We Have No Leaders: African Americans in the Post-Civil Rights Era

By Robert C. Smith; Ronald W. Walters | Go to book overview

5
Blacks and Presidential Policy Making:
Neglect, Policy, Symbols, and Cooptation

What differences has it made that in the last twenty years blacks have become routine participants in the presidential and congressional decision-making processes? An important assumption by proponents of black incorporation is that blacks will become advocates of black interests in the policy-making process; that where they have the capacity to make or influence decisions they will reflect the values of the group. The theoretical discussion in Chapter 1 suggests an alternative hypothesis about the consequences of incorporation, namely that rather than advancing the interests or values of the race, the consequence of institutionalization will instead be the adoption by individuals of the interests and values of the institutions; and the more powerful a person becomes within an institution the more likely he or she is to hold its values. It is essentially these alternative assumptions that we examine empirically in this and later chapters dealing with black participation during the last twenty years in presidential, congressional and Democratic Party institutional processes.

In this chapter the focus is on the presidency and executive branch decision making. 1 What can be said of the institutional legacy left behind by those blacks who have held high-level appointments in the executive branch? Did they work toward solving the problems of race? Did they have the president's ear? Were they effective? These are the questions examined in this chapter. The focus is on the post—civil rights era administrations— Nixon-Ford, Carter, Reagan and to an extent Bush—first because this period is the focus of the book as a whole but also because the phenomenon itself is largely a post—civil rights era one. Prior to the 1960s blacks simply were not a part of the executive branch of government. Black participation in executive policy making was generally limited to the occasional advice a president might seek informally from one or more blacks in whom he had personal confidence ( Frederick Douglas's counsel to President Lincoln and Booker Washington's to Theodore Roosevelt are perhaps the best known

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