African Americans, Center for Economic and Policy Research, Congressional Black Caucus, conservatives, Democrats, Employment, fast track, Gregory Meeks, Im-Politic, Labor Department, liberals, manufacturing jobs, Obama, politics, race relations, racism, Republicans, TPP, Trade, Trans-Pacific Partnership, urban poverty
It seems that New York City Democratic House Member Greg Meeks doesn’t think relations between blacks and whites in America lately have been strained enough by the series of dubious police shootings and the reactions they’ve ignited over the last year. And that there’s not enough bad blood in American politics overall lately. And that the heated debate in Congress and the nation over trade policy hasn’t been muddied with enough phony arguments. So he decided to inject a little race-mongering into the policy fight over President Obama’s proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement and a bill to grant the president fast track trade negotiating authority.
Meeks didn’t exactly come out and say that right-of-center opponents of the president’s trade agenda are racist. But his claims, made to members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) and then to reporters, fail to qualify only if cynical Clintonian parsing is now the norm in American politics. According to Meeks, as reported by Politico, “[Mr. Obama] has endured things that no other president has,” and that “in his own discussions with colleagues he’s linked opposition to the president’s trade agenda to the hounding of Obama for his birth certificate and never-quite-ending questions about his religion. ‘Some folks don’t want to give him a vote because they don’t want to give him the authority every other president has had.’”
The New York Democrat therefore was too smart to smear anti-TPP and fast track Democrats and other liberals generally with the racism charge. After all, even most of the non-blacks among them have consistently supported the president’s other programs. But what about backing for the president’s trade agenda by Republicans and conservatives that neither Mr. Obama nor African-Americans (rightly or wrongly) have ever viewed as allies? And what of those on the Right who have essentially nudged and winked as more their radical fellows have cast the aspersions on the president’s background Meeks specifies? How does the Congressman’s racial paradigm explain their often pro-fast track and TPP positions?
Even worse, when it comes to substance, Meeks is ignoring (or doesn’t know about) the powerful evidence that the kinds of trade deals he’s long supported have devastated blacks’ economic prospects. How? By destroying jobs they’ve held in the relatively high-paying manufacturing sector. Not coincidentally, that’s the sector that has long dominated American trade flows. According to an analysis of government data by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in 1979, African-Americans made up 23.9 percent of the nation’s manufacturing workers, who numbered about 19.4 million. That comes out to more than 4.6 million jobs that paid what are now called family wages.
As of 2013 – the Labor Department’s last comprehensive look at the situation – blacks comprised 8.8 percent of the nation’s 10.3 million manufacturing jobs. That’s only a little over 906,000 manufacturing positions. The employment massacre revealed here updates findings from eminent scholars such as Harvard’s William Julius Wilson that the disappearance of good jobs in African-American communities since the 1970s explains much of the poverty and related social problems they’ve suffered.
Not that there hasn’t been a silver-lining, though, to Meeks’ race-baiting. In using such mud-slinging to rally support for fast track and the TPP, he’s implicitly confessing to his CBC colleagues that they shouldn’t pay much attention to the economic case made for Mr. Obama’s trade agenda. In the process, of course, he’s telling the rest of us that we shouldn’t, either.