With crackpot ideas such as Medicare for all and the Green New Deal percolating from the Democratic presidential race, it is small wonder that slavery reparations have been lost in the media shuffle. What is surprising is that the most fervent proponents of the idea have been two white, marginal candidates, Beto O’Rourke and Marianne Williamson. The idea is opposed by the overwhelming majority of Americans, but a plurality of Democrats and a majority of African Americans.
Fox News explains.
“Marianne Williamson and Beto O’Rourke wholeheartedly embraced reparations for black Americans during last Tuesday night’s Democratic primary debate — a national wedge issue that, at least in the debate hall in Detroit, Michigan, seemed more like a surefire applause line.
“O’Rourke announced that, as president, he would work to sign Texas Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee’s reparations bill. That legislation, according to Jackson Lee’s office, would ‘examine the institution of slavery in the colonies and the United States from 1619 to the present, and further recommend appropriate remedies.’”
Sen. Corry Booker, D-NJ has pledged to support a Senate version of the bill. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Ca has given the idea lip service. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass wants Native Americans to be “part of the conversation.” Ironically, Warren has gotten herself into trouble for pretending to be Native American, when she is not.
Proponents of slavery reparations point to the payments former West Germany made to atone for the Nazi Holocaust. The problem with that analogy is that those payments were made when both the perpetrators and victims of that atrocity were still alive. No person who owned slaved or who was a slave is still living.
The mechanics of how slavery reparations would work are also a bit sketchy. How much would the reparations cost? Williamson has stated that it is half a trillion dollars. Who would receive the payments? All African Americans or just those who can prove that they were descended from slaves. Former President Obama, for instance, might not be eligible. His father was born in Africa.
The New York Post reports that a recent Gallup Poll suggests strong opposition to slavery reparations:
“Slightly more than two-thirds of Americans oppose the government paying reparations to African-Americans who are the descendants of slaves, while 29 percent support the compensation, including 73 percent of blacks, a poll released Monday shows.
“Despite the overwhelming opposition to reparations, the Gallup Poll found support has doubled since 2002 when only 14 percent of Americans were in favor of the cash compensation.
“Broken down by political party, 92 percent of Republicans, 65 percent of independents and 47 percent of Democrats say the government should not pay reparations.
“Democrats – at 49 percent – represented the largest political group in favor of the payments, with 32 percent of independents and 5 percent of Republicans.”
What would be the political effects of a reparations program? A recent article in Reason suggests that far from healing the racial divide or leveling the playing field between whites and African Americans, the merest proposal would set a match to a tinder box.
For one thing, because only Democrats are proposing the idea, reparations instantly become a partisan issue. The 2020 presidential election has already become continuous on the subject of race. Any Democratic candidate who tells white Americans that they are guilty because of their “white privilege” is not likely to get a good reception. Sen Kristin Gillibrand, D-New York is pretty sure that she can lecture white, suburban women about why they all share this quality and now must pay up.
The Reason article also suggests that the proposal is likely to result in a lot of argument over who pays, who gets, and how much. Are the recipients going to be evaluated as to how much slavery ancestry they possess? Also, just imagine the arguments about poor whites or people whose ancestors immigrated to America after the Civil War being forced to pay money for a sin that they were demonstrably not guilty of. Also, the idea that Oprah Winfrey and other wealthy, successful African Americans are owed money because their ancestors were held in bondage.
Given these objections, why is the issue cropping up now? The National Review suggests that there is a political motivation that has little to do with social justice. It is an attempt to buy African American and Democratic voters. While the issue would likely sink any candidate who persists in advancing it in the general election, if reparations were to be enacted, they would go on forever and would have an infinite cost, more than enough reason to reject the idea out of hand.