David Reynolds: Looking back and beyond

Column by David Reynolds

First, a look back at last week. I argued that a cause of the current economic turmoil was a clash between a social policy, racial affirmative action, and economic reality, the current housing market. The column was based on several sources, including quotes from Washington officials and leading newspaper accounts. As a result, in addition to what we all know (mortgage balances exceeding collateral and over 1 million home foreclosures), nonwhites, regardless of income, were more affected than whites.

In other words, race played a part. To what extent it did we will not know until an analysis is done on all the bad paper. One would hope that lenders were colorblind when approving loans. And one would assume that foreclosures would decrease as incomes increase. Apparently, that has not been the case. Unfortunately, we may never know for sure. No one is asking.

Meanwhile, allow me to pass along another social-economic indicator. It involves a comparison between two Maryland jurisdictions with approximately the same percentage of nonwhite population, 69 percent for Baltimore City and 73 percent for Prince George’s County. However, their medium household incomes vary greatly, only $30,000 for Baltimore and almost double ($55,000) for Prince George’s. Again, you might assume those with lower incomes would have more foreclosures. Not so. Prince George’s County, which bills itself as the wealthiest county in the nation with an African-American majority, is Maryland’s leader in home mortgage foreclosures, far ahead of poorer Baltimore and any predominately white areas of the state, rich or poor.

Conclusion: We should not just follow the money to learn why it happened. We should also see where a racial policy has led us.

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That’s enough for looking back. Now, let’s look beyond – to Nov. 4 – a bigger day than July 4th. For on 11/4 we will also be exercising our freedom, not just celebrating it. Registered voters will be able to cast a ballot to help determine who should be the next president and the vice president of the United States, two members of Congress, and if you are a Lexingtonian, four seats on the City Council, plus one new mayor.

You will be able to exercise these responsibilities in secret. However, that is not the case here. Along with my privilege to express opinions in this space is my loss of a secret ballot.

That is a tradeoff I am willing to accept in order to keep my bully pulpit. There is another downside to expressing opinions in public. It is the loss of a friend or two. Of course, it need not be this way. Policy differences and friendships have nothing in common. Spouses cancel each other’s votes all the time. Ask my wife!

Plus in paradise we live in small towns. At times, too small.

Nevertheless, over the next three weeks, we will be discussing the candidates, their parties, and their past performances. That’s it. I will NOT be telling you how to vote. Only how I plan to vote. That is because we live in a representative democracy. Which candidate best represents your interests may not represent mine. As my old college prof told me, “Where you stand is where you sit.”

Having said all that, those of us in the opinion business think that our opinions – while no better than yours – should, at least, be heard.

Meanwhile, before Nov. 4 rolls around you have some homework to do to sort out the candidates. Think about the sorting process as you would select an investment. Think about a candidate’s past performance. It is called a voting record. And think hard about the professional company a candidate keeps and why. These companies are called political parties.

Parties are the brand names we use to help identify the political products we buy. For example, one major brand is a little less keen on government than the other. And that brand may be too lean to satisfy your personal taste. Party brands also have leaders. We call them standard bearers. One standard bearer is John McCain; the other is Barack Obama.

So try to match our two great parties with yourself. If the task is too difficult, you most likely don’t know where you stand. Find out. Get a set of political beliefs.

A few other points to remember. Focus on means, not ends. Candidates generally agree on where we should be going. They just disagree on how to get there. The party is not over. And America will not be over on Nov. 5.

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