All by himself Mr. Keyes has added gas to the reparations flames in his race for the U.S. Senate in Illinois.
Mr. Keyes is probably not going to win his race because his opponent,liberal Democrat (and also black) Barack Obama, is heavily favored, and indeed the only reason Mr. Keyes is in the contest at all is that Illinois Republicans, unable to locate a suitable candidate after their first one got caught in a sex scandal, literally imported Mr. Keyes from Maryland.
No doubt they figure that running Mr. Keyes will help them slice into Mr. Obama’s black support.
No sooner had Mr. Keyes, something of a professional candidate who has run for both the Senate and the presidency several times, entered the contest than he came up with a transparent if inept scheme to do just that. In a news conference in Chicago, he proposed that “for a generation or two, African-Americans of slave heritage should be exempted from federal taxes—federal because slavery ‘was an egregious failure on the part of the federal establishment,'”as the Chicago Tribune reported. [Keyes has plan for reparations Aug 17, 2004].
The next day he refused to back off his plan and actually started to get mad that the conservative Republicans who had picked him were not in a swoon of joy about it.
Speaking to a reasonably tame audience at Chicago’s City Club, Mr. Keyes began to heat up when someone asked him the obvious question if such well-heeled blacks as Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan and Oprah Winfrey would also be exempted from paying taxes.
“His voice rising to a yell,” the Sun Times reported, he said he would “not budge” from his brainstorm. [Keyes won’t back down on reparations August 19, 2004 By Scott Fornek]
“Do you know how many Oprah Winfreys there might have been running around in the 1930s or in the 1920s or in the 19-teens that got nowhere because the doors were shut in their face?” he demanded. “If you think that because I wear a conservative label, I have forgotten that history and am not mindful of that injustice—then I will tell you now that you are wrong.”
Then he brought up his parents, who had “hearts and spirit and faith and strength.” “Why didn’t they get to a point where they could stand on this platform?” Keyes asked.
Probably because the Republican Party back then had better sense than to nominate them.
It’s interesting that Mr. Keyes, often trotted out to prove that blacks can be conservatives, is actually a neoconservative. His campaign manager for one of the Senate races in Maryland was Bill Kristol, now editor of the Weekly Standard, who also happened to be his college roommate.
It therefore makes sense that Mr. Keyes would kick off his most recent crusade to put himself on the public payroll by endorsing a distinctly non-conservative idea.
Nevertheless, compared to some Republicans masquerading as conservatives, Mr. Keyes is a pillar of iron.
Take, for example, George W. Bush on the same issue of reparations for slavery.
Some weeks ago, the NAACP sent a questionnaire to both major presidential candidates about their respective positions on various issues of interest to the organization. Not too surprisingly, both Mr. Kerry and Mr. Bush agreed on several of them. Both condemned “racial profiling” and “hate crimes” and both endorsed “affirmative action.” But then the questionnaire got around to reparations.
“Do you support or oppose reparations (for slavery) legislation, H.R. 40, as introduced in the House of Representatives by Congressman John Conyers (D-MI)?” the NAACP asked.
Mr. Kerry said yes, he supported that legislation.
Astoundingly, Mr. Bush refused to answer—a response that ought to tell us all we need to know about him.
Like Mr. Keyes himself, the idea of reparations for slavery probably will not go anywhere, regardless of who endorses it, at least for now.
But it’s not a minor issue. It speaks to the core of the whole controversy about race in this country—are blacks responsible for their problems, or is everything that’s wrong with them and for them due to whites?
What you think about reparations reflects your answer to that question, and how you answer it also tells us what we need to know.
By explicitly endorsing reparations and refusing even to offer a position, both Mr. Keyes and President Bush have given their answers, and what they have said and refused to say have helped make it more difficult for real conservatives to give different ones.
If theirs is the kind of “leadership” that today defines “conservatism,” then most Americans who regard themselves as conservatives need to find another name—and other leaders.