Compromising with Segregationists and Old School Bipartisanship
Biden talked this week about compromising with some pretty stubborn and reprehensible segregationists because it was the only way anything could get done. You would think someone who said hateful racist things every day in Congress and blocked programs designed to effectively lift up the children of slaves and other Americans of African descent would have a difficult time in Congress and in elections. You would think s/he (usually a he) would be shunned and ignored. But this has not been the case in America or in the American Congress. Because these men loved to make outrageous racist arguments to prevent black Americans from assimilating into mainstream culture, the media knew that giving these crude voices a bullhorn was a moneymaker. We seem to enjoy whatever is most outrageous, or perhaps some of us just enjoy feeling outraged, however powerless we feel to do anything about it.
So when Biden says that he compromised with segregationists and got things done, it is possible to conclude that the compromises that were made in Biden’s days, and throughout our history, gave us legislation with all the teeth taken out of it.
Conservatives and segregationists may not have had rabid racism in common but they do not like spending money on social programs and they all do have that in common. Because they don’t believe desegregation is desirable or is the province of government every program is assembled piecemeal out of stony opposition and supposedly plain-spoken debate that is actually prejudice, and by the time the assistance program appears in its final form it is watered down almost beyond any hope of proving effective.
Conservatives also worry about the few people who will abuse the system far more than they appreciate the numbers of people who could benefit from the system. To counter real and imagined felonious tendencies of recipients of programs – programs that are supposed to help equalize opportunities for all Americans, to at least provide for basic needs in order to allow people to satisfy higher needs like owning a home or getting a certificate or degree to lead to a better job – the process of obtaining assistance is made so onerous that receiving what was supposed to offer a lift up becomes stigmatizing and demoralizing.
Why have the problems of our inner cities been so stubborn? Why have some black folks been essentially trapped in our inner cities, or in segregated neighborhoods? Given all the time and money dedicated to eradicating differences in opportunities why are so many black people still so poor? Why are so many black people in jail? Why have other groups been eventually accepted in the fold and able to climb the economic ladder?
Conservatives like to pretend that Americans of African descent have low IQ’s and that this makes them inferior to white people. How much of this is still resentment about losing their property? How much of this is still resentment about losing the Civil War? How much of this is about the way the demise of the plantation system changed the entire economy of the South and left it languishing until factories began to leave the North and migrate to the old slave states? How much of this is simply about the color of someone’s skin?
How much of this is the fault of these ancestors of the very people who snatched Africans from their homes to enslave them? How much of this is because of laws that did not allow slaves to learn to read and write? If you prevent people from being educated you really cannot turn around and deride them for being “ignorant”. How much of Conservatives’ active moves to undermine all attempts at desegregation arise from fear that vengeance will be wreaked one day?
We understand the roots of racism pretty well, but we have been far less successful at ridding ourselves of this unwarranted prejudice. So when we passed a welfare program to give struggling folks living in areas of stubborn poverty a living wage recipients became Welfare Queens and those Welfare Queens were black.
Pretty soon poor white and black folks, many of them single females with children or families with absent fathers, were required to either go to work or go to school, even though they might have to make less than satisfactory arrangements for their children. This put their children into situations that left them behind other children in school, or perhaps exposed them to traumatizing adult situations that then made it difficult for them to socially adjust to schooling.
We funded housing programs, but white neighborhoods with better schools were made unavailable to black folks through informal white segregationist practices like red-lining. Thus people could get assistance with low rent housing with all its inadequacies but they could not buy a home outside of the inner city neighborhoods. These neighborhoods had the advantage of creating and solidifying black unity, and the disadvantages of gangs and violence that come from a need to have control over at least a small corner of the world as your own space and a pathway, however illegal, to wealth.
The intent of these programs may have been to tear down invisible walls that were separating black and white people, especially economically. However we will never know if these programs would have worked if they were allowed to stick to their original configurations and intentions. Compromising with segregationists turned them into reluctant and temporary kinds of assistance that subjected recipients to a loss of personal pride and did not end up lifting any one up. We chose a path and we will never know if the other path would have been better.
I think that today’s Progressive Dems and the apparently despised Liberals are saying that perhaps those Democrats who felt that compromise was a good thing were wrong; that giving in to racists cannot offer any benefits to America or to Americans.
They may also be sad that fifty years or more were wasted. It is likely that we have caused the very problems that haunt our inner cities by allowing what should have been supportive services designed to end segregation to be subverted by segregationists through the very compromises that allowed the laws to be passed. In other words, compromise took all the heart out of the laws and injected meanness.
If bipartisanship means compromises like these blasts from the past, Democrats can no longer afford to compromise at all. This is even more true because Mitch McConnell, drunk on the power of “no”, will never allow for bipartisan compromise as long as he controls the majority in the Senate.