Paul Ryan’s Black Ex and the Art of Race Baiting

Congressman Paul Ryan's ex-girlfriend Deneeta Pope

At the top of our list of “8 Ways Blacks Perpetuate Racism” was a particularly devious trick which black identity activists employ. That is the elevation of civil rights above individual rights.

Contrary to its sacrosanct place in our political lexicon, the term “civil rights” does not refer to an inherent good. A civil right is granted by the state, as opposed to individual rights which are derived objectively from the facts of reality. There is nothing preventing civil rights from conflicting with individual rights. When they do, it is immoral. Civil rights are only proper when they serve to protect individual rights. That fundamental ethical truth is all but absent from our political discourse.

Helping obscure it is The Root’s political correspondent Keli Goff, whose job entails processing news through the distorting prism of race. Upon learning that Representative Paul Ryan was the presumptive GOP nominee for vice president, Goff crafted a piece titled “What We Know About Paul Ryan and Blacks.” What we know, as Goff presents it, isn’t much. But we do learn quite a bit about how Goff and her ideological allies perceive both race and racism.

In an effort to process the fact that Paul Ryan once dated a black woman, Goff asks “the million-dollar question”:

Is the fact that Ryan has dated interracially a noteworthy detail to consider when analyzing his politics and policies?

This is a tactful way of framing an unsaid question: Is the fact that Ryan has dated interracially a noteworthy detail to consider when judging whether he is a racist? We know that this is the question Goff is implying because of the context she provides. Of what possible relevance could Ryan’s premarital dating habits be to his policy positions? Goff tells us:

Here’s a well-known phrase that has virtually become a punch line: When someone finds himself on the ropes facing an allegation of racism, the go-to reflex defense is usually something along the lines of “But some of my best friends are black!” Translation: “I can’t possibly be racist or racially insensitive because there are black people I like and they like me. So there.”

This is the context in which Goff asks us to consider whether Ryan’s black ex-girlfriend matters. Does that former relationship immunize him from allegations of racism?

Hugs are nice, Daddy. But how's your voting record?

Goff’s answer is no. She cites the example of Strom Thurmond, the infamous villain of the civil rights movement who fathered a biracial daughter with his family’s black maid. Thurmond reportedly took significant interest in his daughter’s well-being while nonetheless advocating for segregation. Goff rightly concludes that “having a relationship with someone of a different race does not automatically make someone more racially sensitive and enlightened.”

While that is true, similar fouls can be called against the several correlations Goff draws in her attempt to question Ryan’s character. Let’s review.

The Thurmond example sets the tone for evaluating Ryan based on his policy prescriptions. Goff asserts that Ryan “has a dismal record on civil rights,” basing that claim on his evaluation by the NAACP from the 2009-2010 legislative session. Specific examples of how Ryan’s votes reflect his attitude toward blacks are conspicuously absent. Instead, we are meant to take on faith that disagreeing with the NAACP is, in and of itself, an indication of hostility toward blacks. But a cursory review of the legislation scored by the NAACP reveals that it has nothing whatsoever to do with either race or equality under the law. Here is an abbreviated list of the group’s supposedly pro-black positions:

  • Voting to confirm Hillary Clinton’s nomination to the office of Secretary of State
  • Voting to expand S-CHIP
  • Voting to confirm Eric Holder’s nomination to the office of U.S. Attorney General
  • Voting for stimulus spending
  • Voting against the restoration of 2nd Amendment rights in the District of Columbia
  • Voting against school vouchers in the District of Columbia
  • Voting to allow judges to arbitrarily alter the terms of mortgage contracts
  • Voting to stop “predatory lending practices” by credit card companies
  • Voting to strengthen “hate crime laws”
  • Voting to confirm Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the United States Supreme Court
  • Voting against the prohibition of federal assistance to ex-felons
  • Voting to extend federal unemployment benefits
  • Voting for Obamacare
  • Voting to confirm Elena Kagan’s nomination to the United States Supreme Court
  • Voting to make it easier for employees at airports and railroads to unionize
  • Voting for the DREAM Act

Leave off the NAACP brand, and the above is merely a list of typical leftist positions. Opposition to S-CHIP, Eric Holder, stimulus spending, and Obamacare hardly translates to animosity toward blacks. Yet that is what we are meant to infer from Ryan’s poor grade on a NAACP report card.

