It’s “Al Sharpton Primary” week in New York City, and many of the 2020 Democratic candidates for president have lined up to kiss the reverend’s ring at the annual National Action Network convention.

One in particular is Beto O’Rourke, failed candidate for U.S. Senate. In a flip flop from his earlier positions on the reparations issue, the former El Paso Congressman told the crowd in attendance Wednesday he’d be on board with signing a proposed reparations bill:

Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke appeared Wednesday to back off his initial opposition to slavery reparations, saying he would support a bill in Congress to study and consider the payments.

[…]

Asked by Sharpton if he would back a measure introduced by Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a fellow Texan, O’Rourke answered, “absolutely I would sign that into law.”

The comments by O’Rourke represent an apparent shift on the issue for the White House contender.

Campaigning in Iowa last month, O’Rourke indicated he was not in favor of traditional reparations but stressed that it was crucial for the nation to confront the truth of how black people have been treated in America and that systematic racism exists in the country.

And a few days later, campaigning in New Hampshire, O’Rourke said: “I don’t believe… that [reparations] should be the primary or initial focus of the conversation.”

He explained his newfound support at the convention by dissecting the word “reparations” and suggesting that Americans don’t fully understand what the civil rights movement is about:

Later, O’Rourke said that he’d discussed the issue with Brian Stevenson, the executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative. “Foundational to reparations is the word repair, foundational to repair is the truth,” O’Rourke said.

“Until all Americans understand that civil rights” also involves “the injustices that have been visited and continue to be visited on people, we will never get the change that we need to live up to the promise of this country. So absolutely I would sign that into law,” he said.

Watch video of O’Rourke’s remarks on the issue below:

Sen. John Cornyn (TX) responded to O’Rourke’s pandering change of heart by noting that it’s unfair to make today’s taxpayers pay for something they didn’t do:

“There is no question that slavery is a scar on our history and a terrible, well, you could call it a sin that America engaged in back at our country’s founding,” he told Texas reporters on a weekly call. “But we’ve come a long, long way, obviously. And I don’t see the fundamental fairness in having taxpayers today pay for mistakes that were committed 200 years ago. This strikes me more as a way to try to appeal to the energized base of the Democratic Party rather than a serious effort to deal with racial inequality or the legacy of slavery.”

Legal Insurrection’s Professor Jacobson made similar points in his 2014 response to Ta-Nehisi Coates’s 15,000+ word piece advocating for reparations:

If you can’t answer the question of why a Vietnamese boat person has to pay reparations for the conduct of white plantation owners more than a century earlier, then you can’t make the argument.

If you can’t answer the question of why two successful black doctors living in a fashionable suburb should get reparations paid for by the white children of Appalachia, then you can’t make the argument.

If you can’t answer the question of why the adult black recent immigrant from Paris should be pay or be paid reparations based on the color of his skin for crimes committed in a land he did not grow up in, then you can’t make the argument.

[…]

And as if we have not thrown trillions at the problem, and sullied ourselves with engaging in more racism to remedy past racism.

Reparations is becoming a litmus test of sorts for the Democratic candidates. While they may be trying to appease their base voters in order to win their primary votes, expect a pivot to a more nuanced position from the eventual nominee. As I’ve written before on this topic, polling shows the idea is deeply unpopular with the American people, and for good reason.

–Stacey Matthews has also written under the pseudonym “Sister Toldjah” and can be reached via Twitter.–

 
 
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