- William Barber and the Poor People’s Campaign (PPC) hope to bring the nation to a “moral revival” that transcends left and right, Democrat and Republican.
- Unfortunately, the policy solutions emanating from both groups reflect the same old unpopular and failed liberal-progressive ideas that have trapped generations in a cycle of poverty.
- Barber’s rhetoric may be lofty, but it effectively masks his true leanings. Let facts be your friends.
He’s led the Moral Monday demonstrations against Republicans at the North Carolina State Legislature, protested efforts by the Republican-led Wake County School Board’s plan to end busing for diversity in Wake County Public Schools and delivered remarks at the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte where he endorsed numerous far-left policy proposals “to revive the heart of our democracy.”[i]
And now Rev. William Barber is launching an effort that he suggests will transcend politics and engage the nation in “a call to moral revival.“ Barber will do this through two organizations; the Poor People’s Campaign (PPC) and Repairers of the Breach – both supposedly designed to build a movement and engage the nation in moral renewal.
Those are lofty goals for the former President of the North Carolina NAACP who last year called out conservative clergy who offered prayers for President Trump for “theological malpractice.”
Barber says a moral crusade is needed to confront the evils of racism, poverty, militarism and environmental degradation. Barber says the crusade is not about left or right, Democrat or Republican, but only about right and wrong.
Barber’s rhetoric may be infused with moral aspirations and a desire to escape the political world, but his talk does not match his actions. We know better. Barber preaches love and charity, but he frequently blisters those with whom he differs. He called out clergy who prayed for President Donald Trump for “theological malpractice bordering on heresy.” Barber has launched pointed criticism toward evangelical leader Franklin Graham whom he said he should “stop lying.” Barber said Graham’s defense of President Trump was a sign that he was “bought off” by monied interests in the Republican party. He has repeatedly called Republican legislators “racist” and “greedy” for advocating proposals he believes hurt African-Americans and the poor. Republicans would vehemently disagree. Are such statements consistent with what Barber advocates?
Those lured by the pastor’s exhortations for non-partisan, moral purity should know better. Long before Moral Mondays, Barber has had a longstanding association with liberal and left-leaning political and social causes.
In addition, PPC has had an ongoing association with the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS). IPS has long been viewed as a radical, left of center organization with communist sympathies. IPS has had a long involvement with the civil rights and anti-war movements in this nation. One former Soviet defector also claimed IPS was part of the Soviet Intelligence Network. Moreover, IPS is different from other think tanks in that it not only seeks to lay the intellectual framework for change, IPS openly advocates for it. Late last year, in collaboration with PPC, IPS drafted a progress report that concluded racism, poverty, militarism and environmental degradation are worse today in the United States than they were fifty years ago. Remember, this isn’t about left or right, Democrat or Republican, but only right and wrong.
Solutions for the challenges laid out by IPS are included in the “nonpartisan moral public policy agenda” It’s a document that offers proposals in such policy areas as democracy and voting rights, poverty and economic justice, education, healthcare, immigrants’ rights, environmental justice and war-mongering and the military.
Despite Barber and PPC’s claim for a nonpartisan policy agenda; it’s not. To no one’s surprise – the solutions are unabashedly progressive. Some of the proposals include: support for $15 minimum wage policies – indexed to inflation; support for the right of workers to collectively bargain, including public employees, opposing voter-ID requirements and favoring legislation to overturn the Citizens United Supreme Court decision. Regarding public education, the proposals advocate for more money for Head Start, HBCUs and public education — and against vouchers and public charter schools. The proposals also say leaders “should support” programs to improve access to higher education for all Americans – immigrants included — and also support efforts to forgive loans and eliminate student debt.
To say such an agenda is neither “left nor right, nor conservative or liberal” is an assault on intelligence. Nonpartisan Moral Public Policy Agenda is a leftist agenda. You can say it’s NOT about politics and left or right, until you realize Barber is an expert in using moral rhetoric to justify his efforts.
The policy proposals that IPC and PPC advocate derive from William Barber’s narrow diagnosis of American ills. At the core of the problem, according to Barber, is systemic racism. He claims it permeates our institutions. And its legacy is poverty, inequality and mistreatment and marginalization of the poor.
But Barber’s diagnosis fails. No one denies that there is work to be done regarding poverty and race. However, Barber denies all that has been done. If racism is embedded throughout American institutions, why would anyone hope for — much less — work for reform? If racism was deep in the structures of American institutions how could such a society free slaves, pass equal protection laws, outlaw segregation, defend civil rights and launch affirmative action programs and elect an African-American president? Acknowledging such is not to deny America’s past, but to note what is possible and how far we have come.
