Vote Reparations

Vote reparations are the newest idea from the loony left that every conservative is talking about. What is vote reparations? We’ll let Brandon Hasbrouck explain in his article in the Nation.

Black votes in this country are worth less than white votes. Joe Biden won the Electoral College because Black voters in Atlanta, Detroit, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia turned out in significant numbers. But even with overwhelming Black support—94 percent of Detroit voted for Biden!—the outcomes in Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania were worryingly close.

We’ll skip over the very real possibility that those close votes were the result of fraud for the sake of the argument. 

One core problem is the Electoral College. Wyoming, which has just 580,000 residents and is 93 percent white, gets three electors because of its two senators and one representative in the House. By comparison, Georgia’s Fifth Congressional District—which includes Atlanta, has 710,000 residents, and is 58 percent Black—has no dedicated electors or senators and can only occasionally overcome the mostly white and conservative votes from elsewhere in the state. This devaluation of Black votes allows our political system to ignore Black lives, and the consequences are devastating. Unequal representation has led to unequal health care outcomes, which the Covid-19 pandemic has only worsened. Without sufficient voting power, Black communities receive substandard education, and politicians are free to appoint judges who sanction mass incarcerationabusive policing, and electoral disenfranchisement.

This is all by design. The Constitution’s framers set up the Electoral College to protect the interests of slave states. Along with the Senate, the Electoral College was critical in the endurance of slavery and its continuation by other means. Abolishing this system would mean that ballots cast by Black voters—or any voters, for that matter—would count the same.

But there’s another way to undo the damage of the Electoral College and other structurally racist political institutions: We can implement vote reparations by double-counting ballots cast by all Black residents. The poisonous legacy of slavery applies to Black people regardless of when we or our ancestors arrived in this country. Vote reparations should also extend to Native Americans. Slavery is rightly called America’s original sin, but so too was the United States’ genocidal seizure of land from its original inhabitants. Various legal forms of disenfranchisement have applied to them. It wasn’t until 1962 that all Native Americans were allowed to vote, and even then they faced—and still face—electoral obstacles. These are not the only examples of American oppression; we should include in vote reparations others who have suffered similar disenfranchisement.

Basically, the idea that Blacks, and perhaps other people who have suffered from past and present discrimination should get two votes to make up for past wrongs. 

There is a lot to object to in this idea, not least of which is the old maxim that two wrongs do not make a right. You cannot remedy injustice against one group by practicing injustice against the other. I will have more to say about that in a moment, but first, I think it is worth observing that the whole idea of vote reparations is based on a false premise, the idea that the constitution and particularly the electoral college were designed to perpetuate slavery. Logically, if the premise is false, the conclusion must also be false.

Contrary to what the architects of the 1619 Project contend, the constitution was not designed to perpetuate slavery. The framers of the constitution wanted to create a republican government that would preserve liberty for themselves and their descendants. The founding fathers drew from many sources, both ancient and modern for inspiration, including the greatest political philosophers throughout history, particularly Aristotle, Polybius, John Locke, Edmund Burke, and Montesquieu. These thinkers generally believed that the best way to preserve liberty was to create a mixed government, that is, a government that included elements of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy, all in balance with a separation of powers. The framers of the constitution wanted a system that was somewhat democratic, but not too democratic, so they included undemocratic features, like the Electoral College into the constitution. The founding fathers did not want the president to be elected by the people, the people might not know the candidates very well. They wanted the president to be elected by representatives of the people, selected by the state legislatures. None of this had anything to do with slavery. In fact, the Constitution, and especially the Declaration of Independence, with its declaration that all men are created equal had rather a corrosive effect on the institution of slavery. 

Getting back to the subject of vote reparations, then. Aside from the obvious injustice of awarding differing numbers of votes based on race and color, the problem I have with this sort of restorative justice is that I wonder when does it all end. At what point are the previously oppressed and the previous oppressors even? If we embark on a policy of privileging the descendants of the oppressed at the expense of the descendants of the oppressors? If Blacks get reparations paid by Whites today, do Whites have a claim on reparations a hundred years from now based on the oppression their ancestors endured at the hands of privileged Blacks? 

It may seem ludicrous to consider Whites being oppressed by Blacks today, but how do people like Mr. Hasbrouck think Whites are going to react when they see their Black neighbors getting two votes? Probably the same way they think about any government policy that shows preference to Blacks at the expense of Whites. Few Whites are going to simply shrug their shoulders and say, well they deserve the extra votes because our grandfathers oppressed their grandfathers. The Whites are inevitably going to feel discriminated against, with some justification. Dismissing their just grievances as simply as more racism will only make them angrier. 

