Today, Senator Cory Booker, one of the many Democrats running for president, announced legislation that would “form a commission to recommend reparations for slavery.” According to Booker, “This bill is a way of addressing head-on the persistence of racism, white supremacy, and implicit racial bias in our country. It will bring together the best minds to study the issue and propose solutions that will finally begin to right the economic scales of past harms and make sure we are a country where all dignity and humanity is affirmed.”
Spoiler alert, Senator Booker: It won’t solve any problems. It won’t satisfy anyone. What exactly do proponents of slavery reparations believe that they will do that affirmative action policies in education, employment, awarding of government contracts, etc., etc. couldn’t? If the election of Barack Obama to the highest office in the land (despite his radicalism and lack of qualifications) wasn’t proof that we, as a nation, have moved far beyond the days of slavery, then what will? A check? For how much? Will we finally be able to put an end to affirmative action policies? Of course not, that’s not the point.
Ben Shapiro has previously noted that just the question of how reparations would be implemented is in itself something proponents of reparations can’t answer with unity. So, it’s safe to say that reparations would not be a cure-all to right the wrongs of the past and put slavery behind us once and for all, but just another wealth redistribution program that would precede another, and another, and another to solve something that, in the eyes of those pushing for it, will never actually be fixed to satisfaction.
Of course, my real question is not what Booker thinks reparations will accomplish (since we all know they won’t accomplish anything) but why this is becoming a litmus test for 2020 Democrats. Most of the 2020 Democrats who attended Al Sharpton’s National Action Network convention in New York City last week expressed support for the commission Booker’s legislation aims to create. This kind of thing may play well to African-American Democrats, but opposition to slavery reparations has been strong and consistent over the years, with roughly 7 in 10 Americans opposing them. With such strong opposition to reparations, supporting them is clearly not a winning message in the 2020 general election.
This could be garden-variety pandering to the Al Sharpton wing of the Democratic Party, or it could be pandering to the youth vote in the primary. While recent polls show overwhelming opposition to reparation, younger Americans are more open to reparations than older Americans. While most age groups 35 and older oppose reparations by 70 percent or more, millennials are more divided, with 40 percent in favor, 49 percent opposed, and 11 percent unsure.
If history is any indication, minority voters will support minority candidates in a Democrat Party primary, so it’s possible that white candidates like Elizabeth Warren and Beto O’Rourke are looking to siphon minority support from their minority opponents. Whatever their calculus is, between reparations, the Green New Deal, Medicare for All, abolishing ICE, etc., etc., 2020 Democrats are embracing policies that aren’t going to sit well in the general election. With the Trump economy as strong as it is, it’s getting harder to see how Democrats are going to appeal to the middle after pivoting so far to the left.
Matt Margolis is the author of The Scandalous Presidency of Barack Obama and the bestselling The Worst President in History: The Legacy of Barack Obama. His new book, Trumping Obama: How President Trump Saved Us From Barack Obama’s Legacy, will be published in 2019. You can follow Matt on Twitter @MattMargolis