Archives: 04/2013

Social Conservatism, the GOP’s Key To Unlocking Black Votes? Don’t Believe It.

Among politically active social conservatives, there’s a remarkably durable myth that Republicans can make inroads with black voters if only they hold fast to hard-line positions on issues like same-sex marriage. That notion cropped up again this week as part of a widely publicized letter to Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus in which thirteen officials with social-conservative groups threatened that their followers will leave the GOP or stay home in future elections unless the party pledges to continue its staunch line against gay marriage, a stance now widely unpopular in public opinion polls and among many Republican demographics such as those under 50. 

The letter, which you can read here, portrays the issue as vital in GOP minority outreach, which they said should “focus on issues where there is mutual agreement like traditional marriage.”  (It does not mention that black opinion, once lopsidedly opposed to same-sex marriage, has swung closer in polls to an even split on the issue). To support this claim, it cites real-world examples from three states: Illinois, Ohio, and my own state of Maryland. 

On Ohio, the letter repeats longstanding claims that President George W. Bush’s campaign stance on marriage made the difference in his narrow Buckeye State win in 2004. My colleague David Boaz has already examined those claims in this space, and found the evidence surprisingly thin. The Illinois example, for its part, is self-evidently beside the point: the letter correctly notes that some minority elected officials in that state oppose same-sex marriage, but that does nothing to show that any Illinois blacks are ready to stop voting Democratic because of their concern for the issue.  

That leaves Maryland. And in the course of analyzing last November’s Maryland vote in some detail, and writing a series of articles on the results of my research, I feel some confidence in saying that no one has been able to offer evidence that the ballot fight over same-sex marriage did the Maryland Republican Party any overall good with black voters in the state.

As I noted in this December article in The Blaze, Prince George’s County in suburban Washington, which has a substantial black majority among registered voters and has won national attention as a microcosm of black political trends, was hard fought territory in Maryland’s Question 6 fight. In the end, the county split about evenly, Question 6 trailing by just 1 point; the measure was carried to a 5-point statewide win by a strong showing elsewhere in the Baltimore-DC corridor, notably including many Republican suburbs.  

Because P.G. is so large and has so many overwhelmingly black precincts, it afforded an opportunity to investigate whether black voters with socially conservative views are any more likely to vote Republican than those with more socially liberal inclinations. Toward that end, I identified those black-dominated precincts with the strongest social-conservative leanings, as measured by the size of the margins by which they disapproved Question 6. If the “GOP minority inroads” thesis was correctly identifying a genuine trend, you would expect to see signs of a healthy black crossover vote for GOP candidates in those precincts. Instead, the black precincts that most strongly opposed Question 6 were also among those where the GOP got buried most completely, with Mitt Romney getting only (in typical showings) 3, 5, or 6 percent of the overall vote. The down-ticket Maryland GOP candidates, who all happened to be strong social conservatives, were getting beaten just as decisively, including in Senate and House races where all the relevant candidates were white. The GOP’s social-conservative senate hopeful, for example – who ran well enough to carry 13 of 23 counties statewide against lackluster white liberal Sen. Ben Cardin – did even worse in P.G. than Romney, winning only 6 1/2 percent of the vote county-wide and a good bit less than that – as little as 2 percent in one precinct – in the most socially conservative black P.G. neighborhoods.  

Republicans who imagine that catering to the most vehement social conservatives within the party will result in a harvest of new black votes are deluding themselves. 


Stop Rewarding North Korea

To a degree almost impossible to imagine just a month ago, North Korea has won international attention, dominated events in Northeast Asia, and embarrassed the United States. Unfortunately, the Obama administration has played into Pyongyang’s hands by responding to the North’s provocations. Now Secretary of State John Kerry is visiting East Asia, beginning Friday, where the so-called Democratic People’s Republic of Korea will dominate the agenda.

Rushing off to the region on a high-profile trip is another mistake. Whatever Secretary Kerry does or says is likely to be seen as enhancing the DPRK’s stature. Better for him to have stayed home, phoning his counterparts as appropriate. 

No doubt the Obama administration hopes to craft a diplomatic answer to what is widely seen as a crisis. However, Washington dare not reward the North for its caterwauling, even if Kim Jong-un suddenly adopts the mien of a serious leader of a serious nation. Rather, Secretary Kerry should hold out the possibility of engagement, even diplomatic relations—but only if Pyongyang chooses to behave like other nations. No more providing benefits in response to threats. 

Moreover, the secretary and other U.S. officials should stop responding to every new North Korean development, big and small. America is a superpower with the ability to vaporize every acre of the DPRK. The North is impoverished; its people are starving; its military is antiquated. Its leaders are evil, not stupid or suicidal, and have neither the ability nor the incentive to attack America. Washington should respond to the next North Korean provocation, whether verbal challenge or missile test, with a collective yawn. 

