NRO's Kirsanow and Hanson falsely claimed Obama has not given his views on reparations

In separate blog posts on National Review Online, Peter Kirsanow and Victor Davis Hanson each falsely asserted that Sen. Barack Obama has not further explained what he meant when he stated at the UNITY '08 Convention: “I've consistently believed, when it comes -- whether it's Native American issues, whether it's African-American issues and reparations, that the most important thing for the U.S. government to do is not just to offer words, but offer deeds.” Later in his remarks, Obama said: “I have said in the past, and I'll repeat again, that the best reparations we can provide are good schools in the inner city and jobs for people who are unemployed.”

In recent days, National Review Online contributors Peter Kirsanow and Victor Davis Hanson have each falsely asserted that Sen. Barack Obama has not further explained what he meant when he stated at the UNITY '08 Convention on July 27: “I've consistently believed, when it comes -- whether it's Native American issues, whether it's African-American issues and reparations, that the most important thing for the U.S. government to do is not just to offer words, but offer deeds.” In separate posts on the NRO blog The Corner, Kirsanow and Hanson speculated about whether the remark in question amounted to an endorsement by Obama of “cash” payments as reparations for slavery, without reporting what Obama said in full at the UNITY Convention about his position on reparations. As Media Matters for America has documented, when CNN correspondent Suzanne Malveaux asked Obama moments after his initial remark whether he supported “offering reparations to various groups,” Obama replied: “I have said in the past, and I'll repeat again, that the best reparations we can provide are good schools in the inner city and jobs for people who are unemployed. And I think that strategies that invest in lifting people out of the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow, but that have broad applicability and allow us to build coalitions to actually get these things done, that, I think, is the best strategy.” Indeed, as Media Matters documented, Obama has made similar comments “in the past” when asked about the issue of reparations.

In an August 5 NRO post, Kirsanow wrote: “Members of the press haven't asked Sen. Obama to explain what he means by saying that the U.S. government should offer deeds regarding reparations.” He then asserted:

A charitable guess is that Sen. Obama wants more money to be spent on improving education, health care, alleviating poverty, etc. That is, more government programs.

But that's the point -- it's just a guess. Many people think of reparations in terms of cash pay-outs, and not insubstantial ones at that. For example, the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations has estimated the total value of reparations to blacks at $8 trillion. Others have put the annual price tag at $100 billion. What's Sen. Obama's price tag for the “deeds” the U.S. government should offer? What form should the deeds take? Do they include cash transfers?

In a July 30 NRO post, Hanson wrote: “If the press insists on hinging on every word of Obama, can't they at least ask for clarifications and details about his sweeping proclamations?” After quoting Obama's initial reference to reparations during his July 27 remarks at the UNITY Convention, Hanson added:

Again more details: Does this mean an expansion of affirmative action, more of WWII taught as mostly Rosie the Riveter, Hiroshima, and the Japanese internment, or cash grants for past sins? Does the explicit reference to reparations mean they are here at last -- which were on the front burner pre-9/11? Anyone in any government-supported university the last thirty years knows that admission policies, graduate and professional school recruitment, assigned readings, curriculum, minority hiring and promotion, and university polices do not “just offer words, but offer deeds” .

Neither Kirsanow nor Hanson mentioned that Obama said that “the best reparations we can provide are good schools in the inner city and jobs for people who are unemployed.”

After Media Matters documented that Wall Street Journal OpinionJournal.com editor James Taranto falsely suggested on July 30 that Obama's initial reference to reparations at the UNITY '08 Convention “seem[ed] to be something of an endorsement of the idea of 'reparations for slavery,' which is usually taken to mean cash payments,” Taranto wrote on August 1: “Contrary to our speculation in a Wednesday item, it appears that Barack Obama is not a reparationist. DemocracyNow.org has a transcript of Obama's question-and-answer session with minority journalists, which provides some context for the comment we highlighted.”

From Obama's July 27 question-and-answer session at the UNITY '08 Convention:

BULL: Senator, I am Brian Bull from Wisconsin Public Radio and the Native American Journalists Association. Last February, the Australian prime minister apologized for the past treatment of its indigenous people. Last month, the Canadian prime minister also issued an apology for its treatment of its indigenous population. Would your administration issue an apology to Native Americans for the atrocities they've endured for the past 500 years?

OBAMA: You know, I personally would want to see our tragic history or the tragic elements of our history acknowledged. And I think that there's no doubt that when it comes to our treatment of Native Americans, as well as other persons of color in this country, that we've got some, some very sad and difficult things to account for.