Barber paints a picture of worsening poverty in the United States and a nation with little or no opportunity for those marginalized by society. PPC materials refer to over 140 million “poor and low income in America. “
These claims must be confronted with the facts. First, according to the US Census Bureau, in 2016, the poverty rate in the US is 12.7 percent, down from 13.5 in 2015 and 15.1 percent in 2010. In 2016, Census Bureau estimates 40 million Americans were living in poverty. Other trends should also be noted. In 1966 – two years after LBJ announced the Great Society – almost 42 percent of African Americans were listed as poor. By 2012, the percentage of African-Americans listed as poor, dropped to 27 percent, still more than twice the rate among whites (13 percent) but a significant decline nonetheless.[ii]
Economic Justice is one of the platforms on which Barber builds his case for action, but sadly his version of “action” merely boils down to nothing more than expanding state power. He points at the lack of jobs and high unemployment for blacks as why we need to do more. Again a few facts are helpful. Nationally unemployment is 4.1 percent this year, down from 9.3 percent in 2010. Unemployment among African Americans has also declined significantly. In 2010, unemployment among African Americans in the United States was 16.8 percent. Today unemployment among African Americans is 7.5 percent, an all-time low. North Carolina has also benefited by these trends. In 2010 unemployment among African Americans was 17.4 percent. In 2018, the same rate is 7.1 percent.[iii]
Barber’s case for action is premised on the need to address institutional racism. In so doing, Barber attempts to lay out the moral case for government involvement and responsibility. Such a view ignores the many critiques of the welfare state rooted in the importance of strong cultural norms and moral choices and their implications for one’s life.
According to Barber, government that fails to provide for its citizens is immoral. Yet he fails to assign the same level of moral responsibility to individuals. He gives no pause to the contrast between government’s forced “charity” versus voluntary charity inspired by the conscience of giving individuals.
Barber ignores the growing body of research that suggests an individual’s chances of being poor or living in poverty are significantly influenced by the moral choices they make. As University of Virginia professor Bradford Wilcox has noted many times: the best way to avoid poverty is to follow this simple formula: stay in school, don’t get pregnant out of wedlock, get married, and stay married.[iv]
Moral relativism has inflicted needless pain on families and communities across America. The importance of these moral choices and their individual and social consequences is a story that continues to be chronicled by scholars and social observers alike[v]. William Barber calls out a nation and institutions for its sins and seeks a new moral agenda. Yet at the same time his obsession with government solutions and programs fails to acknowledge that an individual’s own choices and character can have a significant impact on breaking the cycle of poverty and despair.
The obligation to care for our brother and the poor is something that falls on rich and poor alike. The dramatic reduction in poverty in the United States and worldwide was one of the most underreported accomplishments of the last century. Yet it’s worthwhile to understand how it happened: economic opportunity and growth. The growth of the American economy was a by-product of the expansion of free markets and economic opportunity. None of that would have happened without a respect for the rule of law, limited government, strong moral norms and a love of individual freedom. Why did poverty among African Americans drop significantly between 1966 and 2012? It wasn’t the War on Poverty. The War on Poverty has been fifty years of failure. Economic growth did what government programs could not: lift people out of poverty and provide a better life.
William Barber advocates for more government programs to raise wages, provide education benefits, expand healthcare and regulate immigration. It’s a path that will only increase government dependency and produce the same fate. All the more reason why Americans would do well to ignore Barber and not expect much in the way of results from the Poor People’s Campaign.
[i] Dr. William Barber full remarks to the 2016 Democratic National Convention, published by C-Span and available on YouTube. Accessible online at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aw3PUghqlAA
[ii] Who’s Poor in America, Fifty Years into the War on Poverty, a Data Portrait, Drew DeSilver, Pew Research Organization. Available online at: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/01/13/whos-poor-in-america-50-years-into-the-war-on-poverty-a-data-portrait/
[iv] Married Parents: One Way to Reduce Child Poverty, Bradford Wilcox, blog post, Institute for Family Studies, June 21,2017, Available online at: https://ifstudies.org/blog/married-parents-one-way-to-reduce-child-poverty
[v] See: Coming Apart: The State of White America: 1960-2010, Charles Murray, 2012, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, J.D. Vance 2016