One of the earthy pleasures concomitant with membership in the estimable Natrional Association for the Advancement of Colored People is the occasional opportunity to razz a Republican president. As with so many of the mysterious rituals of American democratic practice, the thig is built on farce. First, closet socialists invite a tub-thumper for captalism to speak. Then they pretend to listen. They soon summon Yahweh to give them strength, and then they emote. Shocked by the capitalist rabaldries, they say that captialism will . . . well, as Benjamin Hooks, executive director of the NAACP put it, wreak "additional hardship, havoc, despair, pain and suffering" on blacks and the poor. Executive director Hooks is a seasoned farceur at these performances.
This is not to say that the razzing of the Republican is done purely for the amusement of the NAACPmembership. It is also done to ingratiate the organization to limousine liberals, the NAACP's most generous supporters. Thus the hapless Republican is asked not only to suffer but also to aid and to abet the NAACP in its funding-raising chores, and for the Republican there is no escape. Once invited to address the annual meeting, he either demurs and is excoriated in the media or he accepts and is excoriated in person. Either way, the liberal is impressed.
Last year, candidate Reagan failed to attend, and the assembled members let out a chorus of lamenation. Last week, President Reagan dutifully apperared, and the assembled members lamented all the more passionately. On both occasions, you can be sure, many limousine liberals were soothed, but my guess is that this year they were enormously more grateful. It is increasingly apparent that their claptrap policies have enfeebled the economy almost beyond the reach of therapy. It is increasingly rare to hear anyone praise higher taxes and more spending. Thus, last week when the NAACP razzed the archenemy of higher taxes and more spending, the liberals were given a rare cause to rejoice.
It was high-grade theater. As President Reagan entered the convention center the assembled members rose to their feet and saluted him with silence. Gamely, the president proceeded to the dais and smiled to his audience. The audience scowled. Next, our amiable president sat through a cleverly waspish introduction from NAACP chariman Margaret Bush Wilson, wherein she roasted him for his failure to show up last year. The audience laughed. She spoke ominously of hte NAACP's capacity for street demonstration. The audience cheered. ythe she declaimed: "The NAACP does not necessarily subscribe to the views which are about to be expressed." Did the audience need reminding? Anyway, as the audience guffawed, the president stepped to the microphone for the second half of his democratic ordeal, the speech.
Now, according to custom, he had to run through a speech outlining his capitalist faith as tears welled up in the eyes of this listeners and pained expletives resounded through the auditorium. The sacred ritual was followed, and the expletives grew particularly heart-rending, for this speech made sound economic points.
The president decried the dependency of the poor, their "bondage" to welfare programs that are far less humane in practice than ever they were in conception. He declared that "rebuilding America's economy is an absolute moral imperative," and he insisted that "the budget savings we have advocated are much more equitable than the tremendous cuts in social programs made by inflation and the declining economy."
That last point strikes me as wonderfully perceptive. Imagine what it must be like for a welfare mother of three with no skills and no job when inflation keeps gnawing away at 10 and 12 percent of her welfare check. When it consumes the salary of the middle class it is bad enough. But the member of the middle class can moonlight. He can cut back on his discretionary expenditures. He can raise hell with his congressman. None of these options is really available to the very poor. Ronald Reagan understands this said irony of our liberal welfare state.
The leaders of the NAACP apparently do not. As Thomas Sowell, the wise economist whose roots trace to Harlem, wrote two years ago, "expediency promotes a more extreme political position among black leaders than among most of the black population. . . . Much of the black leadership is not in the business of leading blacks but of extracting what they can from whites, and their strategies and rhetoric reflect that orientation." After last week's farce, the white liberals should be extremely generous, and the poor will just have to trust the wisdom of Ronald Reagan.