I’m young enough to remember when my circle of friends eagerly watched other friends’ relationship status on Facebook, a phenomenon that I’d say peaked — at least for us — roughly 10 years ago.
If someone put that they were in a new relationship, congratulations were in order the next time we all had dinner. An engagement merited quite a bit more. A move back to single drew a torrent of commiseration in group text.
But the one thing we all knew to look out for was when someone moved their status to “it’s complicated.” That status signifying a relationship of ineffable dimensions was unfailingly the sign of a personal iceberg ahead in the water and a captain of the soul who had, against all better counsel, set the ship’s throttle to full speed ahead.
Kamala Harris is probably a bit old to have gone through this phase, or was at least a bit too busy to notice. Given that, I would offer her this piece of advice from a millennial who knows:
When she says that her take on reparations is “complicated,” that sets off klaxons for those of us who realize the import of that word.
We know that Harris is for — or at least she says she’s for — reparations. During an interview with a nationally syndicated radio show in February, she agreed with a host’s recommendation that “government reparations for black Americans were necessary to address the legacies of slavery and discrimination,” according to The New York Times.
Harris later affirmed this in a statement that said she “was serious about taking an approach that would change policies and structures and make real investments in black communities.”
Harris’ reparations policy has taken a number of forms, from a proposed mental health initiative to the $100 billion she wants to earmark for home-buyers in neighborhoods historically affected by redlining, a policy she made clear was aimed not merely at the low-income home buyer but specifically at African-American home buyers. (And not necessarily low-income African-Americans, either; some individuals or families making six figures would still qualify.)
So, if you get the feeling that reparations for Harris aren’t just about the government “writing a check,” well, you’re right. And here’s where it gets problematic.
According to Breitbart, in an interview with former ESPN commentator Jemele Hill’s podcast “Jemele Hill Is Unbothered” released Monday, Harris was asked whether she was “for or against” reparations. Instead of the unequivocal answer she gave back in February, Harris said that her feelings on the matter were “complicated.”
Informed that this “wasn’t one of the choices,” Harris went on to explain what “complicated” meant, which, depending on your position, could be either better or worse than you expected. Probably worse.
Harris began by saying she supported Texas Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee’s proposed commission on reparations, a congressional body that would “address the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery in the United States” and “its subsequent de jure and de facto racial and economic discrimination against African-Americans, and the impact of these forces on living African-Americans.”
“We need to address how we’re going to do it,” Harris said. “Because back to the point I was making about home ownership … back to the point I was making about disparities around education … you can look at health outcomes when you know that black women are three to four times more likely to die in connection with childbirth.
“So there’s a lot that has to be about looking at this in a way that is about structural and systemic investment in communities.”
OK, so that could be just mealy-mouthed equivocation from a candidate who doesn’t want to take a position. And rightly so — while Democratic voters tend to support reparations, the electorate as a whole rather overwhelmingly opposes the idea, with 60 percent coming out against cash payments in a June Fox News poll and only 21 percent supporting it in an April Rasmussen survey.
If Harris were to win the nomination based on the reparations platform, it could end up just being a Pyrrhic victory.
However, after extricating herself from her own position, Harris proceeded to get herself much more dug in by insisting that money “wasn’t enough” and suggesting something that, viewed in a certain light, could look like reparations without any delimited end.
“So that’s why I’m reluctant to have a simple answer to it because, frankly, I don’t believe that writing a check is gonna be enough,” Harris said.
“I really don’t … And the worst thing that I think could happen is that checks get written and then everybody says, ‘OK, stop talking about this now,’ without addressing the systemic inequities that are deep and require investment.”
Well, yes, that is “complicated.” And not in a good way.
Like so many things that are complicated, Harris could either be over-invested or under-invested in this whole reparations idea. If she’s under-invested, great. On the dreadful off-chance this woman becomes our next president, the fact that this was all campaign rhetoric would be a small matter of assurance to me — an “insurance policy,” to use Strzok-speak, against a massively expensive government initiative to extirpate the sins of the past.
The problem is if she’s over-invested in her relationship with reparations, which — I fear — seems to be the case.
When Harris says that “the worst thing that I think could happen is that checks get written and then everybody says, ‘OK, stop talking about this now,’ without addressing the systemic inequities that are deep and require investment,” you probably ought to realize that systemic inequalities never stop existing to leftists who jealously guard government programs.
After all, once the inequality goes away or is ameliorated, so does the program. The goalposts don’t just move, they’re pretty much designed with motorized wheels on them so as to make the movement automatic and constant.
Cutting a check to every African-American is an asinine idea because it assumes we can identify those who specifically suffered under slavery or de jure segregation, or we just give everyone the same check no matter how their ancestors were affected by these things.
However, compared to Harris’ plan, there’s a certain appeal to it, precisely because of the reason that Harris doesn’t like it. It doesn’t go far enough for her.
No, we’re probably never going to stop talking about racism in this country, regardless of whether the government cuts a check to African-Americans. However, a check makes it clear that reparations aren’t a government program to operated in perpetuity. And, as Milton Friedman pointed out, “Nothing is so permanent as a temporary government program.”
That isn’t a terribly complicated thing to grasp, but it is a complicated thing to sell to the electorate. In 2019 as in 2009, “it’s complicated” is still a bad augury.
Whether or not those complications come back to bite Harris at the ballot box remain to be seen. If they don’t, they’re going to come back to bite America.
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