Author and activist Marianne Williamson is running for the Democratic presidential nomination. Her big campaign issue is the demand to pay reparations.

The notion of paying reparations to blacks has been around for a while, but really moved to the center because of the writings of liberal darling Ta-Nehisi Coates. I addressed the multitude of problems with reparations in 2014, when Coates made a splash on the issue with an article in The Atlantic. I wrote, The dead-end Case for Reparations:

The 15,000+ word essay by Ta-Nehisi Coates in The Atlantic, The Case for Reparations, is getting completely predictable reactions.

It’s looooong, which gives it a perceived weight which just is not there.

In fact, there’s not much new there, except for historical anecdotes shedding detail but not light on what we already knew to be the history of slavery, segregation and discrimination….

Coates never gives the answer as to who gets what and how.

And that’s ultimately the problem with reparations arguments that are not based upon the people causing the harm paying the people directly harmed by specific conduct soon after the conduct is remedied.

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 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 what about the increasing number of children of mixed race?

And I could go on and on.

Ultimately, Coates’ argument is a dead end.

Reparations is the most perfect social justice – identity politics issue, but as Nate Silver noted last February, it’s a non-starter politically outside the Democratic Party, which is why even Democrat candidates who embrace the idea are cautious about it:

Reparations, along with abolishing ICE, are very unpopular. This was not surprising to me, which is why I was surprised when I first saw the headline, “2020 Democrats Embrace Race-Conscious Policies, Including Reparations” in the Times. But the candidates’ actual comments were more in the vein of our first two categories — somewhat vague acknowledgements of the inequality that black Americans face. The challenge for Democratic elected officials, as the party leans into its racial liberalism, will be how to translate the public’s general pro-minority proclivities into policy. I suspect that Democratic presidential candidates will end up pushing policies that limit how aggressive ICE can be and that address the wealth gap between black and whites — but fall short of explicit calls for abolishing ICE or giving reparations.

In early April 2019, Rasmussen reported:

Democrats on Capitol Hill are once again talking about taxpayer-funded reparations as a tangible way to apologize for slavery in this country, but most voters still aren’t buying.

Just 21% of Likely U.S. Voters think U.S. taxpayers should pay reparations to black Americans who can prove they are descended from slaves. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone and online survey finds that 66% are opposed to slavery reparations. Thirteen percent (13%) are undecided.

Support for reparations, not surprisingly, is strongest among liberals.

Amidst the shifting sands of support for reparations, here’s where the Democrat candidates stood as of three weeks ago, according to Axios:

Sen. Cory Booker: Booker introduced a Senate companion version of a House bill by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas.) that would establish a commission to study the impact of slavery and continuing discrimination against black Americans, and make recommendations on reparation proposals for descendants of slaves. Former Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) was first to introduce legislation in 1989;

Sen. Kamala Harris: Harris said in an interview on “The Breakfast Club” in February that she supports government reparations for black Americans. Harris told NPR’s “Morning Edition” last month that the term reparations “means different things to different people,” and that allocating funds for mental health treatment would be one form of reparations.

Sen. Bernie Sanders: In 2016, Sanders was dismissive of reparations, saying, “First of all, its likelihood of getting through Congress is nil. Second of all, I think it would be very divisive.”

  • During an appearance last month on “The View,” Sanders doubled down on his position: “I think that right now, our job is to address the crises facing the American people and our communities, and I think there are better ways to do that than just writing out a check.”
  • However, on April 5, Sanders told Rev. Al Sharpton that, if elected, he would support Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee’s bill, setting up a commission to study reparations. “If the House and Senate pass that bill of course I would sign it … There needs to be a study,” Sanders said the National Action Network conference.

Julián Castro: The former San Antonio mayor and housing secretary under President Obama has arguably been the most vocal candidate on this issue. Castro said he would create a commission to study reparations and determine the best policy proposal.

  • Castro notably took shot at Sanders by name in an interview last month on CNN, saying: “It’s interesting to me that when it comes to ‘Medicare for All,’ health care, you know, the response there has been, ‘We need to write a big check.’ That when it comes to tuition-free or debt-free college, the answer has been that we need to write a big check.”

Sen. Amy Klobuchar: In an interview on NBC’s ‘Meet the Press‘ last month, Klobuchar said: “I believe we have to invest in those communities that have been so hurt by racism. It doesn’t have to be a direct pay for each person, but what we can do is invest in those communities. Acknowledge what’s happened. … Making sure we have that shared dream of opportunity for all Americans.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren: She tweeted in support of Jackson Lee’s bill last month, saying: “Slavery is a stain on America & we need to address it head on. I believe it’s time to start a national, full-blown conversation about reparations. I support the bill in the House to support a congressional panel of experts so that our nation can do what’s right & begin to heal.”

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand: She said at Al Sharpton’s National Action Network’s annual convention last week that she supports legislation to study reparations. “This is a conversation that is long overdue,” she said.

Beto O’Rourke: Like Sanders, O’Rourke has been less enthusiastic about reparations, but said he supports Jackson Lee’s bill.

Marianne Williamson: The best-selling author is the only candidate, despite her long-shot bid, to present a plan with specifics. She proposed $100 billion in reparations or $10 billion a year to be distributed over 10 years for economic and educational projects , Williamson told CNN in January.

Note that Williamson is the most specific and clear in her support for reparations.

In this campaign video, Williamson explains her support for reparations, it’s a parroting of the Coates’ argument:

In this clip, Williamson describes her plan, with $100 billion as a floor:

[Click Image for video]

There is no ceiling to the plan. Her campaign website puts the bill at $200-$500 billion, but Williamson demands reparations “whatever it costs”:

[Click image for video]

And she will be on stage for the Democratic primary debates, having qualified through the donation process. Politico reports:

Author and lecturer Marianne Williamson has hit the 65,000-donor threshold set by the Democratic National Committee for the upcoming 2020 debates, her campaign announced Thursday.

Her announcement boasted that her campaign contributions came from more than 200 people in each of 43 states, which she said “far outpaces the DNC requirement of 200 people in 20 states,” referring to the Democratic National Committee.

“Ours has been — and will continue to be — a campaign of ideas that people care about and that they are willing to stand behind. It takes a certain kind of audacity to take a stand for something truly new,” Williamson said in her emailed announcement. “Thank you to those of you who have seen the possibility of a new American beginning and have been willing to invest in its formation. What has occurred here is the proverbial ‘end of the beginning,’ and now the next phase of our work begins.”

In order to qualify under DNC rules, a candidate must either score at least 1 percent in three qualifying polls or cross a 65,000-donor threshold, with at least 200 donors in 20 states. The debates are scheduled for back-to-back nights in June in Miami and July in Detroit.

But because there are 20 slots on the debate stage, and 21 Democrats have already launched campaigns, it is possible candidates might need to meet both requirements before they can appear.

Still yet to qualify under either criteria are Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.); Miramar, Fla., Mayor Wayne Messam; and Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.). Montana Gov. Steve Bullock and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio are still weighing runs.

Assuming Williamson is on stage, as appears likely at this point, it means reparations will be front and center. Other Democrats will not be able to avoid or evade the issue.

Having Williamson pushing her signature reparations issue during the debates will force at least some leading Democrats to move further left on reparations.


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