Monday, February 3, 2020

Does Obama Get Slave Reparations?

Slave Reparations were all the rage on the campaign trail just a few months ago.   What happened?

Today are the Iowa caucuses, and we'll get to see exactly how far to the left Iowans are willing to go.  In addition to issues like free college, student loan forgiveness, medicare-for-all, open borders, abolishing the ICE, is the issue of slave reparations, which has been raised many times in the past, but usually just as quickly discarded.

Again, I am in favor of slave reparations for anyone enslaved before 1865 who is still alive today.  Reparations for grandchildren, great-grandchildren, or great-great-grandchildren is another issue entirely.   There has to be some sort of generational limitation on injustice, otherwise we could spend the rest of eternity tracking down every sort of injustice that has happened to any ancestor, at any time in the past.   Because if you look at history, there are a lot of injustices that have happened.

But this got me thinking - which is always a dangerous thing - whether President Obama would be eligible for slave reparations.

His Father was black - from Africa, and a Muslim to boot (which the right reminds us of at every opportunity).   That's about as black as you can get.

His Mother was white and from Kansas - and raised Obama in Hawaii, where he learned to surf.  That's about as white as you can get.

He's half-white, half-black - does this mean he gets half reparations?  There is also the little problem that his ancestry doesn't appear to actually include any slaves, since his father was from Africa, and not descended from American slave stock.   So does this mean he gets nothing?

This is more complicated than it first looks.  Some are arguing that "reparations" should not just be for slavery, but to compensate for disparate incomes between blacks and whites, as well as for decades of discrimination.   But even that begs the question - should Obama get paid?   I mean, after all, he is a millionaire many times over, and achieved the highest office in the land.  Kind of hard to say you've been discriminated against, when you are elected President of the United States.

But some try.  Representative Omar from Minnesota, for example, decries discrimination in the USA against Muslims and immigrants.  Yet she immigrated here from Somalia and found acceptance and election to one of the highest offices in the land.   If I went to Somalia, not only would I not be welcomed with open arms, or elected to office, my life expectancy could be measured in minutes.  Ms. Omar seems to forget that salient point.

So how does this reparations thing work, then?   Short answer:  It doesn't.   If we hand out money to people based on the color of their skin alone, we then have to have some sort of standard as to what it means to be black, and then we go down the ugly road of people having to present documentation to prove that at least one ancestor is black - or what exactly is the standard?   We could look to the KKK and the Nazi party here for guidance, as they have a whole host of standards in this regard.   It gets ugly rather quickly, and odious terms like "Mulatto" and "Octaroon" start getting bandied about.

And then it begs the question, do people have to show some sort of slave ancestry, and if so, to what extent?   If you are descended from slaves on both sides of your family, do you get the full amount, or if only half of your family has slave ancestry, do you get half?   Or, like Obama, if no ancestry, do you get nothing?   I am not being facetious here, this sort of thing gets messy in a real hurry.  What happens when you have someone like Elizabeth Warren come along and claim slave ancestry - but such a de minimus amount?   Yes, you would have to set up some sort of odious race-test, and we shouldn't be doing race tests - that's what racists do.

If we are compensating people for years of discrimination, then it begs the question - do we compensate other people who were discriminated against as well?   What about Hispanics?  The Native Americans?   Italians and Irish?  Jews?  The gays?  What about women?   Hoo-boy, that last one would be a whopper of a check to write - women of all races have faced harsh treatment since time began - as well as discrimination that goes on even today.   Gee, this sounded so simple, but gets complex.

On the flip side of the coin, it is true that white people (whatever that means) got some sort of advantage out of slavery that trickles down to today?   Since Obama is half-white, does this mean he has to pay slave reparations to himself?

This is an interesting argument, but one that I think falls flat.  Maybe there is someone alive today who can point to a continuous chain of money - the so-called "money batons" that gave them some sort of advantage in life, based on their distant ancestor's enslavement of black people.   The problem is, the further you go down the ancestral line, the more diminished this advantage becomes.  And in some instances, the advantage may be wiped out by an intermediary ancestor who squanders whatever monetary advantage they achieved through enslavement.

My own ancestry is a case in point.  My Father's side of the family are relatively recent immigrants.  His Dad was either of Irish or Scottish descent (something disputed at every family reunion) and his Mother descended from Swiss servants who served on the Steinway estate.  No slave-holders on his side of the family at all.  In fact, they came from poor stock, and worked their way to what modest success they achieved.   When people put up signs saying "No Irish Allowed!" part of my family decided that they were Scottish, instead.   Even white people are discriminated against.

