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Good Advice Abroad but Not at Home

The Wall Street Journal yesterday ran an editorial praising President Obama’s speech in Kenya. It was indeed praiseworthy.

He noted that sub-Saharan Africa has had a bleak history for the last 500 years. First the infamous slave trade and more recently colonial rule that was often oppressive and denied Africans their rightful place in the sun. But he noted that those days are over and now it is up to Africans to make their own future. As the Wall Street Journal put it:

…he argued that history is no excuse for a failed future.

“For too long, I think that many looked to the outside for salvation and focused on somebody else being at fault for the problems of the continent,” he said. He notably confined his discussion of U.S. aid to two oblique paragraphs, while devoting the better part of his speech to urging Africans to build stronger and more tolerant democracies. Traditions such as female genital mutilation, or keeping girls out of school, or sticking to Masai, Kikuyo, Luo or other tribal identities, he said, “may date back centuries; they have no place in the 21st century.”

At times Mr. Obama reminded us of Paul Wolfowitz, the former World Bank president who ran afoul of that organization by insisting that it actively fight corruption instead of merely pushing aid money out the door. Graft, the President said, is “not something that is just fixed by laws, or that any one person can fix. It requires a commitment by the entire nation—leaders and citizens—to change habits and change culture.”

This was very good advice, but I wonder why he confines this advice to Africans. After all, African-Americans shared much of the same bleak history. They were ripped from their homelands, forced to work for the benefit of others, and, even after the abolition of slavery, suffered an all-pervasive bigotry and discrimination. But here, too, those days are over. Instead of encouraging black Americans to look to the future and not wallow in the past, to make the changes necessary in the black community to break the culture of dependency, however,  the Democratic Party and most black leaders do exactly the opposite.

The reason is not hard to see. It suits the political interests of liberals and black leaders such as Al Sharpton to encourage black dependency on government. After all, if more and more blacks moved up into the middle class, they would be less inclined to vote Democratic.

As the Journal noted, “Mr. Obama has the personal background and standing to make these points to an African audience with an unapologetic clarity and a resonance that other Western leaders can’t match.” Equally, the country’s first black president has the personal background and moral authority to make the same points at home. The fact that he has not is one of his greatest failings as president.



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