Clinton Slavery Apology: A Redress Rehearsal?

It’s that deadline time again. And for too many of us that apparently means last second scrambling across the taxing terrain of deductions, receipts, extensions and reparations.

Yes, reparations. The slavery sort.

According to the Internal Revenue Service, nearly 80,000 returns were filed last year for more than $2.7 billion in bogus reparation refunds. The IRS is gearing up again, even though the U.S. tax code does not allow for such reparations. Never has.

The rash of reparations-for-slavery scams seems attributable to several factors.

Publicity, if not credibility, has been generated by Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., who has introduced legislation that would establish a commission to look into the institution of slavery and its repercussions. There’s also the Rev. Al Sharpton, a putative presidential candidate, who has given every indication that he’ll push for a reparations’ plank in the 2004 Democratic Platform.

Second, we now have a slave descendent suing three companies in federal court for a share of the profits those companies — Aetna Inc., FleetBoston Financial Corp., and CSX Corp. — allegedly gained via slavery. Moreover, other such suits are in the works, including one being pursued by celebrity trial lawyer Johnnie Cochran.

Third, reparations represent a predictable and malignant outgrowth of victimhood, the mentality as well as the industry, that is sustained by white guilt. President Bill Clinton apologized for slavery, but that was only the redress rehearsal. The ante necessarily gets upped from there.

Moreover, the reparations issue only reinforces a false and counterproductive premise. That is that black Americans can’t make it on their own in this country without playing the victim card for all it’s worth. That should be as patronizing as it is insulting.

Fourth is a concept older than slavery itself: something for nothing. The operative color is greed green for those enslaved by old-fashioned opportunism. In this case, trying to cash in an I.O.U. earned by somebody else in the 19th century.

But some of those who let Cochran and Harvard University Law Professor Charles Ogletree do their talking and rationalizing for them, may have to face an intriguing irony as well. According to the 1860 census, more than 6,000 blacks owned slaves, mostly Indians.

Any of those slave-owner descendents want to step forward and settle ancestral matters with certain native Americans before proceeding on with principled recompense for historical affronts? What’s more, anyone interested in pursuing those related to West African chiefs who sold their tribesmen to the European slave traders?

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