A Meaningless Surplus
If anyone ever needed any evidence of just how destructive the Clinton-Gore years have been and will continue to be for Black America we offer today's announcement by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) that its projections for the budget surplus over the next 10 years have more than doubled. Now, keep in mind we have little faith in the prophetic powers of the CBO but whether the numbers hold true or not for the next ten years, they do mean something today - for politicians. But not for Black America. Why? Because the expected $2.2 trillion in non-Social Security related surplus that is expected to flow into the U.S. Treasury has already been assigned to the various interest groups that Democrats and Republicans are most responsive to. And make no mistake about it - neither party has any plans, at present, to use the surplus to address the most pressing needs of Black America.
Republicans hope to use the numbers to justify doing what they do best - cut taxes. The numbers do appear to embolden their case and it is expected that they will successfully advance a tax-cutting agenda in this Congress. In addition, the numbers also help Gov. George W. Bush's chances in November as it becomes increasingly difficult for Democrats to characterize his economic agenda as "risky" in light of the huge and growing surplus numbers out today.
And this brings us to the aspect of the Clinton-Gore legacy that few Black politicians and the Black Electorate have been willing to face up to. In 1988 after Michael Dukakis lost to George W. Bush, a decision was made inside of the Democratic Party leadership that the party would have to move away from Blacks, the civil rights agenda, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and other "minority" groups if they were to reclaim the White House before this century was out.
At the head of this decision-making process were Al Gore and Bill Clinton, in their leadership roles in the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC). The DLC crafted the strategy that would distance the Democratic Party from the Black Electorate and the causes it advanced and wanted the Democrats to address.
In 1992 President Clinton ran a campaign according to this strategy - dissing Rev. Jackson and Sister Souljah and sitting in on the execution of a mentally disturbed Black Man in order to show White America that he would not cave in to pressure from Black leaders and Black voters. His appeal was to White America. His goal was to win back those Democrats who had supported Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr.
Once in office, Clinton sought to govern according to this strategy by absorbing the Republican Party's attention to fiscal conservatism and budget balancing (which also was championed by Ross Perot). The result: spending programs that were the off-spring of the Civil Rights agenda and New Deal were to be cut or slowed in their growth. Clinton obliged the Republicans in these areas and by 1996-1997 was proudly taking credit for balancing the budget. By 1998 he was taking credit for the unthinkable - a budget surplus.
Clinton's goal in balancing the budget was not so that one day he could return the Democratic Party to the programs that it had embraced this century, rather Clinton's goal was political power. He did whatever was necessary to appeal to the "center" - those moderate and conservative Democrats who the party had lost to Reagan.
Blacks were taken for granted. Clinton and Gore figured, accurately, that Blacks would never leave the Democratic Party and could take a few insults and program cuts without bolting the Party.
The strategy worked so effectively that Clinton was able to pass welfare reform and a crime bill over the opposition of members of the Congressional Black Caucus and civil rights leaders. No fear, Black voters would never 'leave home".
Now, Black leaders seem just as proud of the balanced budget as Clinton. Many speak as if the majority of Blacks are enjoying the great heights of America's recent "prosperity". Never mind, that according to the Census, 27% of Blacks live below the poverty level. Never mind the high incarceration rates of Black men and yes, Black Women under the Clinton-Gore administration.
And so today, in this era of not just a balanced budget but a budget in surplus, hardly a peep is heard from Black political and civil rights leaders about the need for more spending on basic programs. These leaders willfully follow Clinton's top priority for the surplus - a prescription drug benefit for seniors. A prescription drug benefit is of value but does little to address the real problems of Black America. It also is designed to win the important seniors vote.
To further compound matters, Black political leaders have warred so aggressively against tax cuts that few see the potential that tax-cutting could have in fostering Black economic growth and Black poverty. In following Clinton, Black political leaders leave tax-cutting to white Republicans, as if Blacks can never benefit from the exercise.
Black America should keep all of this in mind today when the $2.2 trillion figure is paraded in their faces and bombarding their ears.
What good are two white Democrats in the White House if they see no connection between $2.2 trillion over the next ten years and the poverty of their most loyal voting bloc?
Of the $2.2 trillion surplus, $84 billion is available this year and $102 billion is projected for next year. And the best "the first Black President" and the Vice-President can do is a prescription drug benefit? Clinton and Gore should be ashamed of themselves and Blacks even more so if they settle for such crumbs.
Tuesday, July 18, 2000