My Mother's side of the family is more complicated.   Her Father's family is descended from British stock who settled in Long Island - the Platts and the Wiggins.  No indication of slave-holding or slave-dealing here, and in fact, it was illegal in New York at the time.  Her grandfather committed suicide, leaving the family destitute, so her grandmother had to start a business to keep the family afloat.   Her dad - my grandfather - worked his way through City College and law school to become a fairly successful lawyer.   What "money batons" were generated through this were not the result of owning slaves, anywhere in their heritage.

Now, her Mother's family - that's another story.  They do have a slave-owner in their past, but he forgot to leave any "money batons" for his descendants.  Colonel Robert Thompson was a plantation owner in Alabama, according to family folklore (which can be an unreliable source of data - ask Elizabeth Warren!).   He fought in the Civil War - on the wrong side, of course.   And let's be clear about this - there was a right side and a wrong side in the Civil War.  I don't want to hear any nonsense about "Heritage" or "States Rights" - it was all about slavery and slavery was wrong.

He lost the war and pretty much lost everything.  His plantation was in ruins and his slaves were emancipated.  He decided to move to Texas and start a new life.  My racist Grandmother said that his former slaves followed him to Texas, as they loved him so much.  I sincerely doubt that - again, family folklore.  More likely, they followed him as staying behind without the protection of a white man meant they would fall victim to the "night riders" of the KKK.   A known evil is better than an unknown one.  So they stuck with him.

He had a son, Robert Thompson, Jr. who went to college and got a degree in Civil Engineering and became the road commissioner in Texas, laying out all the roads that today would be called "blue highways" - before the Interstate system.  Again, family folklore, but it is said he helped found the Civil Engineering department at the University of Texas at Austin.  I can find nothing online to verify that.

Did Robert Thompson Jr. get an advantage from slavery?   You could argue that he could afford to go to college because his father had money - but much of that wealth was squandered in the war.  Whatever the case, his daughter ended up marrying my Grandfather, who was a penniless pilot-in-training during World War I who she met when he was training in Texas.   It is not clear that she received any sort of "dowry" or money from her father - the bulk of my Grandfather's wealth was earned by his tenure representing Citibank as a lawyer.

So is there a money baton here?  If so, it is an awfully small one, which one expects when generations propagate. Whatever wealth there was, was diluted over the years by children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.   Bear in mind those generations often had four or more children - sometimes as many as a dozen.   Money gets divided up pretty quickly, which is why it is never smart to count on an inheritance.

The real "money baton" that anyone in my family got, was a baton of values.  My Grandfather worked his way through law school and became wealthy by dint of his own labor.  His Mother valued education and instilled this in all her children, who all went on to get college degrees in an era where it was rare to do so - particularly for people from the lower classes.   Similarly, the wealth of Robert Thompson Jr. was due to his work as a civil engineer - the best "gift" his father gave him was to instill the value of education in him.

Values matter more than money. You see all the time how lottery winners, rock stars, and professional athletes squander millions of dollars in a short period of time because they were not taught to value money or how to manage it.  But more than that, you see in families and ethnic groups that are successful, a valuation of education and intellectualism.   Not surprisingly, families and groups that adopt criminality as a cultural value, tend not to do as well - and yet today, there are many on the Left who argue we need to "embrace" this as a cultural value.  It is not.

There are minority groups who are routinely pilloried for having positive cultural values.  Asians and Jews are stereotyped as being smart and wealthy - as if this was some sort of bad thing.  Usually the people making these sort of slurs, argue that these groups have some sort of inside advantage - a cabal that is controlling everything from behind the scenes.  Such is not the case, however.

If you come from a family that values education, intellectualism, art, culture, hard work, and thrift, odds are, you will succeed in life.  Isn't it funny how that works?   Stereotypes are never accurate, of course.  I once worked for a Jewish gentleman who came from a poor family - take that, stereotypes!  But his family valued intellect and education.  He was beat up every day on his way to technical high school, not only because of antisemitism, but because he was trying to better himself, and the crabs in the bucket don't like that.  But he persevered and became a successful lawyer and built up his own practice and went from rags-to-riches.  Hmmmm... does he have to pay reparations?  None of his ancestors owned slaves.

