The Useful Idiots of the Corporate Elite

There are a whole lot of useful idiots in America. Yesterday, a caller called into my radio show, and echoed Congressman Paul Ryan’s recent comments, blaming the black community for poverty in America. He threw out a Fox So-Called News phony statistic, arguing that “73 percent of African-American women in this country ages 17-35 have children without a man in the house, and the majority of this group of people live in the cities.”

First of all, that is completely false. According to the most recent government statistics, 72 percent of black babies are born to unmarried mothers today. But that is completely different from saying that “73 percent of African-American women in this country have children without a man in the house.” It's a perfect demonstration of the old saying, often attributed to Mark Twain, that, "Figures don't lie, but liars can figure."

In fact, the birth rate for unmarried black women in America has been falling for almost 40 years. And most of the evidence points to changes in unmarried birth rates among both black and white women in America that started in the 1970s, coinciding with the legalization of abortion and the beginning of widespread use of oral contraceptives, and largely unaffected over the years by changes in welfare programs.

So, why is it that Conservatives like yesterday’s caller, Fox So-Called News' useful idiots, and Congressman Paul Ryan are obsessed with the notion that blacks and the black community are responsible for poverty in America? Like so much that's wrong with America today, it all started with Reagan.

Reagan is famous for his speeches and one-liners about “welfare queens,” but as author Ian Haney Lopez pointed out in an interview on Moyers and Company, it all began with his earliest welfare stump speech in 1980. Reagan would speak to (white) Americans, and say something along the lines of, “I understand how frustrating it is for you when you’re standing in line at a grocery store waiting to buy hamburger, and there’s some young fellow ahead you waiting to by a T-Bone with food stamps.”

But, as Lopez points out, the first time Reagan gave that stump speech, “young fellow” was replaced with “young buck,” a racially-coded term for a young black man. Basically, Reagan was telling white Americans that they were being taken advantage of by blacks on food stamps, and that it was made possible by the government taking their money through taxes and then giving it to undeserving black people.

So, in response to the outrage that he drummed up, Reagan suggested his infamous tax cuts, dropping the top rate that billionaires pay from 74% down to 28%. After all, he told middle-class voters - who got a very small income tax cut - why should you pay taxes to a government that’s just turning around and giving that money to undeserving black people who are using it to eat fancy steak dinners?

This is very similar to the recent outrage over at Fox about people on food stamps buying crab and lobster, something that's possible but so rare that it has no effect on the overall tax we all pay for food stamps. Lopez goes on to say that, for the past 50 years, Republicans have been telling white Americans that the biggest threat in their lives are minorities, and that minorities have taken over government and are eating up all the money.

Just last week, Congressman Paul Ryan went on Bill Bennett’s Morning in America program, and said that, “We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with.” In other words, Ryan is saying that lazy black men are responsible for poverty in America.

For some 50 years now, Republicans have been using race-baiting tactics and dog-whistle politics like this to convince Americans that the black community is behind poverty in America, but that’s just not the case. After all, you can see many of the same trends in the largely white Appalachia region of the U.S. as you do in minority-heavy inner cities. In Appalachia, white Americans are struggling with poverty, and having children out-of-wedlock, just like their black inner-city counterparts.

And according to the Pew Research Center’s Social and Demographic Trends project, in 2012, the median net worth of a white household was $91,405, while the median net worth of a black household was $6,446. So a black child starts out at a very different place than a white child, both economically and socially. But Conservatives still argue that blacks are behind poverty in America. The social and cultural problems that we see in black communities across America, and in white communities in Appalachia, are responses to poverty, not the causes of it.

It’s time for Americans, and lawmakers in Washington, to wake up, and start talking about the real causes of poverty in America, which include massive inequality produced by our tax code, joblessness produced by our trade policies, and ongoing discrimination by a largely white economic and political power structure. Only then will every American have an equal shot at the American Dream, regardless of their race.


Palindromedary's picture
Palindromedary 8 years 37 weeks ago

I certainly agree with you, DAnnemarc!

Aliceinwonderland's picture
Aliceinwonderland 8 years 37 weeks ago

Marc, I do not think that "invited guests" is a fair or accurate way to characterize Mexican immigrants and why they are here. Seems to me that much of what you've just said contradicts more than supports Ken's argument, since all he does is diss "illegals" while you at least acknowledge who's actually to blame. It's really all about NAFTA, not about these mean old Mexicans out to steal our jobs. Dumping on "illegals" doesn't resolve diddily squat anyway, Marc. We need to recognize that politicians and law-breaking employers caused this problem, and focus on holding them accountable. It is they who are attacking labor, devaluing labor with anti-labor policies, thus making workers dispensible and everyone's future less certain. If employers stop hiring "illegals", it illiminates their incentive to come here looking for work. The Mexicans are only trying to compensate for jobs dried up by NAFTA in their own country. Reverse NAFTA's policies and they might even have jobs to return home to! But of course, it's so much easier to target the victims instead of actually fixing the problem. I've heard my fill of KW's rants against Mexicans, thank you. Enough already.

Whether KW is racist is not something I want to waste time arguing about, Marc. I'm well aware of the fact that you and I don't see eye-to-eye where Ken Ware is concerned. You think KW adds something valuable to our discussions, which I'll admit he does on occasion. But he still acts like a bully and a troll the rest of the time. I hate how Ken comes barging in here outa nowhere, when he's in his troll mode, putting Thom down, complaining about us, insulting people and bitching about this blog, all in such broad strokes... I happen to think the blog is much nicer without him. I also believe there are times you kiss up to Ken, which annoys the hell out of me. Up 'til now I've censored myself over this, Marc, not wishing to start discord between us. Now that you've opened this can of worms, however, I'll be frank with you. I don't like it. Now, I'll acknowledge that you're your own free agent, that you will do whatever your spirit moves you to do. But for you to carry on as if Ken can be expected to engage with people here in a reasonably civil manner, instead of just being a dick, is simply naïve on your part. This very dynamic is what got me frustrated enough to vacate the blog last March.

Don't worry my friend, I've no intention of leaving now. I'm having too much fun here. Damned if I'll let that asshole spoil it for me again. I'll just have to be careful from here on, not to let KW provoke me, so that I'm not ensnared in his petty drama, pulled down to his level anymore. I needn't let KW suck up so much of the time and energy I spend on this forum. That's not what I'm here for, folks. I'm here to engage with people, to discuss the serious issues of our time, to learn from others as well as speak my mind. I like the stimulation and challenges a good blog has to offer me. Helps me keep my sanity in these crazy times. I keep reminding myself, KW only spoils that for me with my permission, regardless of whether it was knowingly granted in the first place.

One way to deal with the KWs of the world, and the shit they dish out, is to just rise above and beyond it until we've "starved the beast", or he goes off looking to stir up shit someplace else. Far as I'm concerned, Marc, people like that are nothing but speed bumps in the road of life. - Aliceinwonderland

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