more, a tiny group (2.4 percent of taxpayers) pay about half of all federal income taxes, which is, again, disproportionate to their income relative to the rest of the population.” Throw in payroll taxes, and the top 10% pays 53.3% of all federal taxes. That sounds like more than a “fair share.”
The net result is a sizable redistribution of wealth: according to the Tax Foundation, the bottom quintile of taxpayers gets $5.28 for every dollar paid in taxes, while the top quintile receives 29 cents. The more generous social welfare transfers typical of European countries like Denmark, which Bernie Sanders admires, are funded by the highly regressive VAT tax. By what definition of the word is our redistribution of money from the well off to the less well off Americans not “fair”?
In reality, there aren’t enough rich people to fleece in order to finance the Democrats’ redistribution schemes. As George Will wrote recently, “Forbes magazine says the combined net worth of the United States’ 536 billionaires is $2.566 trillion. Is it a grave problem that the 536 have 3% of the nation’s $84.9 trillion wealth?” And the billionaires’ total net worth is just under a third of the $8 trillion in debt Obama has rung up during his presidency, much of which has gone to expanding entitlement transfers and other economic interference that have resulted in the worst recovery from a recession since World War II. Confiscating all the billionaires’ wealth would not accomplish anything for anybody while destroying the economy.
The best demonstration of the Democrats’ disconnect from reality, however, came when the candidates were asked if “Black Lives Matter.” This happens to be the name of a noisy bunch of agitators who have embarrassed Democrat candidates whenever they wander from racial orthodoxy by saying “all lives matter” or anything else that shifts the focus from the “America is racist” meme.
Already chary of getting on the wrong side of the BLM outfit, the debate gang––with the exception of Jim Webb–– fell into an orgy of breast-beating over “mass incarceration” and “institutional racism” and a “new New Deal for people of color,” Hillary’s recommendation for fattening up even more the federal Leviathan. The implication, of course, is that the BLM movement’s claims of a police “war against black men” is true, and reflects the endemic racism of American society. What the facts tell us is that of the 652 people shot dead by police so far this year, only 24 were black and unarmed––one third the proportion of black people in the general population, a “disparate impact” that usually sends the Democrat race-mongers into fits.
The other fact ignored by the groveling debaters is that in any given year the vast majority of murdered black men have been murdered by other black men. Black men typically kill in one year more blacks then all those killed in lynchings and race riots since Reconstruction. Black lives don’t seem to matter to those thugs, or to the politicians who decry the rare police shooting but never say a word about this everyday carnage. Nor do those claiming to care for “black lives” have anything to say about the fact that in New York City more black babies are aborted in one year than are born, or that blacks are 12.6% of the population but black women account for 35.4% of abortions.
Nor do those who claim “black lives matter” care that under Obama’s leadership, the condition of black lives in America has worsened––between 2009 and 2013, the number of blacks below the poverty line went from 25.8% to 27.2%. Moreover, as talk-radio host Larry Elder reported recently, “The net worth of all non-white families has fallen almost 20 percent since Obama took office. For blacks, it’s even worse. The so-called black/white wealth gap is at a 25-year high––with black income down, homeownership down and equity down. From 2007 to 2010, blacks’ net worth declined 13.5 percent. But over the next three years––from 2010 through 2013––it plummeted another 34 percent. But allow a black kid to be shot by a white cop and CNN covers it like the first moon landing.”
What the Democrats either don’t know or sacrifice to political expediency is that the improvement in black lives since World War II has come from an expanding economy, not from patronizing and infantilizing government wealth transfers that destroy self-initiative and, like some version of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act, keeps “black lives” trapped on the Democrat entitlement plantation.
The fact is, an expanding economy has done more for black people than the federal redistributionist entitlements or the bluster of black “leaders” who have waxed fat while the well-being of black lives has stalled or regressed. Economist Thomas Sowell is worth quoting at length on this simple reality the Democrats can’t or refuse to understand:
Despite the grand myth that black economic progress began or accelerated with the passage of the civil rights laws and “war on poverty” programs of the 1960s, the cold fact is that the poverty rate among blacks fell from 87 percent in 1940 to 47 percent by 1960. This was before any of those programs began.
Over the next 20 years, the poverty rate among blacks fell another 18 percentage points, compared to the 40-point drop in the previous 20 years. This was the continuation of a previous economic trend, at a slower rate of progress, not the economic grand deliverance proclaimed by liberals and self-serving black “leaders.”
Ending the Jim Crow laws was a landmark achievement. But, despite the great proliferation of black political and other “leaders” that resulted from the laws and policies of the 1960s, nothing comparable happened economically. And there were serious retrogressions socially.
Nearly a hundred years of the supposed “legacy of slavery” found most black children being raised in two-parent families in 1960. But thirty years after the liberal welfare state found the great majority of black children being raised by a single parent.
The murder rate among blacks in 1960 was one-half of what it became 20 years later, after a legacy of liberals’ law enforcement policies. Public housing projects in the first half of the 20th century were clean, safe places, where people slept outside on hot summer nights, when they were too poor to afford air conditioning. That was before admissions standards for public housing projects were lowered or abandoned, in the euphoria of liberal non-judgmental notions. And it was before the toxic message of victimhood was spread by liberals. We all know what hellholes public housing has become in our times. The same toxic message produced similar social results among lower-income people in England, despite an absence of a “legacy of slavery” there.
Black lives matter all right, but to Democrat politicians only as sacrifices for their own electoral advantage.
Facts, reason, and coherent argument have long been absent from the Democrats’ policies. Instead they reflexively bark out slogans and soundbites that rouse the base but offer nothing of substance for the nation. The only question is how many American voters will think these shouts and barks and grunts offer anything of substance.