- - Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Barack Obama is a symbol of black pride, and why wouldn’t he be? He was elected president of the United States twice. But as a president who has not done very much for black America, he has been a disaster. The riots that have ripped through Baltimore in recent days are more an indictment of his willfully failed leadership than as a marker of the state of race relations in the United States.

Mr. Obama doesn’t want a crisis to go to waste, so he lays the blame for the woes of urban America at the feet of the Republican Congress, though only four months have passed since the Republicans took full control of Congress. “There’s a bunch of my agenda that would make a difference right now in [improving lives],” the president said at a press conference Tuesday on the White House lawn with visiting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. He ticked off several items of “a bunch” of his agenda: more money for early childhood education, criminal justice reform and job training.

The president did not say anything about his steadfast support of policies that lock urban youth out of quality education and robust job opportunities. To hang on to the support of the public school teachers’ unions, the president opposes school vouchers, and killed a successful program that gave inner-city children a chance to escape the public schools in the District of Columbia.

The president isn’t responsible for the Great Recession, but he has made it worse. His failure to enforce the nation’s borders encourages illegal immigration. Since Mr. Obama assumed office in 2009, the unemployment rate for blacks has risen from 12.7 percent to 16.8 percent before settling at 10.1 percent in March. For the black young, the rate has climbed as high as 24.9 percent. Throughout the Obama era, black unemployment has remained nearly double that of whites.

Black household income has fallen 10.9 percent to $33,500 since 2008, according to Census Bureau figures; so, too, black median net worth, which stands at about $11,000, about where it was 30 years ago. The poverty rate for blacks has risen from 12 percent to 16.1 percent during the Obama years. Black Americans have paid a heavy price for the pride of claiming Mr. Obama as their symbol.

Baltimore city leaders rightly say that the riots demonstrate the need for investment in blighted areas of the city, but violence in the streets drives investment away. In cities where serious rioting occurred during the 1960s, black-owned property suffered a 14 to 20 percent decline in value, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, and black family median income fell 9 percent. Nothing short of war renders a city more inhospitable to investment and development than burning and looting.

The “root cause” of rioting is not merely a shortage of television sets, as the scenes of looting in Baltimore suggest, but the collapse of culture. Raising children in a loving two-parent family gives the young needed security and a sense of self-worth, leading to optimism about the future, and inoculates them from the anger that compels them to smash windows and throw bricks at cops. With 72 percent of black babies born to single mothers, an entire generation of black Americans comes of age without fathers.

Nagging Congress to shovel more money into social programs that accomplish only bigger bureaucracies won’t help. Mr. Obama could do real and lasting good by working to persuade young black Americans to follow his example, to marry and take responsibility for their children. He would be an authentic icon, and a source of pride for everyone.

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