What an official apology would look like, how it would be shaped, that's something that I would want to consult with Native Americans tribes and councils to talk about. And because obviously, as sovereign nations, they also have a whole host of other issues that they're concerned about and that they've prioritized. One of the things that I said to tribal leaders is, I want to set up a annual meeting with them and make sure that a whole range of these issues are addressed.

But I've consistently believed, when it comes -- whether it's Native American issues, whether it's African-American issues and reparations, that the most important thing for the U.S. government to do is not just to offer words, but offer deeds. And when you look at the situation on tribal lands, the fact that by every socioeconomic indicator Native Americans are doing worse than any other population on health, on education, on substance abuse -- their housing situations are deplorable, unemployment is skyrocketing -- you know, I have to confess that I'm more concerned about delivering a better life and creating a better relationship with the Native American peoples than anything else. And that's what I want to engage tribal leaders in making sure happens.

MALVEAUX: When it comes to reparations, would you take it a step further, in terms of apologizing for slavery or offering reparations to various groups?

OBAMA: You know, I have said in the past, and I'll repeat again, that the best reparations we can provide are good schools in the inner city and jobs for people who are unemployed. And I think that strategies that invest in lifting people out of the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow, but that have broad applicability and allow us to build coalitions to actually get these things done, that, I think, is the best strategy.

You know, the fact is, is that dealing with some of the, some of the legacy of discrimination is going to cost billions of dollars. And we're not going to be able to have that kind of resource allocation, unless all Americans feel that they are invested in making this stuff happen. And so, you know, I'm much more interested in talking about how do we get every child to learn, how do we get every person health care, how do we make sure that everybody has a job, how do we make sure that every senior citizen can retire with dignity and respect. And if we have a program, for example, of universal health care, that will disproportionately affect people of color, because they're disproportionately uninsured. If we've got an agenda that says every child in America should get -- should be able to go to college, regardless of income, that will disproportionately affect people of color, because it's oftentimes our children who can't afford to go to college.

From Kirsanow's August 5 post:

Sen. Obama's comments earlier last week concerning reparations were swamped by the attention devoted to the “dollar bill” controversy. Nonetheless, the comments deserve at least as much scrutiny.

Speaking to a crowd of minority journalists at the Unity '08 conference, Obama responded to a question about reparations as follows:

I consistently believe that when it comes to whether it's Native Americans or African-American issues or reparations, the most important thing for the U.S. government to do is not just offer words, but offer deeds.

Members of the press haven't asked Sen. Obama to explain what he means by saying that the U.S. government should offer deeds regarding reparations. A charitable guess is that Sen. Obama wants more money to be spent on improving education, health care, alleviating poverty, etc. That is, more government programs.

But that's the point -- it's just a guess. Many people think of reparations in terms of cash pay-outs, and not insubstantial ones at that. For example, the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations has estimated the total value of reparations to blacks at $8 trillion. Others have put the annual price tag at $100 billion. What's Sen. Obama's price tag for the “deeds” the U.S. government should offer? What form should the deeds take? Do they include cash transfers?

From Hanson's July 30 post:

If the press insists on hinging on every word of Obama, can't they at least ask for clarifications and details about his sweeping proclamations? Most are still waiting for the particulars of his idea to create a shadow Pentagon of civilian aid and civil support workers funded to the same tune of $500 billion a year. That seems a big deal that the electorate should ponder? How would it function? Where would the funding come from? What would be the relationship with the Pentagon?

And now what does the following mean from Obama:

I personally would want to see our tragic history, or the tragic elements of our history, acknowledged. I consistently believe that when it comes to whether it's Native Americans or African-American issues or reparations, the most important thing for the U.S. government to do is not just offer words, but offer deeds.

Again more details: Does this mean an expansion of affirmative action, more of WWII taught as mostly Rosie the Riveter, Hiroshima, and the Japanese internment, or cash grants for past sins? Does the explicit reference to reparations mean they are here at last -- which were on the front burner pre-9/11? Anyone in any government-supported university the last thirty years knows that admission policies, graduate and professional school recruitment, assigned readings, curriculum, minority hiring and promotion, and university polices do not “just offer words, but offer deeds” . It would seem that the Obamas' own careers, in retrospect, have been helped a lot by “deeds” rather the mere rhetoric of the government.

Two themes seem to reoccur: one, sweeping rhetorical promises that either are not or cannot be backed by detailed proposals; two, a certain sort of resentment that after trillions of dollars invested in affirmative action, war on poverty programs, and government assistance targeted to the poor and minorities they can be summed up with a mere “not just offer words.”