Thankfully, the Leesburg Daily Commercial hasn’t subjected us to too much of Star Parker’s ethnic treachery lately. Of course, with its staunch commitment to intellectual diversity, the paper was bound to expose us to her delusions eventually – all in the interests of balance, you understand. Today’s offering from one of the G.O.P.’s favorite black people, who must make Ann Coulter very proud, echoes a concern expressed recently by Republican blogger, James Poulos, that their party faces an uphill struggle in a country where their opponents’ base is willing to support a Democratic president no matter how many promises he breaks. Parker notes that, while Obama’s approval rating is hardly stellar, he still enjoys a significant amount of pro-Obama support in national polls. The likely Republican candidates, on the other hand, do not seem to have much, if any, pro-Romney or pro-Gingrich support; they simply have anti-Obama energy behind them. Parker concludes that her party isn’t doing a good enough job of selling what she believes to be its core product: freedom. Tragically, she seems blissfully unaware of the precise nature of the “freedom” that is being sold by her party.
The Freedom to be Disenfranchised
The 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution (you know – that document Republicans keep talking about respecting) gave the newly-freed slaves the right to vote – on paper. In a century-long national disgrace, the amendment quickly became a dead letter, only gaining real teeth until President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law in 1965. That act of statesmanship – a tremendous wrench for a politician with the soil of rural Texas in every cell of his body – was the beginning of the end of the erstwhile Solid South, which had been dependably Democratic in order to avoid association with the Party of Lincoln. Of course, southern “boll weevil” Democrats were completely different creatures from Northeastern liberal Democrats, so the gradual transformation of the South into a new, solidly Republican domain is really not that surprising. In a sense, the G.O.P. is where these conservatives had really always belonged; LBJ’s apostasy simply facilitated a rather logical period of musical chairs.
And so it is that today’s southern Republicans carry on the noble tradition of attempting to exclude black voters from the polling booth. With such transparently racist devices as literacy tests consigned by the pesky federal courts to the scrapheap of history, today’s discriminatory device is the requirement for voters to present a valid photo identification (generally a driver’s license or state-issued I.D. card), all in the name of minimizing voter fraud. For some strange reason, a slew of Republican-controlled southern and Midwestern states have found the problem of voter fraud particularly troubling after the presidential election of 2008, in which black voters turned out in unprecedented numbers to help elect the country’s first black president (with all due respect to the first spiritually black President, Bill Clinton).
The news section of today’s Daily Commercial includes a story on the rejection by the Department of Justice of South Carolina’s voter fraud measures. South Carolina is one of several states which, due to its history of blatant racism, must subject all its electoral laws to federal approval to ensure conformity with the Voting Rights Act. The DOJ has told the state to return to the drawing board, but it is worth noting that it seems willing to accept voter I.D. requirements if voters who lacked an I.D. on election day are given an opportunity to present one within a few days. The Bush Administration’s DOJ, astonishingly, was somewhat less concerned about such issues.
But voter I.D. requirements are but one prong in the sharp fork being driven into the 15th Amendment by the Republican Party. Many G.O.P.-controlled state legislatures, including Florida’s, have enacted restrictions on early voting, narrowing the window of opportunity for the working poor to express their preferences at the polls. Many of the Americans whom Newt Gingrich believes have “no habit of working” are working multiple jobs or odd hours; early voting is tremendously helpful to them. Of course, these legislatures know very well that such groups tend to vote the wrong way, and their contention that keeping the polls open those extra days is too expensive is one of the most obvious and egregiously cynical ways in which fiscal strains are being exploited to advance a Republican agenda. If a society really valued democratic participation, it would cut other services or (gasp!) raise taxes long before it would cut back on early voting. The priority here is just as transparent as the spirit that informed literacy tests, but even harder to accept in a society that is supposed to have made a certain amount of progress. What a long way we haven’t come.
The Freedom to Be Exploited by Big Business
If Star Parker were half as serious about advancing the welfare of the black community as she purports to be, she would be excoriating the big banks for years of systematic discrimination against minorities. Instead, good Republican girl that she is, she seeks (in her columns and on her website alike) to blame Democrats in government for forcing the banks to issue loans to people who weren’t creditworthy. This is one of the most disgusting and dangerous lies of our time, and any pundit spouting it deserves to be excommunicated from civil society.