... if by freedom you mean leftist redistribution, mandates, regulation, and taxation.

Certainly, that’s what Al Levie, a teacher in Racine, Wisconsin, concluded when Ryan attempted to honor him on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day with a certificate of recognition at a public event. Levie told the local media:

The NAACP, which is the oldest civil rights organization in the country, has given him an “F” rating for his voting record on civil rights issues, and for him to come up and give me a civil rights award, I didn’t feel it was proper.

One earns a “F” from the NAACP for agreeing with them less than 60% of the time on issues such as those listed above. Ryan agreed 10%. He clearly hates black people, right?

In truth, the folks showing palpable animosity toward blacks are those who refuse to regard them as individuals. Concluding that Ryan “doesn’t appear to be a fan of the poor,” Goff writes:

According to the National Poverty Center, poverty rates for black Americans exceed the national average, with more than a quarter of the black population among our nation’s poorest citizens. Ryan’s hatchet-heavy approach to budget cuts, particularly to programs like Head Start, would have devastating effects on black Americans, particularly children, living in poverty.

This from a writer who defers to the NAACP, an organization opposed to school vouchers which demonstrably improve educational outcomes for blacks. Leaving that aside, Goff’s fundamental offense is defining blacks as poor non-volitional children who must be cared for by the state. Not only is this rhetoric tired, it is indicative of the most prominent racism in our culture today. Often enforced from within the black community, by blacks against blacks, it is the racism of lowered expectations and communal excuses.

Why, pray tell, should anyone be a “fan of the poor”? What about generational failure should we be fanatic about? How about we develop fans of success, and see what that does for the community?

In contemporary political jargon, to be a “civil rights activist” is to be for blacks. Yet as established at the outset, civil rights are not inherently moral. They are proper only when crafted in support of individual rights. For the most part, the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which Strom Thurmond opposed, was crafted to uphold the individual rights of American citizens regardless of the color of their skin. While it had a disproportional effect on the lives of blacks, it was not specifically for them in the sense of being against others.

Once you vote black, you better not go back.

But most of the civil rights efforts ongoing today are campaigns to violate individual rights, to take from some in order to give to others. Rather than securing equal justice under the law, modern efforts seek what Illinois state Senator Barack Obama called in a 2001 interview with Chicago Public Radio “redistributive change.” His words:

If you look at the victories and failures of the civil rights movement and its litigation strategy in the court, I think where it succeeded was to invest formal rights in previously dispossessed people, so that now I would have the right to vote. I would now be able to sit at the lunch counter and order and as long as I could pay for it I’d be OK

But, the Supreme Court never ventured into the issues of redistribution of wealth, and of more basic issues such as political and economic justice in society. To that extent, as radical as I think people try to characterize the Warren Court, it wasn’t that radical. It didn’t break free from the essential constraints that were placed by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution, at least as it’s been interpreted, and the Warren Court interpreted in the same way, that generally the Constitution is a charter of negative liberties. Says what the states can’t do to you. Says what the federal government can’t do to you, but doesn’t say what the federal government or state government must do on your behalf.

And that hasn’t shifted and one of the, I think, tragedies of the civil rights movement was because the civil rights movement became so court-focused I think there was a tendency to lose track of the political and community organizing and activities on the ground that are able to put together the actual coalition of powers through which you bring about redistributive change. In some ways we still suffer from that.

By admission, today’s civil rights movement is a different beast than its 1960s predecessor, seeking different ends by different means while attempting to retain the sense that it seeks equal treatment for blacks. It does not. It seeks to handicap some while nursemaiding the rest.

With the presidential race deadlocked and the future of the country at stake, it is time for the Right to answer race baiting and poverty pimping with the condemnation it deserves. It is time to offer an inspiring vision of possibility fostered through liberty. Judging individuals by the content of their character precludes herding them into racial voting blocs. Dr. King dreamt of harmony, not animosity, brotherly love, not class division. For him as for us, civil rights are a means to that end, not the Marxist end of redistributive change advocated by the NAACP and President Barack Obama.