The question here is less whether Paul Waldman bothers to read any conservatives, and more about whether he reads the Washington Post. Last night, Waldman asserted in a WaPo column that conservatives are aghast at the thought of replacing Andrew Jackson with Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill, and that this new reality was part of the Right’s grieving process. As evidence for this, Waldman produces … no examples whatsoever (via Twitchy):
Back in 2016, when Barack Obama was president, the Treasury Department announced that the $20 bill would be redesigned to feature Harriet Tubman, the former enslaved person who led others to freedom. In order to avoid offending people too much, President Andrew Jackson, who currently occupies the front of the $20, would not be banished completely but would have his image placed on the back of the bill, rather smaller in size.
To many, this was an important step: Jackson was a notorious racist, a slaver who as president was responsible, among other things, for the Trail of Tears, in which thousands of Native Americans died as they were forcibly pushed west. Tubman, on the other hand, is one of the greatest heroes America has produced.
Trump put up a giant painting of Jackson in the Oval Office (Biden has already removed it) and halted the project to redesign the $20 bill. On Monday, Biden’s press secretary said that the administration is looking at ways to speed up this redesign, because of the importance of ensuring that our money reflects “the history and diversity of our country.”
Many conservatives will find the new Tubman bill distressing, even if they could barely tell you the first thing about Jackson. Does that make them racist? The real answer is, it doesn’t matter. What’s in individual hearts is not really important.
The real “real answer” is that this is sheer nonsense, and sheer unsupported nonsense at that. Normally, columnists like to rely on the Rule of Three in making these kinds of blanket condemnations, finding three examples that fit the allegation and then assigning blame for them to entire classes of people. Waldman, however, doesn’t even bother to find one.
How did that get past the editors, you may wonder. I’ll go you one better, because the entire premise of this argument — that conservatives and Trump derailed the Tubman bill — is nonsense. Had Waldman or the editors bothered to read their own paper, they would have known it. Jeff Stein debunked this claim in July 2019, which Jazz noted at the time:
Three current or former high-ranking government officials who served in the Obama administration, and were involved in the design and release of currency, said the Trump administration has not delayed the release of a new $20.
Instead, they say, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin — while expressing indifference about Tubman’s placement on the currency, whereas his predecessor backed the change — has followed a timeline set under the Obama administration for the introduction of the new $20 bill.
In 2016, President Obama’s Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said a “final concept design” of the Tubman $20 would be released in 2020. He asked the government to accelerate the process of the redesign, saying the new look would be released by 2020, the 100th anniversary of women winning the right to vote.
But inside the agency, some government officials doubted that deadline could be met. A confidential 2013 report by the Advanced Counterfeit Deterrence committee, an interagency group that oversees the redesign of U.S. currency, said the $20 would not enter circulation until 2030, similar to the timeline announced by the Trump administration, according to Larry R. Felix, director of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing from 2006 to 2015.
Felix and other senior officials believed it would not be possible to release a “concept” design of Tubman on the $20 in 2020, given that these designs are never released several years — much less an entire decade — before they enter circulation.
The Treasury can release “concept” designs before the currency enters circulation in the economy, but it has never done so more than a year in advance, according to a spokesperson for the Bureau of Engraving and Printing who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The spokesperson said the precaution is aimed at depriving hackers and other counterfeiters from having additional time to prepare for new denominations.
How did that claim get past the editors at the same newspaper that debunked it 18 months earlier? Skip over the grade-school argumentation and lack of support; didn’t anyone bother to check their own archives to see whether the premise was accurate? For a newspaper that proclaims “Democracy dies in darkness” at the top of their website and who routinely tout their editorial judgment as superior to that of their critics, this is a faceplant of epic proportions.
As for replacing Jackson with Tubman, it’s possible that a few people would oppose it, but too few to be worth consideration. The only significant debate among conservatives about the Tubman $20 is which portrait should be used. Most conservatives prefer this over the proposed headshot:
Otherwise, though, there’s functionally zero opposition to replacing Jackson on the $20 on the Right or on the Left. Tubman’s a legit hero of American history. Jackson is a more complicated figure, but even with his positives (which are significant), I don’t believe too many conservatives would mind retiring the one of the founders of the Democratic Party from the nation’s currency.
Maybe if Waldman bothered to do his research, he might have avoided it. And perhaps if the Washington Post’s editors actually engaged with conservatives — or read their own paper — they might have smelled this effluvium before it went into print.