Democratic presidential hopeful Kamala Harris was the talk of the debate last week following her supposed smackdown of former vice president Joe Biden. In the exchange, Harris told Biden that it was “hurtful” to hear him speak positively about working with segregationists to “get things done” in the Senate.
She then pivoted to Biden’s past opposition to desegregation busing, describing a “little girl” who, in the 1970s, was part of the second class in her California grade school to be bused for the sake of integrating the school. “That little girl was me,” Harris said.
Biden, on the defensive, countered by saying he didn’t oppose busing, just federally mandated busing, a response that played right into Harris’s hands as she retorted that he had just made her point that sometimes the federal government has to step in and do what local and state governments won’t.
It was a stunning moment, highlighting once again not only the rough road Biden has ahead but the extreme leftward tilt of the current Democratic field. Busing is one of those issues that offer Democrats an opportunity to seem reasonable and moderate by reflecting the mood of the nation. Its implementation in the United States was a case study in NIMBYism: even those who supported it in principle as a way to work toward school integration didn’t want it in their own back yards. To see Democrats arguing over who championed it more is truly head-scratching.
Like Harris, I was a little girl growing up in the 1970s. Unlike her, I wasn’t the daughter of highly educated immigrants who came to the United States to pursue advanced degrees in science and economics. Instead, my parents were high school educated, working-class Democrats who struggled to pay the bills and who voted for Jimmy Carter. Yet when the Austin, Texas, Independent School District introduced a plan to bus all sixth-graders from their neighborhood schools to one of several “sixth-grade centers” as part of its ongoing desegregation plan, my parents balked.
Their objection was not based on concerns about integration. The Austin neighborhood in which we lived was already integrated. Some of my best friends were black and Hispanic. The elementary school I had attended since kindergarten, a mere block from my house, was also integrated—not because of busing, but because it reflected the local population.
My parents simply saw nothing to be gained from me riding a bus across town each day to serve some master plan of people who couldn’t care less about me as an individual. They decided to move us 60 miles outside of town to avoid the machinations of the fixers. It wasn’t “white flight.” The modest home they purchased was in an integrated rural school district, and I continued through both middle school and high school, as I had in elementary school, forging many friendships with people of all different races.
The busing movement in the United States traces its beginning to the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education, which declared public school segregation unconstitutional. In 1971, the Supreme Court ruled in Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education that federal courts could require busing as a means of desegregation.
But forced busing immediately found opposition among both blacks and whites. As outlined by Jelani Cobb in The New Yorker, “Critics like Zora Neale Hurston howled at the implication that black learning could be insured only by proximity to white children. Elijah Muhammad warned, ominously, that ‘only a fool allows his enemies to educate his children.’”
Paula Bolyard of PJ Media points out the negative effects of busing on families, regardless of color:
Children faced long bus rides to and from school—in some cases over an hour—while parents missed out on opportunities to be involved in the education of their children. Instead of being right down the block, their schools were now far from home.
In the end, the policy failed to achieve its goals, barely moving the needle on the number of children attending integrated schools—from 1972 to 1980 the percentage of black students attending mostly-black schools dropped almost imperceptibly, from 63.6 percent to 63.3 percent.
That Democrats are now vying for pro-busing bragging rights is yet another indication of just how far out of touch they are with the American public. Thoughtful liberals acknowledge that to object to busing does not make one a segregationist or racist. Only the far left and the elite are going to be impressed by a devotion to the ill-conceived practice, which ultimately died a well-deserved death.
But it’s primary season, so, of course, the truth doesn’t matter, nor does appealing to the country’s middle. What does seem to matter to the current Democratic field of candidates is pandering to the various far-left factions that drive the party’s agenda.
That’s why, in addition to fighting over who loves busing more, the Democratic presidential hopefuls are stepping all over each other to voice support for killing babies; taking more of your hard-earned money; opening the borders; and granting taxpayer-funded health care to illegal immigrants. The New York Times has more on the field’s extreme leftward tilt.
The Biden-Harris busing flap will soon fade. The issue of busing is not likely to play a significant role in determining which Democrat gets his or her party’s presidential nomination.
More important than this brief episode is what it represents. A minimal amount of research reveals that desegregation busing was a colossal failure, unpopular with most Americans of all races. Nevertheless, a presidential candidate can successfully invoke it as a societal good and a sign of her wokeness, with the result that any challenge to her argument opens one to charges of racism.
It’s yet another indication of the left’s success in using academia and pop culture to brainwash the last couple of generations with a skewed, politically correct version of history. Those of us who know better must not rest in our efforts to set the record straight.