On Thursday, Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., who became an unexpected star of the 2020 Democratic primary but has struggled with a local police shooting in recent weeks, launched a comprehensive plan to boost the fortunes, health, and voting rights of black Americans. Styled as a Marshall Plan for black Americans — after the massive economic program to aid Western Europe after World War II — and named after patriotic orator and former slave Frederick Douglass, the plan is a massive Affirmative Action-style attempt to counter alleged systemic racism.
“So it’s very clear that as a consequence of systemic racism, black Americans have been excluded from the growth and the opportunity that our nation has provided,” Buttigieg declares in a launch video. He notes racial disparities in health, wealth, criminal justice, and more, proposing the Douglass Plan as an attempt to bring “true nationwide restorative justice.”
The plan checks off many boxes for grievance activists, but the policies within it would create massive problems, even for the black Americans it is intended to help.
While it comes from a place of desperation, the Douglass Plan seems a smart political move. Seeking to feature the voices of black Americans in his policy, Buttigieg enlisted two black activists, Chike Aguh and lawyer Portia Allen-Kyle, to help craft and sell the plan. He also put together an impressively comprehensive plan, addressing racial disparities in health care, all levels of schooling, criminal justice, employment, housing, infrastructure, voting rights, and entrepreneurship.
Sadly, the plan includes a retread of many bad policies, framing them in a racial light. The central driver is a kind of affirmative action. Buttigieg argues that “Black people in America are still disproportionately excluded from systems of social protection, economic uplift, and representative democracy while facing shorter lifespans, lower educational attainment, and dramatic overcriminalization and incarceration compared to their white counterparts.” Therefore, his administration would implement fundamental structural changes.
Yet affirmative action in colleges and universities creates a problem of academic mismatch. Black Americans attend more prestigious schools, but not all of them are prepared to compete well academically there. This leads to lower grades and higher dropout rates, a trend which temporarily reversed when California reversed affirmative action between 1997 and 2003.
The Douglass Plan is loose on specifics, and Buttigieg’s team may come up with ways to mitigate these inherent problems. The plan is clearly well-thought-out, with sections on encouraging more racial minorities to become teachers — since black students with at least one black teacher in grades 3-5 are statistically more likely to graduate high school and go to college. But it is incredibly difficult to get millions of people to change their career decisions to create this kind of an outcome.
The plan would dedicate an extra $25 billion for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and other institutions with a large racial minority make-up. Yet even this involves directing federal funds to specific racial groups.
The Douglass Plan includes a Walker-Lewis Initiative, named after two black pioneers in business. That initiative includes an entrepreneurship fund to “co-invest” $10 billion into low-income and minority businesses. It also calls for 25 percent of federal government contracts to go to low-income and minority-owned firms. Furthermore, every student eligible for Pell Grants will have his or her college loans forgiven over a five-year period if they start and maintain a business employing at least three people within five years of leaving school.
Many facets of this initiative would promote entrepreneurship, full stop — not just in racial minority communities. Yet the emphasis on race may introduce some affirmative action-style problems.
Sadly, Buttigieg supports increasing the minimum wage to $15/hour as part of his jobs plan. “Black workers are disproportionately likely to earn less than $15 per hour, so increasing the minimum wage will especially empower Black Americans,” the Douglass Plan argues. This completely overlooks the negative economic impacts of raising the minimum wage — forcing employers to raise qualifications to justify higher wages and making low-wage entry-level jobs harder to come by. Ironically, this plan would harm the marginalized workers it is intended to help.
The Douglass Plan also includes a comprehensive criminal justice reform package. It would eliminate incarceration for drug possession, increase federal grants to states pushing criminal justice reform, abolish private prisons, establish a DOJ “clemency commission” to offer more pardons, cut court fines and fees that exacerbate poverty, abolish the death penalty, extend Pell Grants to the incarcerated, and send federal grants to states helping criminals find jobs.
The plan pledges to enable access to education, jobs, housing, and health care for convicted criminals. It would also restore the right to vote to felons immediately upon release.
Buttigieg’s clear pandering to Black Lives Matter emerges in the police section of his criminal justice plan. The Douglass Plan would create a federal database for police use of force, raise the standard for use of force, and eliminate broken windows policing — an effective policing strategy that drives down crime but one that activists claim is inherently racist. (Tragically, many racial disparities can be explained by the fact that black crime rates are disproportionately high.)
Buttigieg would create a Community Homestead Act to promote homeownership among black Americans. He also would direct the EPA to focus on “environmental justice,” pushing economically destructive climate change policies in the name of race.
The Douglass Plan also pushes liberal voting reforms in the name of fighting racial discrimination. Buttigieg’s administration would eliminate “discriminatory voter ID requirements” — suggesting that commonsense reforms to ensure voters’ legal status and prevent double-voting are forms of racial oppression. Many black Americans find this argument insulting.
Other voting reforms include automatic voter registration, making Election Day a holiday, and … fighting “fake news.” Specifically, “in the era of Facebook and unaccredited news sites, we need to work with tech companies and develop policies that limit the spread of false information online.” Is it really the government’s job to fact-check news sites?
It also calls for granting statehood to Washington, D.C. — which “would have the highest proportion of Black citizens—approximately 50%—of any state.” The plan also argues that eliminating the Electoral College and replacing it with a national popular vote for president would empower black Americans, since “the Electoral College artificially dilutes the power of minority communities, especially Black Americans living in Southern states.”
Buttigieg also calls for a constitutional amendment to reverse Citizens United v. FEC, a key victory for free speech in politics. Echoing other Democrats, he demonizes “money in politics,” claiming that the freedom of individuals to fund political causes they agree with constitutes inherent racial discrimination against black Americans.
Similarly, the Douglass Plan reinterprets Buttigieg’s plan to make public college tuition-free for lower-income students in a racial light.
As with the original kind of affirmative action, the Douglass Plan will likely pressure many black Americans to prove themselves in situations of mismatch. By raising the minimum wage, it would erase entry-level opportunities. By abolishing broken windows policing, it would prevent the police from fighting crime in black neighborhoods. By calling for the abolition of supposedly racist voter ID laws, it patronizes black Americans.
The Douglass Plan may be a powerful appeal to Black Lives Matter activists. It may partially reconcile the South Bend mayor with black voters angry about his decision to fire a black police chief. But many more black Americans should see through this desperate ploy to repackage many of Buttigieg’s policies as race-conscious and present liberal “solutions” that tend to exacerbate racial problems.
After all, the black unemployment rate reached its historic low under President Donald Trump — the very man Democrats rush to condemn as racist. Just this week, America’s first black billionaire gave Trump an “A+” for his handling of the economy. Black Americans are benefitting from Trump’s presidency, gaining the wealth they need to handle other serious problems.
That opportunity is far more helpful than Buttigieg’s grievance politics.
Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.