Jewish World Review Nov. 2, 2005 / 30 Tishrei, 5766

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Civil rights rites | While giving my office at home an overdue cleaning up — "operation Augean stable," as my wife and I call it — I uncovered in the paper jungle a 2005 calendar. Since there was not a lot of 2005 left, I was about to throw it out when I read its title: "2005 Republican Civil Rights Calendar."

Sent by the National Black Republican Association in Washington, this calendar listed for each month various things that Republicans had done for civil rights over the years.

No doubt there was a need for something to counter the impression built up over time that Democrats were pro-civil rights and Republicans anti-civil rights, when in fact a higher percentage of Republicans than Democrats voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

So far, so good.

But the calendar featured a long list of minority and female individuals appointed to high office by Republicans or elected to office as Republicans. While it was good to see that the Republicans had finally woken up to a need to articulate their case on civil rights — as they need to articulate their case on a whole range of other issues — there was still something disquieting about this approach.

Civil rights cannot include everything that is done by government which benefits particular groups, individually or collectively. The whole case for civil rights is that every American is entitled to them. Civil rights are not about doing special things for special groups.

Even when there is a persuasive case for providing special benefits to particular groups — military veterans, for example — there is no need to call those things civil rights.

While blacks have had a long struggle to achieve the civil rights that many other Americans took for granted, not everything that has advanced blacks in the past or that can advance blacks in the future, is a civil right. In fact, the most dramatic economic advancements of blacks, in both incomes and occupations, occurred in the years immediately before the civil rights legislation of the 1960s.

The effect of government policies on blacks cannot be judged by whether these policies were conceived or carried out with blacks in mind.

It has long been axiomatic, for example, among those who study the American economy, that "A rising tide lifts all boats." When the economy has been booming, there have been years when black incomes rose at a higher rate than white incomes.

No one has a greater stake in various school-choice plans, including vouchers, than blacks have, even though school choice is not specifically racial. Social Security is not a racial policy either, but economists who have studied it have long described it as a system that transfers money from black men to white women, given the different life expectancies of these two groups.

Minimum wage laws have long had an adverse effect on the employment of blacks, especially young blacks, who are more likely to be looking for entry-level jobs. These are the kinds of jobs most often reduced or eliminated when the minimum wage set by the government exceeds what those jobs are worth to an employer.

This is a pattern found in countries around the world, so it is not even peculiar to the United States, much less to black Americans. But its impact on black Americans is especially harsh.

Few policies have had more devastating local impacts on blacks than severe restrictions on the building of housing under "open space" laws, which lead to skyrocketing prices for homes and apartment rents that take up half the incomes of low-income households in many California communities.

Almost invariably, such communities are controlled by liberal Democrats — and blacks have been forced out by high housing costs. The black population of San Francisco, for example, declined by 18,000 between the 1990 census and the 2000 census, even though the city's total population rose by more than 50,000 people.

The time is long overdue for both blacks and Republicans who are trying to appeal to blacks to focus on policies in terms of their actual effects on blacks — and to stop calling things "civil rights" when they are not.

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