Ten years ago I wrote this piece for City Journal pronouncing slavery reparations dead as a national cause. Now, as Astead W. Herndon reports in the New York Times, presidential candidates are getting behind the word: Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) affirmed her support, and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) “also said she supported reparations for black Americans impacted by slavery — a policy that experts say could cost several trillion dollars, and one that Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and many top Democrats have not supported.” Did I speak too soon?
One complication is that while candidates have begun using the word, it’s often to describe policies that wouldn’t fit the definition accepted up to now. For example, as I noted in the City Journal piece, beginning in the 1960s many programs were enacted aiding poor persons of all races, often conceptualized and argued for as an alternative to more explicit race-based reparations. Some of the candidates who now describe themselves as being for reparations are vague about whether they intend to go beyond support for new programs that are formally race-neutral. [Jeff Stein, Washington Post]