So, where does it end? Do we simply continue on an endless cycle of discrimination, flipping back and forth between the races, or do we put an end to discrimination and treat everyone as equal? Do we continually revisit the injustices of the past to foster an endless sense of grievance or do we move forward into a brighter future? Vote Reparations would only take us back to an endless pattern of racism today, racism tomorrow, and racism forever. I think it is better to aim for a future of liberty and equality. 

 

Going Bourbon

After the end of the Napoleonic Wars and the exile of Napoleon in 1815, the victorious allies decided to restore the Bourbons to the throne of France. They didn’t last very long. Somehow, neither brother of the executed Louis XVI ever stopped to wonder why the French people had  begun the French Revolution. The restored monarchy was supposed to be a constitutional monarchy but the last two Bourbons insisted on ruling as absolute monarchs and enacted the same sorts of policies that had gotten them overthrown the first time. By 1830, the French had had enough. Charles X was obliged to abdicate and leave the country. Years later, in 1871, after the disaster of the Franco-Prussian War and the overthrow of Louis Napoleon III (the famous Napoleon’s nephew), the French were once again called to create a new government. There was some talk of restoring the Bourbons. They sent emissaries to Charles X’s grandson Henry who responded that he would be delighted to come back to France and be king, as long as they forgot all that silly talk about constitutions and the rights of man. The French had had their fill of autocratic kings and emperors and opted to create the Third Republic. Talleyrand said that the Bourbons had “learned nothing and forgotten nothing”. It didn’t occur to them that they ought to change with the times.

Mark Levin warned that President Obama might go “full Mussolini” after the election, but I think there might be a danger of his going full Bourbon, doubling down on the sort of policies that have caused such enormous losses for the Democrats in 2010 and 2014, especially if he follows the advice that Katrina vanden Heuvel gave in this article in The Nation.

If I were advising the White House right now, I would encourage President Obama to take advantage of the end of this year’s election cycle—the next fifty or so days—to immediately try to change the subject, in a big way.

The Obama administration should act right away to use its executive powers to take steps to deal with long-ignored issues that need to be dealt with for the good of the nation.

This cannot be done quietly. To change the media narrative, issues acted upon will have to be controversial enough to dominate the news. President Obama should embrace good progressive public policy while expecting—indeed, hoping for—a massive outcry from the wing-nut section of the GOP.

Controversy is not the enemy here. And issue clarity—or issue polarization—can be helpful, if the administration seizes the initiative and chooses public policy issues on which to fight.

The president should go big right now, undertaking a quick series of high-profile executive actions on issues that the Republican House has not acted upon, and will never pass. President Obama should be very visible, with photo ops and speeches and social media and grassroots backup and appearances on Between Two Ferns, moving hard and fast from one executive action to the next.

Here are a few suggestions. (And I’m sure people as smart as John Podesta and David Axelrod can think of a couple more.) Whatever is decided, act big—and act fast.

Why not draw the line in the sand this week?

She then gives a list of issues Obama should act upon, with  basically the same sort of policies that caused the catastrophic losses for the Democrats this week.

1. Start with serious immigration reform. Announce a serious executive action, to make up for the fact that Beltway Republicans will not act on this critical issue.

Go to the South Valley of Texas and/or the Arizona border, and make appearances with some of the little girls and boys who are trying to come to the United States to avoid their dangerous, hard-scrabble lives in Honduras and Guatemala.

Pick a fight with Rick Perry and/or Jan Brewer, if need be, and be glad that you’re in a high-profile fight with them. Let the right-wing come unglued—which they will!—and don’t back down when Steve King and Louie Gohmert and Ted Cruz and Sarah Palin start calling for impeachment. Not only will the wing nuts threaten impeachment over perfectly legal executive actions, and their actions dominate the airwaves, it will turn off independents and moderates, and create a no-win situation that leaves most of the Republican presidential candidates twisting in the wind. (Remember: they can’t get sixty-seven pro-impeachment votes in the Senate, any more than they could when Bill Clinton was impeached—and the foolish, overwrought attacks on Clinton helped clarify to most Americans that the GOP was the big problem in DC.)

