The season of presidential politics is once again upon us, and once again the Democrats demonstrate they never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. The Democratic presidential contenders are falling over each other trying to distinguish themselves from the crowd. But the truth is, even the best political spin-doctor or policy technocrat can’t do much with a rack of suits all cut from the same cloth.

Although the core of the Democratic message, that good government is big and intrusive government, is now widely discredited, these Democratic candidates continue to push this dead letter. This despite evidence, most recently in the gubernatorial elections in Mississippi and Kentucky, that traditional Democratic constituencies are becoming less inclined to buy their message.

The great irony here is that the Democratic pols love to brand the Republican Party as the party of the rich. Yet, Republicans have really picked up on the issues that the Democrats – if they really cared about improving the lives of those in lower income groups – should be pushing.

Is there anyone who thinks that providing personal retirement accounts to replace the Social-Security tax, that school choice, that market-based health-care ideas like medical savings accounts is an agenda for the rich? The clear and obvious truth is that while the Democrats jockey around taking potshots at each other, not one is talking about any kind of major reform that will cut back government and empower the poor through ownership and personal choice.

Anyone who is still looking to politics and government to socially engineer better lives for ourselves is just not looking, or doesn’t want to look, at what we’ve learned over the last 50 years. Political experiments – from communism and socialism to the New Deal and the War on Poverty – have blown up in the smoke of their own claims.

Today, we are well beyond intellectual arguments and need only to look at the clear and simple picture that the data conveys. Wherever we look in the world, whether in the Middle East or Africa – or in America’s own inner cities – it is the absence of freedom that goes hand in hand with ignorance, poverty and human suffering. We have seen, and see, that government interference – in any form that stands in the way of individuals taking responsibility for and having control over their own lives – produces disaster.

African Americans have paid a dear price for turning their lives over to politicians. The civil-rights movement of the 1960s was about freedom. Anyone who doubts this should re-read Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. This magnificent speech, that defined what the civil-rights movement was about, was an appeal to a nation to live up to its own great vision and standards and ensure that none of its citizens be denied the freedom guaranteed for all. There is no hint in Dr. King’s words that suggested that blacks were not ready or capable of sharing in the American dream or that they needed anything from government other than the same protection afforded to all of America’s citizens.

Yet, Dr. King’s successors carried a very different message on to their black constituencies. The moral message of Dr. King, echoing the message of our founders, that we are endowed by our Creator with inalienable rights, and that men create government to secure those rights, was transformed by the new black leadership to a political message that rights and justice are defined and meted out by politicians and judges.

Instead of returning home to provide the moral leadership important for strengthening family and community, the new black leadership – weaned in the black church – fell in love with the political process and political answers. They joined hands with white liberals and spent the next 30 years passing welfare and social-engineering programs that blacks supposedly needed over and beyond constitutional protection.

The disaster in the inner city today is the unfortunate product of this 30-year campaign to politicize black lives. The percentage of black babies born to unwed mothers is triple what it was 30 years ago, as is the percentage of black children growing up in fatherless homes. Fifty percent of new AIDS cases are in the black community. About 300,000 black babies are aborted every year, overwhelmingly to unwed mothers. The percentage of inner-city young black males, both not in school and not working, approaches 50 percent.

This crisis is the direct result of the displacement of values and the sense of personal responsibility in this community with political answers. We are endowed by our senators and congressmen with certain inalienable rights.

A passage in Deuteronomy warns against placing an obstacle in the path of a blind person. The fact that Democratic strategists still focus on making short-term political hay by pandering to blacks and liberals who still believe the government plantation is the answer is just more evidence of the lack of leadership in this party. The sad fact is that Dr. Dean and the rest of the liberal crowd don’t really believe blacks can be free, and they have managed to sell this distortion with some success.

The rich can negotiate around the plantation, but the poor are enslaved by it. What we need today are courageous political leaders who are willing to get the truth into the inner cities that freedom is the answer – ownership, choice, personal responsibility, values, family – and not more bankrupt government programs.

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