There is a great deal of irony in the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund’s new slogan, “A Rich History. A Challenging Future.” Despite its early landmark successes, the LDEF’s increasingly left-wing agenda has alienated the organization from the history and original vision of the Civil Rights movement: equality. The early days of the Civil Rights movement have given way to polemical battles. Peter Kirsanow, a George W. Bush appointee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, has characterized today’s racial dialogue as “infused with negativism, defeatism, and disillusionment.” Ultimately, the pessimistic attitude adopted by the current incarnation of the LDEF does nothing to advance the cause of minorities. It does, however, supply plenty of ammunition with which to advance the organization’s political goals.
Brown v. Board of Education, the genuine Civil Rights movement’s most important victory, destroyed the “Separate but Equal” doctrine, demanding to be treated on an equal plane with their white counterparts. Almost half a century later, the LDEF has identified two policies that it contends will be most effective in guarding the educational legacy of Brown: extending Affirmative Action and increasing the black vote’s slavish devotion to the Democratic Party.
In 1948, when representing the LDEF in Sipuel v. Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma, Thurgood Marshall argued, “classification and distinctions based on race or color have no moral or legal validity in our society. They are contrary to our Constitution and our laws.” In 1954, Marshall again rejected distinctions by race, which he asserted are “so evil, so arbitrary and insidious that a state bound to defend the equal protection of laws must not allow them in any public sphere.” Marshall and other leading members of the early civil rights movement believed so deeply in the potential of the black community that they viewed racial classification as an insult. Instead, Civil Rights proponents demanded a level playing field; the intrinsic worth of blacks (or “American Negroes,” as they were then called) would take care of the rest.
The NAACP’s Legal Defense and Education Fund is often equated with Marshall’s eloquent rejection of racial distinctions and championing individual empowerment. However, as new challenges have emerged for blacks, LDEF seems to have lost its faith in its own community, demanding racial quotas and set-asides. One of the most obvious drawbacks to affirmative action has been what President George W. Bush refers to as “the soft bigotry of low expectations.” Affirmative Action saps students’ incentive to excel, when they realize they do not have to achieve the same SAT score or grade point average as their white peers. These students will never reach their full potential. In a recent lecture before the Heritage Foundation, Peter N. Kirsanow cited this “soft bigotry” as the leading cause of the “racial skill differential.” This, in turn, “perpetuates the stereotype of the affirmative action baby.”
And this has not always proven an empty stereotype. It is very interesting to note that when Proposition 209 outlawed preferences in California, minority enrollment in elite state schools declined, but the number of blacks at less prestigious schools skyrocketed. As Mr. Kirsanow reminded his audience, “it is a cruel hoax to place a poorly prepared student in an academic environment in which he cannot compete and call it affirmative action. It does nothing but ensure failure, promote resentment, and enforce stereotypes.”
Given such drawbacks, it is not surprising that there is little to no support for these quotas outside the elite circles of the present black “leadership.” A recent Washington Post/ Kaiser Family Foundation/ Harvard University poll found that only 12 percent of blacks agreed “race or ethnicity should be a factor” in college admissions, hiring, and promotion, while 86 percent of blacks agreed that such decisions “should be based strictly on merit and qualifications other than race/ethnicity.” Today’s LDEF is completely out of touch with its own community.
Ultimately, the limitless extension of “diversity” principle is what the new vision of the LDEF is about: the deification of diversity. This debate ignores the women and men whose children are struggling in failing public schools. Instead, this is purely a numbers game rewarding those who have not excelled but ignoring the “root cause” of their failure. This does every struggling minority a massive disservice.
Just as the LDEF tries to establish a linage between Brown and its current quotas agenda, the organization has cited its history of “fulfilling and safeguarding voting rights,” especially the LDEF’s role in crafting and enacting the Voting Rights Act of 1965. However, any such comparison between the intent of such legislation as the 1965 Voting Rights Act and the agenda behind present day litigation such as NAACP v. Harris is ridiculous. While the 1965 Voting Rights act sought to further the interests of each individual constituent, LDEF’s present thrust is purely political.
