"The soft bigotry of low expectations."
President George W. Bush once used this expression to chastise
America's education establishment for the underperformance of minorities,
specifically blacks and Latinos. Bush urged teachers and administrators to
apply high standards, ensuring -- as he put it -- that "no child be left
The "homeownership gap" alarms the president. Bush notes that
the homeownership rate for whites stands at nearly 75 percent compared to
less than 50 percent for blacks and Latinos. But in tackling this "problem,"
the president commits the same sin of which he accuses the education
establishment -- condescension, lower expectations and excuses.
"There is a homeownership gap in America," said the president.
"The difference between Anglo-American and African-American and Hispanic
homeownership is too big." The president proposed a combination of tax
credits and grants, "to close this homeownership gap by dismantling the
barriers that prevent minorities from owning a piece of the American dream."
Consider the case of Chinese immigrants. The 1990 Census
examined the homeownership rate of Chinese immigrants. It found Chinese
immigrants approximately 20 percent more likely than whites to own their own
home in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York.
And what about the "barriers" for Latinos? Frank D. Bean, with
the Center for Research on Immigration, Population and Public Policy at the
University of California, Irvine, notes that the Census data -- on which the
president relied -- fails to distinguish between homeownership rates of
foreign-born and that of non-foreign-born Latinos. He says that, after
separating the two, the "homeownership gap" between whites and native-born
Hispanics shrinks to 5 percent.
What about the alleged black "barriers" to homeownership? The
University of Southern California's Lusk Center for Real Estate found
more likely to turn down a black
borrower than a non-minority-owned bank! "The study shows," said USC's
Raphael W. Bostic, "that either white-owned banks don't have racial biases,
or that minority-owned banks share the same biases as everyone else."
Bush failed to address the primary reason that some blacks fail
to qualify for homes -- poor credit records. U.S. News and World Report
found that the Fed's own Freddie Mac released a report in 1999 showing that
48 percent of blacks are likely to have bad credit histories -- almost (SET
ITAL) twice the 27 percent rate of whites. That same year, the
Washington Post found that the credit rating for blacks earning between
$65,000 and $75,000 stood lower than that of whites earning $25,000 a year
or less. Even National Urban League president Hugh Price said, "If people
have bad credit, they'll be denied loans, end of story."
What, exactly, is the appropriate "homeownership gap"? When does
the gap become "acceptable," and who makes that decision? Former President
Clinton once announced a desire to field a Cabinet that "looks like
America." This suggests an "appropriate" outcome consisting of 50 percent
female, 12 percent black, 13 percent Hispanic, 4 percent Asian, and so on.
But life does not necessarily work that way. Jews "disproportionately"
enroll at Ivy League schools. Major league baseball consists of nearly 30
percent black and Latin ballplayers. Female teachers dominate at the
elementary school level. Should Congress create programs and tax incentives
to encourage men to go into elementary school teaching? Males mostly fill
professions like ditch digging, garbage collecting, plumbing and
Bush treads on dangerous ground when, because of an alleged
inappropriate "gap" in homeownership, he calls for government assistance. Is
this any different from Jesse Jackson going to Toyota or Quaker Oats and
accusing them of a "management gap" -- that the percentage of minorities in
the workforce is smaller than the percentage of minorities at the management
level? As to homeownership and financing businesses, Jackson often accuses
banks of denying minorities "access to capital." As exhibit A, Jackson
points to the net worth "gap" disparity between blacks and whites. Doesn't
Bush's concern about the ominous "gap in homeownership" simply provide
additional ammunition for the-numbers-don't-look-right-therefore-racism
practitioners like Jackson?
The philosophy the president calls "compassionate conservatism"
doubtlessly fuels his concern about this "homeownership gap." But why not
simply urge minorities to follow the same formula for homeownership used by
most everybody else -- hard work, saving money and living below one's means?
This Republican "outreach" to blacks and Latinos can succeed only when the
party looks them in the eye and says, "Look, low taxes, low regulation and
competitive schools benefit everybody -- even you." But Bush condescends and
panders by saying, "We don't expect blacks and Hispanics to live
responsible, prudent, frugal lives. So, to your fellow taxpayers, I say to
them, 'Pass the hat.'"
A "soft bigotry of low expectations"?