A Less Perfect Union

Yesterday afternoon, President Obama delivered a speech commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic march from Selma to Montgomery, the first in a series of marches that brought national attention to the denial of African-Americans in the Deep South. The Selma marches applied the necessary political pressure to pass the Voting Rights Act, an enormous victory for the civil rights movement. The anniversary comes on the heels of the release of the Department of Justice’s sobering report on the investigation conducted in Ferguson in the aftermath of Mike Brown’s death. The Department of Justice found evidence proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the police department in Ferguson unfairly targets African-Americans, using racial slurs, violating constitutional rights, and fabricating charges. Given the evidence, it’s no wonder resentment and distrust seethe beneath the surface in Ferguson and productive, honest communication seems difficult if not impossible.

These two events present an uncomfortable juxtaposition. One one hand, we wish to see this anniversary as a benchmark, as a way of congratulating ourselves on how far we have progressed in terms of race relations and civil rights. But we can’t. I don’t care how lofty the rhetoric is, the progress we made is not nearly enough to pat ourselves on the back for even a moment. If anything, our more perfect union that our forefathers envisioned may be in a decline. Fifty years after Selma, the deaths of unarmed black men call out for answers, protesters fill the streets, and cities burn. That isn’t progress. That’s deterioration.

When I first wrote about Ferguson, I said that African-Americans need to get their heads out of their asses. That’s true, but so does the rest of America. We have a serious race problem in this country, beginning in black homes. The black family is fractured and splintering further: 70 percent of African-American babies are born out of wedlock*, fast-tracking them to a life of poverty, crime, and premature death. That’s the ugly reality. We can lobby for better education policies, and we should. We can lobby for better housing policies, and we should. We can lobby for prison reform, and we must. But the single thing we can advocate for, that will reduce poverty, help African-Americans achieve economic stability and provide a better future for their children is marriage.This is why I am a conservative. This is why I am a Christian. We need a higher authority to restore order to our broken system, and that order comes from God. The Republican party’s views on reducing barriers (i.e. cutting bureaucratic tape and taxes) to make it easier for people to enter the labor force is exactly what a population disproportionately affected by incarceration needs. But first, the violence must end. And to do that, we must listen. Not give in to rage or bias, but really, truly listen.

Racism isn’t a Republican or Democratic problem, and doesn’t have a Republican or Democratic solution. My former boss, editor of The American Conservative paired up with liberal politician Ralph Nader and discussed their mutual skepticism of corporate capitalism in an interview for Yes! magazine. I read the whole thing like a famished child devouring a crust of bread. You should, too. They don’t make ’em like this anymore, folks: people with opposed political ideologies finding their points of convergence, not engaging in a public shouting match. A union is just that: coming together. Our union happens to be founded on our shared belief system that we are endowed by our Creator with unalienable rights. This is the foundation of our justice system. And yet, Jim Crow laws stood for nearly a hundred years. And yet racism still somehow manages to rear its ugly head. And we let it.

There are no immediate or simple answers to what seems like a simple problem. But we can’t keep pretending things are better and will improve when all the evidence indicates the opposite. We may never repair the damage caused by slavery and Jim Crow. But the impossible has never been something that deterred Americans. We can have a society where everyone, no matter the color of their skin, their ethnicity, their gender, their religion, or sexual orientation is treated equally under the law. It will take longer than we want it to. It will be challenging. But if we commit to listening to each other–not spewing rhetoric, not plotting revenge, not chalking up events to stereotypes–maybe we can find a way to stop the chaos.

I believe we can have a more perfect union. But only if we interact with our fellow citizens with respect and compassion and are patient–with each other, with the process, and with ourselves.

God bless you, and God bless America.

*The article I linked to is a very interesting piece by Ta-Nehisi Coates, who is arguing the exact opposite thing that I am, that black women (especially married black women) who are bearing fewer children is not necessarily indicative of a cultural decline. But the reasons black women are forgoing marriage may be different from those of white women. White women are likelier to go to college and complete their education with the expectation of meeting someone they deem eligible to marry in that whole process. With the rate of incarceration of black males being as high as it is, black women may be forgoing marriage because of a lack of eligible black men.

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A Little Something on the INFORM Act

With a government shutdown now upon us, the two words on everyone’s lips these days are federal budget. This week, Republicans have shifted their game strategy from defunding Obamacare to raising the debt ceiling. If a deal is not reached by Monday, the government will shut down and force delays on public services. The government’s debt is something that neither party has been able to agree on, which makes a piece of legislation like the Intergenerational Financial Obligations Reform (INFORM) Act not only important, but timely. According to the INFORM Act website, the bill calls for the Congressional Budget Office, the General Accountability Office (GAO), and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to perform annual generational and gap accounting, and provide generational accounting for proposed legislation. The INFORM ACT provides budget transparency not for its own sake, but raises the difficult questions that need to be answered for the sake of our long-term fiscal solvency; in particular, how does a policy increase or decrease the tax burden on young people? Had such questions been asked before the start of the Iraq War or during the debates on Obamacaresuch measures might not have passes as easily, if at all. LA Times columnist Hiltzik unleashed damning criticism of the INFORM Act in his column on September 17th stating that generational accounting doesn’t distinguish between spending and investment: “The government’s decision in the 1950s to spend billions to create the interstate highway system shows up in generational accounts as a huge burden on post-1950s taxpayers…But we’re obviously reaping economic benefits from that decision, as will our children and grandchildren.” Kotlikoff replied by releasing an eloquent defense via Forbes: “The objective is to understand which generations will pay for those public goods and other government spending… Yet we can’t make those decisions until we understand who will likely pay for them.” In spite of the intense debate, the INFORM Act, if passed, will provide invaluable insight to the fiscal consequences of government spending. Instead of using the comfortable ten-
year projection as a measuring stick for long-term viability, gap and generational accounting will help lawmakers understand how government expenditures will affect current and subsequent generations. Not only is the INFORM Act a bipartisan initiative that was introduced and sponsored by Democratic and Republican senators, showing both sides of the aisle are on board, an all-star team of economists have given it their seal of approval. Fourteen Nobel laureates in economics have endorsed it thus far, not including over a thousand other economists from around the world. Such a consensus raises the question if the INFORM Act is a based less on sound economic theory than common sense. Indeed, the principle of the bill is simple enough that the author can understand it: you have to count the money you have spent along with the money you haven’t. Doing so allows you to know not only how much money you are actually spending, but also who is spending it. While the INFORM Act cannot predict who shoulders what publicly funded project with complete accuracy, in this instance, more information is better. Simply put, generational accounting is more thorough and transparent. One of the motivating factors behind the INFORM Act could is the student debt that is crushing the millennials and preventing them from reaching the financial milestones of adulthood. To add insult to injury, the current structure of social security and Medicaid benefits the baby boomer generation, putting them in the unique position of being more financially secure than their parents and their children. Hitzkin may have eloquently crafted his argument, but the facts remain:student debt totals over $1 trillion, exceeding consumer debt, and the average college graduate is saddled with $26,000 in student loans. Earlier this year, The Can Kicks Back, a non-partisan millennial organization dedicated to advocating for viable debt solutions, proposed a policy that provides greater budget transparency and intergenerational accounting. The INFORM Act will ensure both those things,and take away Congress’s ability to pass the buck. Bills like the INFORM Act are the perfect example of why we have elected members of Congress–to come up with viable solutions addressing problems that are pressing to millions of Americans. The INFORM Act is a necessary piece of legislation designed to prevent the debt yoke burdening millennials from happening again. This bill needs to pass for the sake of millennials’ future and for the generations that come after them.