I’m not easily shocked by cynicism, dishonesty, and moral cowardice from politicians. I lived through the Clinton administration, didn’t I? I must say, though, that this Pigford business has left me wondering whether there is anything on earth our congresscritters won’t do so long as the doing of it (a) will enrich the Trial Lawyers Association and (b) can be dressed up as advancing the cause of civil rights.
“Pigford” is an umbrella term for class action lawsuits that have been going on since 1997. The lawsuits allege discrimination by the U.S. Department of Agriculture against black farmers. One of the 1997 plaintiffs was a black farmer named Timothy Pigford. This plaintiff in fact had sued before, but his claim had been dismissed “with prejudice,” meaning that he should never have been allowed to make another claim on the same grounds.
Pigford’s new case would likely have been dismissed too, if challenged by the USDA. However, the Department had at that time been in the hands of Dan Glickman for two years. As soon as the issue of USDA discrimination came to his attention, Glickman, a guilty white liberal from Central Casting, discovered that his department was addled with racism. This was odd because the previous Secretary of Agriculture, Mike Espy (Jan. 1993 to Dec. 1994) was black. Probably much of the department was too; by 1997 blacks were very well represented in the federal workforce. (I can’t find numbers for that year, but in 2006 blacks were over-represented in the Department of Agriculture by nearly 15 percent — see 1.2.1 here.)
The claims of discrimination were anyway prima facie dubious. Blacks were at that time less than one percent of the farming population, but received more than three percent of USDA lending. Further, many of the claimants had actually received loans, but were aggrieved that the Department had not followed up with technical assistance to make them successful farmers. In other cases the entire staff of the county offices alleged to have discriminated, were black. Nor were these claims reaching back to rectify the injustices of the Jim Crow era: the claims related to USDA practice from 1981 onwards.
Our left-wing judiciary took up the cause anyway, consolidating Pigford’s claims with others into a class action lawsuit. Standards for entry to the class were laughably low. A claimant basically just had to be black. He need not ever have farmed: to have applied for a USDA loan was sufficient. No surviving documentation of the loan application? No problem, the court would accept an affidavit co-signed by a non-family member.
The official criteria for making a claim were: You were a farmer between 1981 and 1996; you had applied for a USDA loan; you had been discriminated against; and you had filed a complaint. There was essentially no requirement that you prove any of those things, though. To get on the Pigford gravy train, you just had to be black. Not surprisingly, the class of claimants began to swell mightily. By the end of 2000 there were more black plaintiffs (21,105) than black farmers (18,451 in a 1997 headcount). The Pigford juggernaut was in motion, fueled by white guilt, black greed, and the energy of civil rights attorneys.
The juggernaut rolls forward still. Last Wednesday Barack Obama signed into law H.R. 4783, which pays $1.25 billion in compensation to black farmers. (And $3.4 billion to Indians alleged to have been cheated out of oil, gas, and timber royalties.) The payout to black farmers (or “farmers”) comes on top of $1 billion paid out in a previous tranche 11 years ago. The number of claimants is now 94,000.
That this monstrosity got through Congress — the House vote was 256-152 — is testimony to the cowardice of our representatives, few of whom were willing to speak out against payouts to blacks on claims of discrimination, however patently bogus. Honorable exceptions were Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R, Minn.) and Rep. Steve King (R, Iowa). Rep. Bachmann had this to say in the House, November 29:
I urge my colleagues to consider what the Claims Settlement Act truly presents before voting on the bill this week. This legislation includes over a billion dollars to settle the Pigford II discrimination claims with black farmers. Unfortunately, Pigford is rife with fraudulent claims and to settle before an investigation can take place does the American taxpayer a disservice. Justice should be served to those who experienced discrimination, but settlement funds should only go to those wronged.
Even that is too much of a concession to the Pigford bogosity. It is unlikely anyone was “wronged” in any sense that could be proved to traditional courtroom standards of tort. Senate Republicans contented themselves with trying to cut down the attorneys’ fees in the Indian case from $100 million to $50 million — unsuccessfully, of course.
Signing H.R. 4783 into law on Wednesday, the President said the following shameful thing.
While I am pleased that this Act reflects important progress, much work remains to be done to address other claims of past discrimination made by women and Hispanic farmers against the Department of Agriculture as well as to address needs of tribal communities.
Yes: not only women and Hispanics but Asian-Americans too have little Pigfords — Pigfordlets, as it were — under way. No doubt there will soon be gay Pigfords, disabled Pigfords, Muslim Pigfords, Hmong Pigfords, Satanist Pigfords, NAMBLA Pigfords, and numerous others in the works. Each will provide years of work to battalions of lawyers and federal bureaucrats. Each will cost the nation billions — billions of dollars sluicing out of the Treasury into the pockets of anyone who can wave an affidavit signed by his next-door neighbor — anyone, of course, except straight white Christian males.
But why should we complain? This is “important progress.” The President said so.