Hope continues to breed eternal that China will tame or replace the Kim regime. No doubt Beijing is frustrated with its nominal protégé. However, the Chinese government will act only if it believes doing so is in China’s interest. Insisting or demanding will achieve nothing. Secretary Kerry must seek to persuade Beijing, an unusual strategy for Washington, which is used to dictating to other nations. 

North Korea is a human tragedy, but its belligerent behavior is primarily a problem for its neighbors, not the United States. Washington should give Pyongyang the (non) attention that it so richly deserves.

Academic Rehabilitation

Who says crime doesn’t pay? Just look at academia. The blogosphere was abuzz last week after the New York Post ran a piece about former Weather Underground radical Kathy Boudin, 69, who spent 22 years in prison for an armored-car robbery that killed three people, including the first black police officer on the Nyack police force, and left nine children fatherless. After her parole in 2003, Boudin was awarded a prestigious adjunct professorship at Columbia University (my alma mater) and this year was named the Sheinberg Scholar-in-Residence at NYU Law School.

The context for the story? As the Post puts it, “Boudin’s bounce-back into respectability … comes to light a week before the release of Robert Redford’s movie ‘The Company You Keep,’ loosely based on the $1.6 million heist.”

For a fuller account of the academic/Hollywood route to respectability, you can turn, of all places, to this afternoon’s “Daily Beast.” There you’ll find former Reason magazine senior editor Michael Moynihan’s “How 1960s Radicals Ended Up Teaching Your Kids,” a catalog of academic “rehabilitation” efforts.

With their Obama connections, former Weather Underground bombers Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn, the husband-and-wife team at the University of Illinois, Chicago, and Northwestern Law School, respectively, are well know, of course. (As Moynihan writes, Dohrn was “also a former Sheinberg Scholar-in-Residence at NYU, which must consider bomb-making skills when making its selection.”) But did you know about Howard Machtinger at the University of North Carolina? Or Ericka Huggins at California State University, East Bay? The account of her doings will curdle your blood. Now she lectures on “human rights.”

And how are the universities handling these, well, delicate histories? As Moynihan writes:

Boudin’s Columbia University biography doesn’t mention her violent past, describing her simply as “an educator and counselor with experience in program development since 1964, working within communities with limited resources to solve social problems.” Neither does an official NYU press release announcing her new gig, instead explaining that Boudin “has been dedicated to community involvement in social change since the 1960’s.” Well, that’s one way of putting it.

So it is. But if you thought the Daily Beast has gone soft for running this piece, just look at the comments. They must have wanted simply to tweak their natural audience.

Obama’s Budget “Savings”

When the previous Bush administration released its fiscal 2006 budget proposal, it included a separate document listing specific spending cuts and other reforms. The idea was too little and too late, and it’s likely that the Bush administration included it as part of a feeble attempt to answer critics of the Republican spending binge. 

The supplement became an annual inclusion and the Obama administration has carried on the tradition. This year, however, the administration skipped the separate document and instead tucked a list of suggested “cuts, consolidations, and savings” in the back of the main budget document. 

The placement is different, but the relatively paltry offerings are the same. 

The big picture is that the administration found $25 billion in savings. Overall spending under the president’s proposed budget would increase $93 billion over last year, so the savings would be gross rather than net. And, obviously, $25 billion isn’t much in a $3.8 trillion budget. 

Here’s a chart that puts the “savings” in perspective (you might not even be able to see the red “savings” line):


The sad part is that Congress won’t even agree to a lot of the president’s proposed cuts.  

Do New Cybersecurity Restrictions Amount to Regulatory Protectionism?

Protectionism masquerading as regulation in the public interest is the subject of an excellent new paper by my colleagues Bill Watson and Sallie James.  As tariffs and other border barriers to trade have declined, rent-seeking domestic interests have turned increasingly to regulations with noble sounding purposes – protecting Flipper from the indiscriminating nets of tuna fishermen, fighting the tobacco industry’s efforts to entice children with grape-flavored cigarettes, keeping U.S. highways safe from recklessly-driven, dilapidated, smoke-emitting Mexican trucks, and so on – in order to reduce competition and secure artificial market advantages over you, the consumer.

The paper documents numerous examples of this “bootleggers and Baptists” phenomenon, where the causes of perhaps well-intentioned advocates of health and safety regulation were infiltrated or commandeered by domestic producer interests with more nefarious, protectionist motives, and advises policymakers to:

be skeptical of regulatory proposals backed by the target domestic industry and of proposals that lack a plausible theory of market failure. These are red flags that the proposal is the product of privilege-seeking special interests disguised as altruistic consumer advocates.

After reading this incisive paper, you might consider whether a new law restricting U.S. government purchases of Chinese-produced information technology systems in the name of cybersecurity fits the profile of regulatory protectionism.  A two paragraph section of the 574-page “Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2013,” signed into law last week, prohibits federal agency purchases of IT equipment “produced, manufactured or assembled” by entities “owned, directed, or subsidized by the People’s Republic of China” unless the head of the purchasing agency consults with the FBI and determines that the purchase is “in the national interest of the United States” and then conveys that determination in writing to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees.

