For the crowded swath of the Democrat field in between rock-ribbed establishmentarian Joe Biden on the right and ardent socialist Bernie Sanders on the left, identity politics seems to be the preferred way to differentiate oneself. The identitarian issue du jour seems to be reparations for slavery, which is good news for Elizabeth Warren because there seems to be a paucity of remarks one can make on the matter about, ahem, that DNA test.
That’s not to say that Warren can’t find ways to trip over herself, mind you. This is the candidate who decided to use, as an illustration of the kind of person who would be affected by her so-called “ultra-millionaire tax,” the owner of the Washington Redskins. Even if her Native American heritage isn’t in question, however, Warren can still manage a huge blunder — it just takes a little more to uncover it.
So on the subject of reparations, The New York Times published an article Thursday in which they discussed how “some candidates have started embracing specific goals and overtly race-conscious legislation that even the most left-wing elected officials stayed away from in recent years.” While Kamala Harris’ support of reparations is discussed, so are those of the senator from Massachusetts.
“Ms. Warren also said she supported reparations for black Americans impacted by slavery — a policy that experts say could cost several trillion dollars, and one that Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and many top Democrats have not supported,” the piece reads.
“The Warren campaign declined to give further details on that backing, but it came amid her calls for the federal government to provide special home-buying assistance to residents of communities that were adversely affected by ‘redlining,’ the discriminatory practice of denying mortgages, usually in poor and nonwhite areas. She also announced a sweeping universal child-care proposal that could strongly benefit minority communities that often have limited early childhood services.”
There are several issues here, not the least of which is the fact being awfully unspecific about “a policy that experts say could cost several trillion dollars” generally isn’t a good augury and even the most establishment-ensconced Democrat wouldn’t consider “a sweeping universal child-care proposal that could strongly benefit minority communities that often have limited early childhood services” reparations.
The biggest problem, however, lies in the caveat: “Ms. Warren also said she supported reparations for black Americans impacted by slavery.”
Those words are the most nebulous part of this non-proposal proposal. Strictly speaking, no black American alive today has been directly impacted by slavery. There hasn’t been anyone enslaved who was freed by the Union Army or the 13th Amendment who has walked on this earth for generations now.
Would this be limited to descendants of slaves? That would be a genealogical nightmare.
Do we put reparations in a broader sense, inasmuch as we assume any black American has borne the brunt of slavery, de jure segregation and racism? Well, then we would say they’ve borne it in gradations. Would we give the child of Haitian parents who emigrated here in the 1980s the same amount of money as the direct descendant of slaves whose forebears also suffered under the yoke of Jim Crow? If not, how do we decide who gets what?
And then there’s another thing which we’d sooner not bring up but which we must. There’s no denying that blacks in America have suffered because of slavery. But how much have they suffered because of liberal policies?
Conservative economist Thomas Sowell, himself an African-American, has written extensively on how Great Society policies and their descendants have wreaked havoc on the black community as it was beginning to recover from the long history of slavery and repression in the middle of the last century.
“If we wanted to be serious about evidence, we might compare where blacks stood a hundred years after the end of slavery with where they stood after 30 years of the liberal welfare state,” Sowell wrote in a 2014 piece for National Review. “In other words, we could compare hard evidence on ‘the legacy of slavery’ with hard evidence on the legacy of liberals.
“Despite the grand myth that black economic progress began or accelerated with the passage of the Civil Rights laws and ‘War on Poverty’ programs of the 1960s, the cold fact is that the poverty rate among blacks fell from 87 percent in 1940 to 47 percent by 1960. This was before any of those programs began,” he continued. “Over the next 20 years, the poverty rate among blacks fell another 18 percentage points, compared to the 40-point drop in the previous 20 years. This was the continuation of a previous economic trend, at a slower rate of progress, not the economic grand deliverance proclaimed by liberals and self-serving black ‘leaders.’”
And while ending segregation was a great moral victory, Sowell argued that “(i)f we are to go by evidence of social retrogression, liberals have wreaked more havoc on blacks than the supposed ‘legacy of slavery’ they talk about.”
“Nearly a hundred years of the supposed ‘legacy of slavery’ found most black children being raised in two-parent families in 1960. But thirty years after the liberal welfare state found the great majority of black children being raised by a single parent,” he wrote.
“The murder rate among blacks in 1960 was one-half of what it became 20 years later, after a legacy of liberals’ law-enforcement policies. Public-housing projects in the first half of the 20th century were clean, safe places, where people slept outside on hot summer nights, when they were too poor to afford air conditioning,” he continued.
“That was before admissions standards for public-housing projects were lowered or abandoned, in the euphoria of liberal non-judgmental notions. And it was before the toxic message of victimhood was spread by liberals. We all know what hell holes public housing has become in our times. The same toxic message produced similar social results among lower-income people in England, despite an absence of a ‘legacy of slavery’ there.”
But this is entirely the point. What Warren hopes to accomplish isn’t the reversal of redlining policies or redressing Jim Crow or providing reparations. It’s saying that the left is addressing the “legacy of slavery” while perpetuating it. That’s the same blunder — and I’m giving it the undeserved credit of merely being a blunder — that white liberal saviors have been making for the better part of a century now.
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