Wednesday, July 31, 2019

A Much Better Answer

No. Just no.

Slate's Aaron Mak contends that at Tuesday's presidential debate Marianne Williamson "also gave the clearest and best-argued answer on the question of whether—and how—the United States ought to pay reparations to the descendants of slaves."

Clear, yes. Unambiguous (but I repeat myself), yes. However, in terms of both policy and general election (which, thankfully, Ms. Williamson will never see), it's dangerous. When the topic turned to "reparations," Williamson was asked by co-host Don Lemon "What makes you qualified to determine how much is owed in reparations?" and replied "Well, first of all, it's not $500 billion in financial assistance. It's $500 billion, $200 billion to $500 billion payment of a debt that is owed. That is what reparations is."

No, it is not a debt that is owed. A debt is owed by the perpetrators of injustice to the victims of injustice. In this case, virtually all of the offenders have been deceased for over 150 years and the offended for nearly that long.

Williamson then went on to talk about healing, domestic terrorism, mules, and "a toxicity underneath the surface, an emotional turbulence that only reparations will heal."

Barnyard animals aside, it is not the function of government to serve as the psychotherapist of a nation. Providing for the general welfare is itself a gargantuan task without taking on the problem of "emotional turbulence," which government obviously is ill-equipped to tackle.

But Williamson's new-age psychobabble points to a more fundamental problem, one thus far sidestepped by Bernie Sanders, of a misguided Democratic response to racial bias and discrimination but especially to reparations.

Repackaging his question posed to Williamson about reparations, Lemon asked Senator Sanders "according to a new Gallup poll, 73 percent of African-Americans are in favor of cash payments to black Americans who are descendants of slaves. How do you respond to them?"

Wisely, Sanders refused to take the bait, thereby avoiding the obvious, yet politically risky answer that blacks would be told the same thing as whites, Asians, Latinos, and other Americans- that policy is made to help Americans as a whole, and especially underprivileged individuals and families.

He did, however, imply that the needy would be most assisted by his plans, a unique concept in a political climate in which most Democratic politicians filter their plans through a racial lens and Republicans shovel the goodies to individuals and groups which need them the least. He stated

Well, I respond to that by saying that I am supportive of Jim Clyburn's legislation, which is called 10-20-30. And what that understands is that as a result of slavery, and segregation, and the institutional racism we see now in health care, in education, in financial services, we are going to have to focus big time on rebuilding distressed communities in America, including African-American communities.

In terms of education, I also have a plan. It's called the Thurgood Marshall Plan. And it would focus on ending the growth of segregated schools in America. It would triple funding for Title I schools. It would make sure that teachers in this country earned at least $60,000 a year.

Of course, few people know anything about 10-20-30, the Thurgood Marshall Plan, or Title I schools. Many individuals don't recognize Jim Clyburn.

Title I schools are those with "high percentages of children from low-income families." The Thurgood Marshall Plan evidently is Sander's 10-part education plan, a remarkably broad educational agenda, perhaps most notably ending aid to for-profit schools. The 10-20-30 formula was included in the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act which, if included in future funding proposals for all federal agencies as Clyburn proposes, would give priority (at least 10% of funding, it appears) to counties in which at least 20% of the residents had lived below the poverty line for the last 30 years.

God is in the details, and it's possible that the details of any one of these approaches, if put into legislation, would be counter-productive. However, taken as a whole, it's clear that Sanders' preference is to assist the most destitute people and communities. With the possible exception of Majority Whip Clyburn's 10-20-30, this would most assist ethnic minorities. 

Nowhere does Sanders- in this response, anyhow- suggest whites owe a "debt" to African-Americans, an assertion which would spell death in a national, general election. One of the usual (and justified) objections to reparations is that many whites currently alive in the USA were themselves descendants of immigrants from Europe or elsewhere. Less considered, however, is how much restitution would be expected from Latinos, Asians, or Native Indian tribal members now in the country.

It is probably an unjust, and almost certainly unworkable, concept. Giving a hand to those who most need help, however, would be both more equitable and more politically acceptable.  Senator Sanders may be hounded into adjusting his proposal to account for skin color, conveyed to individuals not through hard work or any individual merit, but on the basis of who their parents were. For this one night, though, he advanced a program loosely based on the idea that no matter where you came from, who your parents are, or what you look like, if you need help, you'll get it as part of the American community.

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