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Surprise – Media Matters Distorts the Facts on Goodwin Liu Video

Morgen on March 23, 2010 at 11:48 pm

Seriously, does anyone even read Media Matters? I can’t help but wonder whether their perceived credibility in the liberal media is way out of proportion to their actual value as a reliable source of information. Anyway, Media Matters took on our post and video from yesterday of Goodwin Liu discussing reparations. Here is their devastating response:

In the latest attack on Obama’s judicial nominations, right-wing blogs have distorted comments that appeals court nominee Goodwin Liu made in a 2008 discussion about the legacy of slavery to suggest he supports “reparations.” In fact, nowhere in his speech did Liu state that he supports “reparations”; rather, he suggested that people should deal with the legacy of slavery by working at the community level on issues like “access to food, health care, problems with their houses.”

Verum Serum: Liu’s comments “implied” a “wholesale re-distribution of wealth.” In a March 22 Verum Serum post headlined “Video: Obama Appeals Court Nominee — Goodwin Liu — on reparations for Slavery,” blogger Morgen Richmond posted a two-minute clip of Liu’s comments and wrote: “So much for post-racial America!” He added that “given that a majority of Americans are strongly opposed to racial quota systems in schools and the workplace (much less the wholesale re-distribution of wealth as implied by his comments), I think Liu should be pressed to elaborate further on these views.”

As you can see, Media Matters would have you believe that Liu’s statement that everybody must “give up something” as recompense for the injustice of slavery, was not an expression in support of reparations. Their argument hangs mostly on the very tenuous thread that Liu himself never actually used the word “reparations”. For anyone that cares, here is an extended clip of the panel discussion which clearly demonstrates that Liu was in fact sharing his views on reparations. The key is the original question and the preceding response from another panelist so I have included these as well – watch: (click through to YouTube if embedded clip does not play)

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Actually, if anything, Liu seems to be advocating for a significant expansion of the concept of reparations. By extending the liability for restitution beyond just the perpetrators of slavery (or their descendants), and to American society as a whole. Of course this is also a more practical means of achieving mandatory restitution, since not coincidentally it seems to coincide with Liu’s views on utilizing the equal protection clause and citizenship rights of the Constitution to establish a precedent for positive economic rights (housing, education, healthcare, income equality, etc.). As I pointed out yesterday, this is also a view shared by the President, or was at one point in time.

Conservative scholars and pundits have long argued that this is an argument for reparations in disguise, and Liu provides a direct link between the two with his statements here.

Note also that nowhere in the extended clip above does Liu say anything like: “people should deal with the legacy of slavery by working at the community level on issues like “access to food, health care, problems with their houses.” This comes from a statement of Liu’s almost 20 minutes later in the session (Media Matters pulled the clip if you are interested). So to imply that this somehow negates his earlier expressed beliefs on the merits of reparations (or the need for society to “give things up” if you prefer) is disingenuous at best. This later comment was an expression of Liu’s views on the political reality in 2008, that it was highly unlikely that there would be any sort of viable movement at a national level for reparations.

But it was not intended to, nor did it modify the beliefs he expressed earlier regarding reparations. A point Media Matters seems to concede later in their post by pointing out that conservatives have “previously argued nominees’ personal opinions are irrelevant”. I would stop short of fully agreeing with this myself, but judicial nominees, like anyone else, are certainly entitled to their own opinions and beliefs. Whether they are relevant or not is ultimately up to the Senate to decide – my opinion matters not. I only hope that Liu is not as disingenuous as Media Matters in discussing his statements and beliefs on the issue of reparations, if they are brought up during his confirmation hearing.

John Adds: Media Matters response has two prongs. First, as Morgen noted, they state that Liu never used the word reparations. And yet it’s perfectly clear from the longer clip above that Liu was responding to a question about reparations and that this was the context of his comments about everyone “giving up” something.

The other prong is to suggest that Liu was arguing for something besides reparations. Media Matters quotes him (from much later in the tape) saying:

I think for a long time, the — we have been entranced by a certain image of civil rights progress, which is an image that was forged during the 1960s in the wake of Brown versus the Board of Education and in a time when we had all three branches of the government — the national government supportive of a general civil rights agenda. I don’t see that happening in the near future, however 2008 turns out. And so I’m not sure if we live in a time where we can transplant that model of national leadership to the present day. Instead, I think I agree with Ruth’s comment that if this conversation is going to happen, it’s gotta happen in much more localized settings around problems of local concerns to people. And that is a — you know, there’s a kind of entropy to that because you can’t completely manage it and you can’t direct it, but since we have, you know, about 100 different funders out there in our audience, I would say that instead of looking for the single national strategy, which is what everybody always looks for, think about what you can do on a much smaller scale in much smaller communities, around specific problems that people face, whether it’s in their schools, in their workplaces, access to health care, in their housing — whatever it may be.

Media Matters says of this quote:

Liu actually argued for dealing with the legacy of slavery through working at the community level — not through reparations. [emphasis added]

The suggestion is being made that reparations and community work of the kind Liu describes are mutually exclusive categories. Though they never say so, Media Matters is suggesting that “reparations” can only mean something like nationalized wealth transfers in the form of government checks. In fact this is not the case at all.

As this 2007 report in the New Standard explains:

The National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (N’COBRA), which coordinates grassroots campaigns for slavery restitution, has called for reparations in the form of policies to correct racial inequalities and barriers to opportunity in black communities, such as resources for education, health care, and promoting economic growth. Other forms of restitution proposed by N’COBRA include a formal apology by the government, access to land, and public memorialization of slavery’s victims.

So N’COBRA, a national advocate for reparations, offers multiple ideas none of which include direct transfer payments to individuals. Specifically, N’COBRA argues for community oriented redress to inequalities in education, health care, economic growth and access to land. Compare this to Liu’s suggestion, i.e. more community involvement in schools, health care, workplaces and housing. These are very, very similar lists of priorities.

In sum, Goodwin Liu talks about reparations like someone who is familiar with the current literature on the topic (written by reparations advocates themselves). In contrast, Media Matters doesn’t understand what they are talking about. No surprise there.

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