While giving my office at home an overdue cleaning up -- "operation Augean stable," as my wife and I call it -- I uncovered in the paper jungle a 2005 calendar. Since there was not a lot of 2005 left, I was about to throw it out when I read its title: "2005 Republican Civil Rights Calendar."
Sent by the National Black Republican Association in Washington, this calendar listed for each month various things that Republicans had done for civil rights over the years.
No doubt there was a need for something to counter the impression built up over time that Democrats were pro-civil rights and Republicans anti-civil rights, when in fact a higher percentage of Republicans than Democrats voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
So far, so good.
But the calendar featured a long list of minority and female individuals appointed to high office by Republicans or elected to office as Republicans. While it was good to see that the Republicans had finally woken up to a need to articulate their case on civil rights -- as they need to articulate their case on a whole range of other issues -- there was still something disquieting about this approach.
Civil rights cannot include everything that is done by government which benefits particular groups, individually or collectively. The whole case for civil rights is that every American is entitled to them. Civil rights are not about doing special things for special groups.
Even when there is a persuasive case for providing special benefits to particular groups -- military veterans, for example -- there is no need to call those things civil rights.
While blacks have had a long struggle to achieve the civil rights that many other Americans took for granted, not everything that has advanced blacks in the past or that can advance blacks in the future, is a civil right. In fact, the most dramatic economic advancements of blacks, in both incomes and occupations, occurred in the years immediately before the civil rights legislation of the 1960s.
The effect of government policies on blacks cannot be judged by whether these policies were conceived or carried out with blacks in mind.
It has long been axiomatic, for example, among those who study the American economy, that "A rising tide lifts all boats." When the economy has been booming, there have been years when black incomes rose at a higher rate than white incomes.