Opinion: Busing complements Democrats' socialist agenda

Robert Holland

When the Democrat presidential wannabes line up 10 by 10 for the next round of New Age debates July 30-31 in Detroit, the media moderators should ask for a show of hands on support for reinstitution of mandatory busing as a way to pursue increased school integration.

"Raise your hands if you support compulsory busing."

With CNN in charge of moderating, such a demonstration with potential to embarrass the Left’s favored candidates might be a non-starter. Yet, it would be a reasonable query, thanks to California Sen. Kamala Harris’ (D-CA) carefully plotted ambush of former Vice President Joe Biden in the Miami debate for his opposition way back in his days as a U.S. senator from Delaware to federal bureaucrats arrogating unto themselves the power to order racial-balance busing.

Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., speaks at the 2019 Essence Festival at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center on Saturday, July 6, 2019, in New Orleans.

Harris portrayed busing as an instrument of racial and social justice, and pictured her childhood self (literally, with a vanity T-shirt for sale soon after the debate) as a poor little girl who would have been victimized if not for busing. How the facts of her privileged upbringing and the demographics of Berkeley square with her account are matters of dispute, but here is something about which there should be no dispute at all: Massive busing was a colossal failure in the 1970s and '80s throughout the United States.

Indeed, busing advanced integration barely at all. African American students attending virtually all-black schools dropped from 63.6 percent to 63.3 percent from 1972 to 1980, a peak period for forced busing. Enormous pain for children and parents produced no real gain.

Many surveys showed parents of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds resented and resisted busing as years rolled by. In a 1973 Gallup Poll, just 4 percent of whites and 9 percent of blacks deemed busing the best way to pursue integration. After all, what’s to like about your 8-year-old being shipped one or even two hours to an unfamiliar school on the other side of a metropolitan area simply to be a digit on a bureaucrat’s balance sheet?

Yet, after the debate, Harris and several other left-wing Democrat candidates said they favor reinstitution of mandatory busing. “I support busing,” Harris flatly asserted.

Ever the glib one, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said, “If it [school integration] needs busing, it needs busing.”

Not to be outdone, self-identified Democratic Socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren are co-sponsoring a $120 million Strength in Diversity bill that would include racial-balance busing in the federal toolbox for societal repair.

Democratic presidential candidates, author Marianne Williamson, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, entrepreneur Andrew Yang, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., former Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, and Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., raise their hands when asked if they would provide healthcare for undocumented immigrants, during the Democratic primary debate hosted by NBC News at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, Thursday, June 27, 2019, in Miami.

So by all means, let us have a show of hands. Are Democratic presidential hopefuls as close to unanimity in imposing the failed busing remedy as they are about stripping Americans of their private health insurance?

Surely President Trump and his supporters will welcome being on the choice side of a campaign debate about busing, as well as health care. Choice, broadly defined, is what families desperately wanted 50 years ago instead of busing, and it is what they seek now. A poll of likely 2020 voters by Beck Research for the American Federation for Children this year showed two-thirds of both whites and African Americans, and 73 percent of Latinos, in support of school choice.

The pathway to true racial reconciliation and integration is for young people to be able to come together voluntarily on the basis of shared interests and options freely exercised. That is beginning to happen in many schools of choice where students of diverse backgrounds have been able to use state-provided opportunity scholarships to pursue their dreams. A national debate on individual choice versus statist compulsion could help bring all this into sharp focus.

Robert Holland (holland@heartland.org) is a senior fellow for education policy with The Heartland Institute.