Americans hate the idea of amnesty for illegal immigrants. They hate politicians who try to grant amnesty for illegal immigrants. This is one issue that really, really hurt the Democrats this election cycle. Americans do not hate the idea of amnesty because we are a bunch of racists. We welcome legal immigrants. The trouble with amnesty is that most Americans do not believe that someone who cuts ahead in line should be rewarded for their behavior. It seems unfair to the people who filled out all the paperwork and waited patiently in line. If the Republicans decide to impeach Obama over this, it will not be a repeat of the impeachment of Bill Clinton. Obama’s supporters will not be able to dismiss this as a matter of personal peccadilloes. This will be a president trying to push policies by executive order that the majority of the American people reject. I think that even a few Senate Democrats might go along with taking some action to stop Obama from granting amnesty through executive order, even if to save their party from another defeat.

2. For the next two years, do everything you can to create a climate legacy that will stand the test of time—a legacy that will look better and better as the decades go by, and the atmosphere heats up more and more.

Cancel the Keystone XL Pipeline before the right wing can draw a breath after your immigration actions. Then, Mr. President, elevate climate change as an issue, the way you took on healthcare reform (only without bothering to try to pass anything through John Boehner’s House).

Meet with China and India on climate issues, before the next round of global climate meetings. Set aside big chunks of public land and ocean, and hold photo ops in spectacular natural settings as you do so—very few executive acts are so popular with most of the public.

Host a national teach-in with real climate scientists, on C-Span, and use it to drive a nail in the coffin of the fake, corporate-funded, “climate denial” science.

Pull together a meeting of coastal mayors to talk about what “resilience” steps to take to prepare for the next Superstorm Sandy—this is not only necessary, it’s a good way to raise the issue of needed infrastructure spending.

Take the climate disruption issue head-on, and make it part of the Obama legacy. No previous leaders have met the challenge of global warming, a threat that affects both national and world security. President Obama could be the first to take it on. Future generations will thank him.

Global Warming/Climate Change is at the bottom of issues the American people are worried about right now. If President Obama follows this advice he will be easily caricatured as a President bent on destroying the US economy. I should add that China and India are not going to cooperate in destroying their own economies and condemn their people to perpetual poverty just so Obama can have a climate legacy.

4. Go up to the edge of normalizing relations with Cuba. Send Attorney General Eric Holder down to Havana to work out the details.

I understand that current law prevents a president from fully normalizing relations with Cuba, but there are a series of executive actions that a president could take that would weaken the embargo, increase American prestige in this hemisphere, and help stabilize working relationships with Cuba on a series of bilateral issues.

Even better, President Obama can take these executive actions just before the entire hemisphere meets at the Summit of the Americas in Panama in May, actions that will enhance his reputation—and America’s reputation—across Latin America.

What happened to 3? This isn’t really a bad idea and we should be prepared for a post-Castro Cuba. I don’t think there are many Americans concerned with Cuba right now.

5. Use changing national attitudes on marijuana to weaken the wasteful and ineffective war on drugs. Better yet, use presidential executive power to weaken our harsh and racist criminal injustice system.

Reclassify marijuana as a less-dangerous drug. Commute sentences of nonviolent pot prisoners (a disproportionate number of them young African-Americans!).

Appoint a blue-ribbon presidential commission on drug reform and criminal justice reform, with a mandate to report back quickly on issues from marijuana legalization to curbing police brutality to eliminating three-strikes-and-you’re-out policies to reforming harsh sentencing to ending the militarization and weaponization of local and state police departments to stop and frisk to racial profiling.

Again not an altogether bad idea, but this really should be a state and local affair. There is no reason the President couldn’t work with Congress on this issue, except, of course, that Obama doesn’t play well with others.

6. Nominate Tom Harkin to the Federal Reserve Board.

Why?

7. In the proud tradition of Franklin Roosevelt, issue a Good Jobs Executive Order that would reward companies that pay their workers a living wage, allow them a voice at the workplace without having to go on strike, adhere to federal workplace safety and fair labor standards and limit the pay of their chief executives to some reasonable ratio to that of their average workers.

The companies most likely to be rewarded would be those with connections in Washington. Just what we need, more crony capitalism.

8. Nominate a diverse set of progressives to fill every judicial vacancy at every level, and then make this a huge national throwdown fight when they are not approved. Given the poor public view of the runaway, activist, Citizens United–tainted Supreme Court, judges could become one of the big issues of the 2016 campaign.

I bet it would become a big issue, Obama stacking the courts with extreme progressive ideologues to fundamentally change the country even after his term ends. One of the reasons so many people are coming to dislike this president and progressives generally is their view that the constitution is more of a guideline than an actual set of rules for the government.

I think that it could rightly be said of Katrina vandel Heuvel that like the Bourbons, she has learned nothing and forgotten nothing about the experience of the recent election. Let’s hope that Obama, unlike the Bourbons can learn from experience.

Maybe we will.
Maybe we will.