Although LDEF claims (notice the less than forthright legalese) that thousands of blacks were “denied the opportunity to participate meaningfully in the political process” of the 2000 elections, such assertions have been widely disputed. In fact, nationwide black voter turnout broke all records. In Florida, a greater percentage of blacks than predicted actually voted, higher than their percentage of the overall population.
Thanks to LDEF, many of those minorities were convicted felons. LDEF’s “get out the prison vote” efforts resulted in thousands of Floridian inmates voting in the 2000 elections, despite the fact that in Florida, felons voting is, well, felonious.
Perhaps by “meaningful political participation,” the LDEF meant, “voted for Democratic candidates.” After all, as Ward Connerly points out, blacks are not disenfranchised from voting in this country; they are self-marginalized. Having “degenerated into wholly owned political franchises of the Democratic Party, blacks are the most predictable voters in virtually any election anywhere.” Had Al Gore won the 2000 election, there most likely would have been considerably less outrage in the Civil Rights movement concerning “disenfranchisement.” But since a George W. Bush presidency would mean a direct challenge to the political power accrued over the previous eight years by the LDEF (especially by board members Vernon Jordan and David Kendall), something must have been rotten in the State of Florida.
What truly matters to LDEF in the 2000 election debacle is inflating vote totals for the Democratic Party. Whether or not African Americans were disenfranchised does not seem to be the relevant question. By manufacturing paranoia in the aftermath of the 2000 elections, Civil Rights leadership sought to prevent a repeat of their Florida defeat. If blacks could be convinced the GOP was adopting a series of twenty-first century Jim Crow tactics to obstruct the black vote, it would swell future black turnout for the Democratic Party. Whereas early Civil Rights voting legislation was designed to simply let blacks into the voting booth, litigation like NAACP v. Harris (the Florida Secretary of State who authorized George W. Bush as that state’s winner) seeks to influence minorities’ actual votes.
The failure of the current incarnation of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, should hardly come as a surprise. While the group’s original leadership consisted of such honorable men as Thurgood Marshall, the twenty-first century incarnation of the NAACP LDEF leadership includes such luminaries as Clinton cronies Vernon Jordan, David Kendall, Johnnie Cochran, “left wing provocateur” Mary Frances Berry, Carolyn Kennedy, Tonya Lewis Lee (Spike’s wife) and abortionist Kenneth C. Edelin who was found guilty of manslaughter by a Boston jury in 1975. While there are members of the LDEF who remain genuinely committed to civil rights, these members’ leftist ideology and political entanglements rule the organization’s every action.
The LDEF has been heavily involved with the radical Left’s celebrity of the moment: convicted cop Killer and Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal. The LDEF has filed amicus briefs on behalf of Mumia, while LDEF members have spoken at Free Mumia fundraising rallies. However, support for felons is nothing unusual for the LDEF. After all, LDEF board members David Kendall and Vernon Jordan represented William Jefferson Clinton, while Johnnie Cochran’s race baiting enabled OJ Simpson to beat a double murder rap. The LDEF has also lead several campaigns to extend the vote to felons in federal custody, thus restoring a right these inmates forfeited when they chose to commit crimes, frequently violent ones. While LDEF members have never been shy about allying themselves with suspected murders, the organization has never been especially discreet in its choice of political bedfellows, either. In recent years, LDEF has allied itself with many far-left organizations, including NOW, Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Feminist Majority and NARAL. With friends like these, no wonder the non-profit watchdog group Capital Research Center classifies the LDEF as a “radical Left” political organization.
Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes once asked, “What happens to a dream deferred?” If the black community continues to allow men like Johnnie Cochran and Kenneth C. Edelin to dictate the “civil rights” agenda, our nation may soon find out that a dream deferred is a dream denied.