A. Charles is a thoughtful, diligent and provocative new commenter at Cobb who has done a great deal to help illustrate the difference between perceptions and principles of the American Left and Right. As part of his vision for the aim and role of government, which he now sees as going in the wrong direction, he quotes from Lyndon Baines Johnson in 1965. There is one very salient point I would like to highlight as I do below.
But freedom is not enough. You do not wipe away the scars of centuries by saying: Now you are free to go where you want, and do as you desire, and choose the leaders you please. You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, "you are free to compete with all the others," and still justly believe that you have been completely fair. Thus it is not enough just to open the gates of opportunity. All our citizens must have the ability to walk through those gates. This is the next and the more profound stage of the battle for civil rights. We seek not just freedom but opportunity. We seek not just legal equity but human ability, not just equality as a right and a theory but equality as a fact and equality as a result. For the task is to give 20 million Negroes the same chance as every other American to learn and grow, to work and share in society, to develop their abilities--physical, mental and spiritual, and to pursue their individual happiness. To this end equal opportunity is essential, but not enough, not enough. So, unless we work to strengthen the family, to create conditions under which most parents will stay together--all the rest: schools, and playgrounds, and public assistance, and private concern, will never be enough to cut completely the circle of despair and deprivation.
There is no single easy answer to all of these problems. Jobs are part of the answer. They bring the income which permits a man to provide for his family. Decent homes in decent surroundings and a chance to learn--an equal chance to learn--are part of the answer. Welfare and social programs better designed to hold families together are part of the answer. Care for the sick is part of the answer. An understanding heart by all Americans is another big part of the answer. And to all of these fronts--and a dozen more--I will dedicate the expanding efforts of the Johnson administration.
Johnson made this speech in the same year that the Moynihan Report was published. I cannot imagine that he was unaware of Moynihan's position as a fellow Democrat. Moynihan was right and Johnson was right about the health of the family being key to success in America. Today, only the Right is right in the same way.
Who made black people stop getting married? Countercultural hippy liberals, gays and feminists. Who wants to make black people get married? Conservatives. Johnson said a government revolution was necessary to keep black families together. Conservatives say a social revolution is necessary to keep black families together.
So here's my crazy idea that I know conservatives would vote for in a heartbeat, a big tax break for marriage, as a matter of fact a big regressive tax break. Starting in 2010, you get a $500 tax break for every year you stay married. Liberals would hit the ceiling. It would be hugely and disproportionately beneficial for blacks, the group that has the most to gain from getting married because we are, I think, the most unmarried group next to homosexuals. But for the sake of gays, I think liberals would trash the idea.
All that aside, it's important to bring Hymowitz into the discussion, because the status of the black family is indeed a huge debate in which the Left and Right differ greatly.
Given the legacy of slavery that made marriage impossible for blacks and Jim Crow laws that emasculated men, the unmarriage revolution was bound to hit blacks especially hard. When Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote his controversial report "The Negro Family", he was warning the country about a 25% illegitimacy rate among blacks. In one chapter of my book, I tell the story of how black leaders and black and white academics accused Moynihan of every sin in the p.c. book. He was a racist who could not possibly understand "the strengths of the black family." He was a sexist who failed to appreciate the "strong black woman" and her "extended kinship networks." It became impossible to have an honest conversation about what was happening in the black community for the next twenty years even as black welfare rolls, crime rates, and teen births were soaring.
Well, now the rupture between marriage and black childbearing is just about complete. Seventy percent of black births are to single mothers. Seventy percent. This has had a disastrous effect on men, who have lost their major social roles as provider and father. It is also a tragedy for the country because it makes the goal of full black equality unachievable. Growing up in single parent homes, black kids are destined to stay behind.
As a black conservative I ask the profound question why should blacks petition the government for programs to assist us in keeping black families together when we could do it for ourselves?