We’ve spoken about Ta-nehisi Coates a few times previously. Widely considered to be the voice of the Social Justice Warriors, the author of Between the World and Me seems to be the go-to philosopher of everyone from the Black Lives Matter movement to the most hard core liberal enclaves of the media. Given how poorly Bernie Sanders has been doing with black voters in recent polls, it’s no shock that Coates might be rushing to the defense of Hillary Clinton as she struggles to stay to the left of the Vermont socialist. And true to form, he seems to be doing just that this week. But what will he hit Sanders on? Gun control? The lack of racial diversity in Vermont?
Nope. Slavery reparations. (Yahoo News)
Last week Bernie Sanders was asked whether he was in favor of “reparations for slavery.” It is worth considering Sanders’s response in full:
No, I don’t think so. First of all, its likelihood of getting through Congress is nil. Second of all, I think it would be very divisive. The real issue is when we look at the poverty rate among the African American community, when we look at the high unemployment rate within the African American community, we have a lot of work to do.
Does the answer Sanders gave sound even remotely crazy? It’s not that strongly held ideals aren’t worth pursuing even when the outcome is uncertain, but leaders have to prioritize the expenditure of their political capital. And if you click through and read the rest of Bernie’s answer, the layman might think it sounds pretty reasonable for a liberal (or socialist) audience. He’s talking about jobs, and healthcare and equality of opportunity, education and a raft of issues which one might suspect are of interest to minority voters.
Not good enough for Coates, though.
Sanders is a lot of things, many of them good. But he is not the candidate of moderation and unification, so much as the candidate of partisanship and radicalism. There is neither insult nor accolade in this. John Brown was radical and divisive. So was Eric Robert Rudolph. Our current sprawling megapolis of prisons was a bipartisan achievement. Obamacare was not. Sometimes the moral course lies within the politically possible, and sometimes the moral course lies outside of the politically possible. One of the great functions of radical candidates is to war against equivocators and opportunists who conflate these two things. Radicals expand the political imagination and, hopefully, prevent incrementalism from becoming a virtue.
That’s one impressive bowl of word salad, but the bottom line seems to be that Sanders isn’t willing to stand up to the man even when the odds seem long. Fair enough, I suppose, assuming that’s one of your top five agenda items. But has anyone bothered to ask Hillary Clinton where she stands on the subject? I don’t mean what she would say if you asked her today, because when she’s trailing Bernie in New Hampshire by nearly 30 points she’ll probably agree to just about anything to try to lock up the black vote. I mean, what has she said in the past? For example, what did she say when she was asked this exact question during her 2000 Senate bid?
Q: Will you support reparations for African-Americans?
CLINTON: We have mental, emotional and psychological reparations to pay first. We have to admit that we haven’t always treated people in our own country fairly. We have some issues that we have to address when it comes to racial justice right now. I’m willing to work hard to be a strong advocate for Civil Rights and human rights here at home and around the world. I want to do everything I can to make sure that the programs and policies that have helped generations of African-Americans have a better life in this country continue. I think we should be focused on the present and on the future. We owe an apology to African-Americans for hundreds of years of slavery.
It’s worth keeping in mind that this interview was done while she was running against Rick Lazio. It was a race she couldn’t possibly lose, so she was feeling pretty free and easy, able to toss out some answers with at least some degree of honesty without worrying about any electoral repercussions. And her answer was as close to a clear and unequivocal “no” as you’ll ever get from a politician. In fact, she was talking about pretty much the same things that Bernie Sanders is going on about today.
I wonder if Mr. Coates will ask these same questions of Hillary Clinton before the voting begins? Just between you, me and the barn door, I’m not holding my breath.