JWR Roger SimonMona CharenLinda Chavez
Jacob SullumJonathan S. Tobin
Thomas SowellWilliam PfaffRobert Scheer
Don FederCal Thomas
Left, Right & Center
Jewish World Review / April 2, 1998 / 6 Nissan, 5758

Cal Thomas

Cal Thomas How about helping American cities before African?

WHEN CONGRESS was run by Democrats and the White House by a Republican, congressional Democrats frequently called for the restoration of America's cities before money was spent on other programs.

When Republicans became a congressional majority and tried to create tax incentives for individuals and businesses in order to rebuild decaying neighborhoods, The 'hoodthey were blocked by liberal Democrats, who feared that success in this area would end the cult of dependency that is their political bread and butter.

President Clinton played Santa Claus on his great African adventure, promising to dispense taxpayers' money on such programs as a ``Radio Free Africa'' and helping kids access the Internet. But how can so many black politicians and Jesse Jackson, who accompanied the president, talk about reviving Africa until they have done something to help revive America?

In recent months I've been spending time in Anacostia, a part of Washington that, if you believe what you see on television, is populated solely by drug dealers, killers and other antisocial low lifes. While Anacostia has its share of such people, crime is mostly confined to certain neighborhoods and street corners. The rest of this part of southeast Washington is made up of people who live decent lives. Some are employed; others are retired or on some form of public assistance. Although parts of Anacostia are nice, much of it could be called ``blighted.''

It was to encourage the isolation and ultimate eviction of the criminal class that Republicans in the last Congress tried to push through a bill that would give tax breaks to businesses and individuals who moved into certain areas of Washington and rebuilt them. Some proposals offered businesses and individuals a tax-free existence, believing they would repair dilapidated houses and improve neighborhoods. The short-term loss of tax revenue, it was believed, would more than be made up for in long-term social improvement. Eventually the tax revenues would come from these areas where the government currently takes in little or no money but spends huge sums in its largely unsuccessful attempt to reduce crime.

Republicans believed that making Washington an example of renewal would encourage other decaying cities. That's what liberal Democrats feared -- and so the proposals never made it into law.

Few white people or middle- and upper-class blacks visit Anacostia, fearing that they will be mugged or their cars stolen. I had the same feeling until I drove there for the first time in 30 years to meet someone. He wanted to take me to lunch in a ``good'' part of town. I told him I preferred to eat ``in the 'hood.'' He took me to a restaurant where the cook, some employees and customers came over to the table to greet me and to thank me for coming. I was shocked -- this was not an attitude I had seen portrayed on television.

On subsequent visits to Anacostia, I have met some wonderful people who care about the same things everyone cares about. However, they are often limited by the lack of economic opportunity caused not only by family break-ups but a business climate that appears to be comatose.

Republicans should take up the challenge Democrats used to hurl at them. Let's fix American cities before we start throwing money at Africa. Let Republicans write not only a new Contract With America but an Economic Emancipation Proclamation for Black America. It was a Republican president who freed the slaves. Let this Republican Congress free all poor people, black and white, from economic dependency on government programs and spark a financial recovery in our cities by giving tax breaks to those who will return to blighted neighborhoods and stay for at least a decade.

What so many liberal Democrats, including the Black Caucus, fear is that true emancipation will mean that poor blacks won't need them to shore up going-nowhere lives any more. Let's see President Clinton outmaneuver the GOP on thisone!


3/31/98:Revenge of the children
3/29/98: The Clinton strategy: delay, deceive, deny, and destroy
3/26/98: Moralist Gary Hart
3/23/98: CNN's century of (liberal) women
3/17/98: Dandy Dan
3/15/98: An imposed 'settlement' settles nothing
3/13/98: David Brock's Turnabout

©1998, Los Angeles Times Syndicate, Inc.