Just my opinion, but I think values and not "money batons" are what are to blame for the disparity of incomes in different minority groups.  When you grow up in a ghetto where smart kids are punished and education is not valued (and anyone who tries to get ahead is accused of "acting white") then your outcome in life might be preordained - although some escape this trap.  If you grow up in a family that expects you to get good grades, go to college (even if it is difficult to do so), to save money rather than spend it on flashy things, and to value intellect, talent, ability and hard work, well, your future is a lot brighter.

The best "baton" my parents handed off to me was the expectation that I would excel.  I grew up in a house full of books, and education was highly valued.  We were expected to go to college and get good jobs - an expectation fueled in part by their understanding that our position on the social ladder was tenuous as best - both sides of our family were only a generation or two removed from abject poverty.

So how does "reparations" play into that mixture of values?  To some extent it sabotages them, entirely. To even discuss this as a real thing is only to perpetuate the notion that hard work and achievement are for chumps - why bother when you can just wait for your reparation check?  It feeds into the mentality that we are all "due" something from society, even if what is "due" is far more than we paid in.

It also raises the ugly question as to whether these new "money batons" will be passed on.  Hand someone a big check, and likely they will spend it - again, values are more important than money, and if someone who has no money values is handed money, it evaporates pretty quickly, which is why most con artists target the poor, and most victims of con artists are poor or end up so.   Why do you think the check-cashing stores are in the poor neighborhoods?   And no, "banks are mean" isn't the right answer.

If we hand out "reparation" checks today, how fair is this to the next generation who may see nothing from it?   What about the previous generation - and the ones before that - who saw even worse treatment or indeed, even actual slavery?   How is handing money to their distant descendants making that right?

Of course, the answer is, it isn't and it wasn't meant to.  And it will never happen, in our lifetime or the next.   It is just a craven move by politicians to "shout out" to a minority group to get them to vote, by literally buying votes.   Between that an student loan forgiveness, free college, and a host of other handouts, the Democrats hope to cobble together a coalition to win back power.  When the checks are not forthcoming, people may get upset.

Well, at least some Democrats hope to win back power this way.  Others are taking a more realistic view, and realize these "callouts" to minority groups are backfiring.  It is just assumed that "Latinos" and "Hispanics" are all one homogeneous group of Spanish-speaking people who all have the same cultural values and the same issues at stake.   A candidate shows up at a rally, speaks a few sentences in mangled Spanglish (something now called "Hispandering") and promises to abolish ICE and open the borders.   Problem is, not all "Hispanic" people feel this way, and in fact, they comprise a number of disparate groups.

Many are devout Catholics, and calls for transgender restroom abortion rights ring sort of hollow, when the parish Priest is saying something to the contrary (and many Latino immigrants are joining evangelical Protestant churches as well - something that is alarming the Catholic hierarchy).  And many don't feel than unrestricted immigration is the answer to anything - particularly those who came this country legally and followed all the rules.

Identity politics simply don't work - because we can't all be pigeon-holed into identity groups.  Even Obama - particularly Obama - can't be stuffed into any one category.  Even though he was a "community organizer" in Chicago, his background and experiences are completely different than most of the young black people raised in that city.  His children have an even further removed experience as well.

And that is a problem for Democrats.  As black people become more successful, they will migrate toward more middle-class issues, if they already haven't.  Again, many are devout Baptists, and the minister rails against many of the same issues the Democrats embrace - Abortion and gay marriage, for example.   This is a lot trickier than it looks.

So, what is the answer for the Democrats?  Can they stitch together a coalition of disparate minority groups - teacher's unions, gays, Hispanics, blacks, Asians, or whatever - into a winning majority? History has shown that "coalition" governments are rarely stable. And Hillary's "Better Together" election strategy fell flat outside of coastal liberal strongholds.

Just a crazy thought, but in order to win elections, you have to win a majority of the vote - not just the Presidency, but the States as well. The Electoral College isn't some holdover from the 19th Century, but a mechanism designed to prevent populous states from steamrolling less populous ones.  It worked as it was designed to.  Embracing identity politics and moronic issues like "slave reparations" - and other policies that have no chance in hell of being enacted will just insure more defeats.  The middle-of-the-road voter has no interest in Leftist politics, and even discussing these sort of things gives the GOP all the ammunition it needs to win.  The eventual candidate can try to "pivot toward the center" to win the general election, but they've already said radical things during the primaries that will come back to haunt them.

The Republicans will paint the Democratic party as a party of socialist and even communist ideals.   And the Democrats are handing them a paintbrush - and buying the paint as well!