King’s dream recalled, what do we do now?

Now that we’re past the 50th anniversary of the great civil rights March on Washington and Martin Luther King’s transcendent “I Have a Dream” speech there, and are ready to commemorate his 2014 birthday, how exactly, if at all, is public policy to respond to the continuing disadvantaged position of racial minorities?

Some elected officials, including Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, used the anniversary to denounce attempts to require better identification of people when they vote, such as ID cards with photographs. Better identification is decried as a mechanism for discouraging racial minorities from voting, and insofar as they tend to be poorer and less involved with government and commerce, members of racial minorities may have less ordinary opportunity to obtain photo IDs.

But since photo IDs are as common as driver’s licenses and since the courts won’t let government require photo IDs without making them easy to get, this complaint is vastly exaggerated.

The supposed difficulty of obtaining photo IDs for voting isn’t what keeps racial minorities down. Such complaints are just political pandering and distractions from big problems certain people don’t want to discuss.

First, of course, is the continuing economic recession — pretty close to a depression if the huge increase in food stamp use and disability pensions is understood. Republican presidents George W. Bush and Herbert Hoover may have done their part, but the country is more than five years into the administration of its first black president and while he is a Democrat he has delivered as much economic decline and stupid imperial war as any of his predecessors.

Second is the national policy of child neglect and abandonment. Largely because of the unquestioned availability of welfare benefits, most black and Hispanic children as well as many white children now are born into households without fathers, imposing on them what are often lifelong disadvantages while burdening society with the crushing costs of attempts at remediation that seldom work well. The president has acknowledged the problem of fatherlessness; he just hasn’t proposed any policy response to it.

And third is the ever-failing “war on drugs,” which, because of their poverty, disproportionately snares members of racial minorities, giving them criminal records and prison sentences that can make it almost impossible for them to achieve good jobs and normal lives.

The Obama administration has begun to recognize the counterproductivity of the war on drugs. The administration has decided not to enforce federal marijuana law over increasingly permissive state laws and has told federal prosecutors to avoid charging ordinary drug offenders in ways that will expose them to extreme sentences.

But this does not to seek to change the law itself; to the contrary, it mocks the law and the president’s obligation to see that the law is faithfully executed. This injects even more discretion into law enforcement and legitimizes unequal enforcement of all sorts under future administrations. This also encourages states to disregard federal law, something Connecticut is doing not only with “medical marijuana” but also with driver’s licenses and public college tuition discounts for illegal aliens, facilitating illegal immigration.

Selective enforcement of the law was a big issue during King’s time as well. Back then the segregationist Southern states were selectively enforcing federal law by obstructing it when it required racial equality. Back then “interposition” and “nullification” served reactionary purposes. Now, they serve as the tools of some liberal policies.

Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.