Paul F. deLespinasse: Democrats shoot themselves in foot with ‘reparations’ rhetoric

Paul F. deLespinasse

Paul F. deLespinasse

As a lifelong Republican until George W. Bush’s Iraq war drove me to register as a Democrat, I am in a strong position to write non-partisan commentaries. But I have never felt comfortable with either party, so I merely moved from being an uneasy Republican to an uneasy Democrat.

While still a Republican, I considered the Iraq War to be a terrible mistake and said so rather pointedly. Now, as a Democrat, I have noticed two really stupid proposals put forward by some party members in recent years: “defunding” the police and paying “reparations” to the descendants of American slaves.

“Defunding” taken literally would mean abolishing the police. No money, no cops! This would destroy a basic function of government: maintaining order and protecting individual security.

More responsible Democratic politicians pointed out that “defunding” did not necessarily mean cutting all money for the police, but only diverting some money to more effective ways of protecting community welfare.

No such distinctions can be made with regard to the rhetoric about paying reparations to the descendants of American slaves, clearly a crazy idea no matter how one spins it.

There can be no doubt that the legacy of slavery and racial segregation continues to injure a large number of our fellow citizens and it would be good to eliminate these injuries. But there are at least five things wrong with the idea of paying reparations:

First , the freeing of the slaves already came at tremendous expense, not only in dollars but also with 618,000 lives lost in the Civil War — largely Americans of European descent.

No doubt many of these dead soldiers left badly disadvantaged families, some of which disadvantage lingers today in their descendants. Black Americans would obviously (and rightly) object to being taxed to pay reparations to these descendants of the soldiers.

Secondly, today’s descendants of slaves are, paradoxically, beneficiaries of the evil system which dragooned their ancestors from various parts of Africa into close proximity here. In Africa, their great-grandparents would never have met each other, let alone produced children.

Third, assuming funding could become available, organizing reparations payout would be a political and administrative nightmare. There would be interminable arguments about who ought to get how much. “Victimology” would run wild.

Fourth, there will be little money from any government, state or federal. No legislature whose members desire to be reelected will appropriate any substantial amount of money for this purpose.

Fifth, the more Democratic politicians talk about reparations, the more Republicans — even less likely than Democrats to help the disadvantaged — will be elected to replace them.

But it is easy to see how some Democratic politicians painted themselves into this political corner.

Black voters are a significant constituency for Democratic politicians, and the idea of cash reparations understandably polls very well among them. Once somebody suggests cash reparations, Democrats who want to win the next primary election find it difficult to come right out and say that they think it is a bad and politically impossible idea.

When reparations proponents then suggest, well let’s at least study the idea, it is hard to oppose that idea. Why alienate a substantial percentage of the people who vote in Democratic primaries?

And what harm could be caused merely by studying the idea? Studying can produce knowledge, and as the facetious university motto at the beginning of “Animal House” proclaims, “Knowledge is good!”

But studying has now led to proposals, some of which contemplate trillions (not “just” billions!) of dollars in cash reparations.

Honest politicians need to tell the truth: There are going to be no cash reparations. We need instead to focus on politically possible projects that will benefit all Americans but have special importance for those who are disadvantaged for whatever reason.

A good place to start would be national health insurance like Medicare For All.

Paul F. deLespinasse is a retired professor of political science and computer science at Adrian College. He can be reached at

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