Democratic Strategist: The New “Welfare Queens”

Democratic Strategist

The New “Welfare Queens”

Throughout this long presidential campaign, there’s been endless discussion of race as a factor. But until recently, such talk revolved around hard-to-assess white fears about Barack Obama’s racial identity, along with efforts to conjure up the ancient hobgoblin of the Scary Black Man via images of Obama’s former pastor, Jeremiah Wright.

Now, in the wake of the ongoing financial crisis, racism has entered the campaign conversation from an unexpected direction. In the fever swamps of conservatism, there’s a growing drumbeat of claims that the entire housing mess, and its financial consequences, are the result of “socialist” schemes to give mortgages to shiftless black people whose irresponsibility is now being paid for by good, decent, white folks.

Some of this talk is in thinly-veiled code, via endless discussions on conservative web sites (though it spilled over into Congress during the bailout debate) attributing the subprime mortgage meltdown to the effects of the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977, which was aimed at fighting the common practice of mortgage “redlining” in low-income and/or minority areas (basically, a refusal to make any mortgages, regardless of the creditworthiness of individual applicants, in such areas).

In truth, the CRA didn’t require lending to unqualified applicants (though it did provide that applicants’ credit-worthiness could be established through means more sophisticated that standard credit scores), and in any event, CRA doesn’t even apply to the non-bank lenders responsible for the vast majority of bad mortgages. (Sara Robinson has a very useful primeron CRA at the OurFuture blog).

A closely associated and even more racially tinged element of the conservative narrative on the financial crisis focuses on lurid claims about the vast influence of ACORN, a national non-profit group active in advocacy work for low-income Americans. Among its many activities, ACORN has promoted low-income and minority homeownership, mainly through personal counseling. More to the point, though it’s unrelated to any of the claims about ACORN’s alleged role in the financial crisis, the group worked with Barack Obama back in his community organizing days on the South Side of Chicago.

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