Are you interested in what a white-guy Democrat presidential candidate who’s self-admittedly from a profoundly privileged background thinks about reparations? Neither am I and neither are most Democrats, either. Then again, most Democrats aren’t particularly interested in what Beto O’Rourke has to say these days, anyhow.
And it’s not as if the guy whose biggest résumé item is almost beating Ted Cruz in last year’s Texas Senate race has given anyone much to think about. O’Rourke said he’s against traditional reparations and that cash reparations “stops the conversation for so many millions of our fellow Americans.”
However, he says he “would support those steps that would allow us to repair the damage done and to stop visiting this kind of injustice on future generations” and that he would support a reparations commission. But he’d only support actual reparations if voters were behind it; if one of those off-brand Kennedys ends up writing “Profiles in Courage 2: Electric Boogaloo,” don’t expect to find O’Rourke’s views on the matter chronicled within.
From the sound of things, though, he’s now more firmly behind the idea of reparations, even though — O’Rourke being O’Rourke, he’s not willing to quantify what that would entail. What he is willing to do is self-flagellate over his white privilege. Because, lo and behold, both he and his wife had ancestors who owned slaves.
“I was recently given documents showing that both Amy and I are descended from people who owned slaves. Along with other possessions listed in their property log were two human beings, Rose and Eliza,” a piece published on O’Rourke’s official Medium account on Monday read.
“A paternal great-great-great grandfather of mine, Andrew Cowan Jasper, owned these two women in the 1850s. There are also records showing that a maternal great-great-great grandfather, Frederick Williams, most likely owned slaves in the 1860s (‘most likely,’ because we are not certain that the Frederick Williams who is my ancestor and the Frederick Williams who owned slaves are the same person, but there’s enough circumstantial data to lead me to conclude that it’s likely).
“Records also showed that Amy had an ancestor who owned slaves and another who was a member of the Confederate Army.”
The Medium piece comes days after NBC News reported that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s great-great-grandfathers both owned slaves, which raises two possibilities as to the genesis of this piece and “revelation.”
The first is that, when O’Rourke was “recently given” the documents that proved his ancestors owned slaves, he realized the jig was up and it was time to get behind reparations in the most ostentatious way possible.
The second is that O’Rourke was handed these documents and thought to himself — given how much political capital he’s made from wearing the hair-shirt of the rich, formerly aimless white male — “Hot diggity! Slave-owners on both sides of the family! It’s like Christmas in July!”
I realize the two aren’t mutually exclusive, but I’m leaning toward the second option being a bit more prominent in the mix.
“Something that we’ve been thinking about and talking about in town hall meetings and out on the campaign — the legacy of slavery in the United States — now has a much more personal connection,” O’Rourke wrote. “In the aggregate, slavery, its legacy and the ensuing forms of institutionalized racism have produced an America with stark differences in opportunities and outcomes, depending on race.”
“For example, there is 10 times the wealth in white America than there is in black America. Black men are six times more likely to be incarcerated than white men. The disparity in infant mortality between black families and white families is greater today than it was in 1850. Whether it’s the economy, healthcare, education, criminal justice or even in the inherent biases revealed by technology, there really are two Americas.”
“I benefit from a system that my ancestors built to favor themselves at the expense of others. That only increases the urgency I feel to help change this country so that it works for those who have been locked-out of — or locked-up in — this system,” the piece continued.
In addition to a lot of other things he wants to spend on, O’Rourke said, “I will continue to support reparations, beginning with an important national conversation on slavery and racial injustice.”
Instead of having “an important national conversation on slavery and racial injustice,” perhaps it might be better for O’Rourke to track down Rose and Eliza’s descendants and give them what he feels they’re rightly owed. After all, that’s his decision. You would have hoped that this would have woken him up to the danger of judging people by their ancestors, which is essentially one of the core tenets behind reparations. It clearly hasn’t.
Most of us aren’t descended from slave owners, however, and those of us who are would have a difficult time figuring out who should get paid — unless we don’t want to go for “traditional reparations,” which then devolves into a handy excuse for targeted government spending. O’Rourke isn’t willing to track anyone down or give out cash reparations from the descendants of slave holders to the descendants of slaves. Instead, what he wants to do is spend your money on federal programs.
In short, this is classic O’Rourke. His piece on Medium has nothing to do with this issue having “a much more personal connection” now that he knows his ancestors’ ugly past. It has everything about O’Rourke letting everyone know how conspicuously woke he is to his own privilege.
He gets it, America. That’s why he wants to get your tax dollars and be in a position where he can give them away in the name of reparations. Oh, yeah — and his taxes might go up a little. Whatever. He can make that all back on the speaking circuit talking about poor Rose and Eliza, right?
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