No heavier burden than a great potential


Proving that quote from Peanuts‘ Linus, Ta-Nehisi Coates took Bernie Sanders to task in the Atlantic for failing to support reparations for slavery. When asked in Iowa about the issue, Sanders said he did not support reparations:

“Its likelihood of getting through Congress is nil,” he told Fusion in an interview. “Second of all, I think it would be very divisive.”

Coates questioned why Sanders’ “political imagination is so active against plutocracy, but so limited against white supremacy.” Furthermore:

If not even an avowed socialist can be bothered to grapple with reparations, if the question really is that far beyond the pale, if Bernie Sanders truly believes that victims of the Tulsa pogrom deserved nothing, that the victims of contract lending deserve nothing, that the victims of debt peonage deserve nothing, that that political plunder of black communities entitle them to nothing, if this is the candidate of the radical left—then expect white supremacy in America to endure well beyond our lifetimes and lifetimes of our children.

In Coates’ famous article, “The Case for Reparations,” Coates himself was not specific about what he hoped for in legislative terms, but,

What I’m talking about is more than recompense for past injustices—more than a handout, a payoff, hush money, or a reluctant bribe. What I’m talking about is a national reckoning that would lead to spiritual renewal … a revolution of the American consciousness, a reconciling of our self-image as the great democratizer with the facts of our history.

Last night on All In with Chris Hayes, Coates elaborated that his column was neither an attack on Bernie Sanders nor an endorsement of Hillary Clinton. It was that Coates had hoped for better from the guy who wants to lead a political revolution. There’s no heavier buden than a great potential. His expectations for Hillary Clinton are somewhat less.

Politics is about expectations as much as policy proposals and campaign promises. Americans in large numbers wrapped up their dreams in a presidential candidate who made Hope his campaign’s watchword. A few short years later, many of them felt let down by Barack Obama’s presidency. The more “savvy” said I told you so — they had known all along that Obama was not the hoped-for progressive hero. Yet a few, short years later, even the savvy are ready again to wrap up their hopes for political revolution in the next progressive hero. Coates is just a little more cautious this time. I can’t say I blame him.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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