- The Washington Times - Friday, November 4, 2005

While giving my office at home an overdue cleaning — “operation Augean stable,” as my wife and I call it — I uncovered 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 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. It was good to see the Republicans finally awakened 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.

Civil rights cannot include everything government does to benefit particular groups, individually or collectively. The whole case for civil rights is that every American is entitled to them. Civil rights are not about 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 struggled long for the civil rights 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, came in the years immediately before the civil rights legislation of the 1960s.

Government policies’ effects on blacks cannot be judged by whether they 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 boomed, there have been years when black incomes rose faster than white incomes.

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

Minimum wage laws have long adversely affected black employment, especially that of the young, who are likelier to be seeking entry-level jobs. These are the kinds of jobs most often reduced or eliminated when the government-set minimum wage exceeds the value of those jobs to an employer.

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

Few policies have had more devastating local effects on blacks than severe restrictions on housing construction 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 18,000 between the 1990 and the 2000 censuses, though the city’s total population rose more than 50,000.

It is long past time for both blacks and Republicans trying to appeal to blacks to focus on policies’ actual effects on blacks and to stop labeling as such things that are not “civil rights.”

Thomas Sowell is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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