Friday, June 21, 2019

McConnell Speaking For Many

On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell responded at a news conference to a question about reparations by stating

Yea, I don't think reparations for something that happened 150 years ago for which none of us is currently living are responsible is a good idea. We've tried to deal with our original sin of slavery by fighting a civil war, by passing landmark civil rights legislation. Uh, we've elected an African-American president. I think we're always a work in progress in this country but no one currently alive was responsible for that.

There is a lot, a very lot- as the cliche goes- to unpack here.

But the most intriguing point to me is the suggestion that electing an African-American president was one way in which we've tried to "deal with our original sin of slavery."

(Two notes here: That latter point was made in a separate sentence, separated by an "uh" and thus McConnell did not explicitly attribute that election to the original sin of slavery. Additionally, he did not say that we have "dealt" with the sin, only that we've "tried" to deal with it. However, no one else has noticed this, so we'll assume mine is a distinction without a difference.)

At 1:17 here, The Atlantic staff writer Vann Newkirk remarks

The thing that really gets me is the comment about President Obama, the fact that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell seems to believe that Obama was reparations. That's a tough one for me. I think it was a big thing for African-Americans, uh, 40 acres and a Barack Obama (last phrase barely distinguishable, perhaps "that's not how it works.")

He's right: McConnell does seem to believe that the election of Obama was reparation; it was a big thing for African-Americans; 40 acres and a Barack Obama is not reparation.

But the statement by the second most powerful Republican in the land reflected what a lot of Republicans (and many Independents) believe. Now that Barack Obama was elected, the thinking goes, African-Americans have been paid back. And as a plus, we have proven that America is not racist.

Oh, you protest, most of those people did not actually vote for Obama, but I am not a social psychologist, though sometimes I play one here. But many individuals unsympathetic to demands of minorities for equality believe- nay, feel- that it is done and accomplished.

Of course, the election of Barack Obama to the presidency did no such thing The "original sin" was not wiped out because white America had allowed (as is the perception) a black President. However, it was nearly inevitable that many whites would believe it was.

It is thoroughly understandable especially given  Newkirk's comment "I think it was a big thing for African-Americans." If blacks believe the election of a black President was of tremendous significance, it should not be surprising that whites- who live in the same country- would labor under the misconception.

The attribution of awesome, historic importance to that election is misplaced.  It's misplaced by blacks, by whites who voted against Obama, even by some whites who voted for Barack Obama.

Events of recent years make that clear. Moreover, Joe Biden, currently way out ahead of his rivals in South Carolina (in which approximately half of Democratic primary voters are African-American), says "thank you very much." Although a little harsh about Biden's record and rhetoric about race, Emma Vigeland nevertheless beginning at 1:33 of the video below recognizes the danger posed by the Biden-Obama connection as she remarks

The Democratic front-runner now, someone who's polling well with black Americans, especially older black Americans, is someone who was supportive of segregation at the outset of his career as a legislator. And so we have to have a reckoning, we have to have a conversation about why that is and why maybe name recognition and association with Barack Obama is winning out over his very disastrous rhetoric at the current moment.

If Biden had not been Vice-President to Barack Obama (for whom he professes undying love and loyalty), he would have been rudely escorted from the race by now. That would have occurred even before he bragged about having palled around with white segregationists in the good 'ol days. And his relationship with those rascals was not as congenial as that he has had with the creditcard industry and other powerful financial interests.

The election of Barack Obama did not significantly alter the power structure in government or even in society. But it has had a powerful impact on the attitude of both black and white Americans, a dirty little secret which few very few in the political set are willing to acknowledge. 

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