Check, Please

James Taranto, Wall Street Journal, July 30, 2008

One of the most appealing features of the Barack Obama candidacy is the idea that Obama is “postracial”—that he is a candidate who is black and does not practice the adversarial politics of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. {snip}

But a story in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin raises serious questions about Obama’s postracialism. The paper describes an Obama appearance at Unity ‘08, “a convention of four minority journalism associations”:

“I personally would want to see our tragic history, or the tragic elements of our history, acknowledged,” the Democratic presidential hopeful said.

“I consistently believe that when it comes to whether it’s Native Americans or African-American issues or reparations, the most important thing for the U.S. government to do is not just offer words, but offer deeds.”

Exactly what Obama is advocating here cannot be determined, but it seems to be something of an endorsement of the idea of “reparations for slavery,” which is usually taken to mean cash payments. In this view, the following deeds are insufficient to balance the ledger between America and the descendants of slaves: the Civil War, the ratification of the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments, Brown v. Board of Education, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the continuing practice of racial preferences.

The idea of reparations is highly unpopular, and with good reason. {snip} The idea of the government cutting checks to compensate people for a wrong that they did not personally suffer is unlikely to appeal to anyone except perhaps those who stand to receive those checks.

The politics of this are rather odd. There is little for Obama to gain by endorsing reparations. If ever there was a candidate who has no need to pander to the descendants of slaves, it is Barack Obama. Democratic presidential candidates can usually count on upward of 90% of the black vote, and Obama racked up similar percentages in a hard-fought primary battle.

On the other hand, in order to attract votes among nonblacks, Obama needs to guard carefully his postracial credentials. It’s one thing to endorse racial preferences, a conventionally liberal if unpopular view. But reparations remains a fringe idea—the sort of idea a presidential nominee would normally be careful to stay away from.

{snip}

[Editor’s Note: Additional excepts from the Star-Bulletin story can be read here.]

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