The banks were not forced to make sub-prime loans; they wanted to make sub-prime loans. The story of how the banks couldn’t get enough mortgages to bundle into derivatives for sale to unsuspecting investors has been documented to death, by the movie Inside Job and elsewhere, but there is an equally disturbing side of the story that has received less attention. For years before the collapse of Lehman Brothers signaled that the house of cards was about to collapse, mortgage lenders had been engaging in predatory practices against minorities. In her book The Two Income Trap, Elizabeth Warren exposed the banks’ habit of ruthlessly exploiting minority borrowers whenever the opportunity presented itself. Numerous studies confirmed that, even when factoring out income and credit-worthiness, minority borrowers were as much as 450% more likely to be signed up for sub-prime loans than white borrowers. The trend was so strong that affluent black neighborhoods would have higher ratios of sub-prime loans than poor white neighborhoods.
There was far more going on here than an attempt to put black people in homes of their own at the behest of a meddling federal government. This practice was a win-win situation for the banks. Quite apart from the derivatives angle, the banks received high closing fees and high interest payments as long as the victims (sorry, customers) were able to make their payments, but as soon as they defaulted (which, surprisingly, happened quite frequently) the banks could foreclose on the house, thereby gaining an asset that was worth real money in those halcyon days long before the bubble burst. This racket was so widespread that it gained an apt little moniker: “loan to own.” For some reason, Republicans don’t use that term terribly often.
I hasten to add, however, that the Democrats are no angels in this department, either. As we have seen elsewhere on this site (for example, We’re All Supply-Siders Now), the Democrats bear much of the responsibility for both the bubble and the crash that followed. Robert Rubin, the chief architect of much of the late-90’s financial deregulation, remained curiously passive when Congress sought to encourage minority homeownership through the Community Reinvestment Act. Savvy observers have noted that Rubin wanted to have a scapegoat available in case everything went pear-shaped later on, and the right has eagerly accepted his offering, blaming everything on big-government interference in the market instead of on deregulation and casino capitalism. (In their narrative, markets only fail when government action contaminates the sublime purity of their processes.) But it is now possible to add that Rubin’s scapegoat was much more than a future excuse; it positively legitimized the exploitation of minorities by providing the banks with yet another reason – if any were needed – to lend to those who could be made to sign expensive loans. How very efficient.
Of course, the depravity of the banks did not manifest itself solely in the form of racial discrimination. Any American was potentially fair-game. There were countless cases of lenders showing up at the closing table with sub-prime paperwork even when the home buyers had been approved for a regular loan. In what amounts to outright extortion, the home buyers were told that they had to sign those documents or they would be ruining the seller’s closing and would thereby expose themselves to legal action from the seller. Buyers were reassured that they could always refinance later – a most generous concession. This exact scenario played out all across the country, and yet pundits like Star Parker continue to apologize for the fraudsters. Why are we letting her – and them – get away with it?
The Freedom to Be Deceived
We will leave for another time such dubiously marketable Republican freedoms as the freedom to be mortally wounded in a back-alley abortion gone wrong; the freedom to be incarcerated for trivial offenses thanks to the ridiculous and ineffective War on Drugs; the freedom to be denied treatment by the “best health care system in the world” because you can’t afford it; the freedom to be killed by gun violence in a society that refuses to regulate gun ownership; or the freedom to sacrifice your life, limbs, and sanity in unnecessary wars of aggression dreamed up by rich white men who never served their country when they were young and had opportunities that you’ll never have.
One can’t help wondering what Honest Abe would have made of all this. In my more fanciful moments, I imagine the Republican Party rededicating itself to higher principles such as equality before the law, rational fiscal policy, and a sense of social cohesion through fairness to all groups, not just a fraction of 1% of society. But that dream, though it might have real roots in different periods of our past, is dead on arrival, much like the 15th Amendment after Reconstruction. Today’s Republican Party, whether sustainably or not, has dedicated itself to the distortion of the very meaning of freedom. It is little wonder they’re having a hard time selling it.