President’s Budget Lacks Seriousness, Vision

The measure of our seriousness in helping children learn is not simply the number of dollars we spend, but rather the care and thought we invest in allocating them, and our openness to changing course when the evidence demands it. The education provisions of the President’s budget, released today, lack both seriousness and vision.

The FY 2014 budget overview emphasizes three educational initiatives: preschool for all, STEM and innovation, and school infrastructure.

As foreshadowed in his State of the Union address, President Obama proposes to federally subsidize statewide preschool programs. This approach seems designed to deal with the mounting evidence that the federal government’s own preschool programs, Head Start and Early Head Start, have essentially no lasting benefits. Though candidate Obama once said he would terminate ineffective programs, his latest budget retains them both, and actually grows Early Head Start. Additionally, the new budget would subsidize PreK programs like those in Oklahoma and Georgia that advocates have long touted as “high quality.” The evidence on those programs is, however, rather mixed. Relative to the national average, Oklahoma has seen modest declines on the 4th grade NAEP tests while Georgia has seen modest gains—and the declines are larger than the gains. A broader review of the evidence by early education expert Russ Whitehurst of Brookings finds the same lackluster results overall. 

Not only are these statewide programs failing to show a pattern of lasting and substantial benefits thus far, the addition of federal subsidies will likely impede efforts to improve them. Federal education dollars at the pre-college level always come with strings attached—strings that accumulate over time. That is likely to exert a homogenizing pressure on state pre-K offerings, eliminating variation and thereby preventing us from learning which approaches are effective and which are not.

On STEM, the President is keen to fund the hiring of 100,000 new Science, Technology, and Math teachers. But America does not have a teacher quantity problem, we have a teacher effectiveness problem. Over the past 40 years, we’ve grown the number of public school employees 11 times faster than enrollment [i.e., we’ve doubled the number of staff to serve only 8.5 percent more students]. This has added $200 billion annually to the cost of American public schooling, and two million of the three million new hires were instructional staff, so it’s not simply a problem of bureaucratic bloat. And yet, despite all those new teachers and teachers’ aides, achievement at the end of high school is largely flat as are real graduation rates.

In other words, our public schools have shown themselves incapable of harnessing the talents of these millions of additional educators. The solution is not to hire yet more teachers into that system, it is to liberalize the education sector, bringing it back within the free enterprise system. Only when schools have both the freedoms and incentives to make the most of their teaching staffs, will we see educators’ talents marshaled effectively.

Finally, President Obama’s proposed new infrastructure spending focuses only on the symptom (crumbling school facilities) and ignores its cause (mismanagement). I’ve analyzed school survey data on the condition of facilities and found that public schools are in a much worse state of repair than private schools, despite the fact that private schools spend far less per pupil, on average. The question is WHY are public schools in a worse state of repair, given that they spend more? According to a federal government report, it’s because districts repeatedly defer necessary routine maintenance. These deferrals increase the cost of maintaining school facilities and accelerate the deterioration of buildings and equipment. In other words, they postpone the ounce of prevention until the pound of cure becomes unavoidable—and they do this because they don’t have to pay for the cure. Once again, bringing schools back within the free enterprise system would provide administrators with the incentives to maintain their facilities so as to avoid the financial hit of costly repairs and replacements—a hit that they can now pass on to taxpayers at no cost to themselves or their careers.

Regrettably, seeing the root causes underlying our educational woes is beyond the vision of the present administration.

Bad Stuff in Obama Ed Budget

Details are still emerging about the Obama Administration’s 2014 education budget proposal, but from the overview there seems to be a lot of bad stuff. Here are the hi – or low – lights, and links to some important context:

  • Increase Department of Education spending to $71.2 billion, up 4.6 percent from 2012 enacted level: This is neither constitutional nor effective.
  • “Invests” in preschool: Head Start, Early Head Start, and state programs either are shown to fail, or have little to no good evidence supporting them.
  • $12.5 billion in mandatory funds to “prevent additional teacher layoffs and hire teachers”: We’ve been getting fat on staff – including teachers – for decades, and it hasn’t helped.
  • $1.3 billion for 21st Century Community Learning Centers: Federal studies have found these have negative effects.
  • Race to the Top for higher education: So far, RTTT has been big on promises, small on outcomes, and huge on coercion to adopt national curriculum standards.
  • $260 million to scale up higher education innovation: MOOCS and other innovations have been developing pretty well without federal “help.”
  • Maintain “strong” Pell Grant program: Pell is part of the tuition hyperinflation problem, not the solution.

There will no doubt be more-detailed analyses of specific education proposals to come. Stay tuned!