Ta-Nehisi Coates: Bernie Sanders and the Liberal Imagination

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks at a town hall campaign event at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa January 24, 2016. REUTERS/Mark Kauzlarich - RTX23TEF

Bernie Sanders and the Liberal Imagination
Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Atlantic, 1/24/2016

Last week I critiqued Bernie Sanders for dismissing reparations specifically, and for offering up a series of moderate anti-racist solutions, in general. Some felt it was unfair to single out Sanders given that, on reparations, Sanders’s chief opponent Hillary Clinton holds the same position. This argument proposes that we abandon the convention of judging our candidates by their chosen name:

Youth unemployment for African American kids is 51 percent. We have more people in jail than any other country. So yes, count me as a radical. I want to invest in jobs and education for our young people rather than jails and incarceration.

When a candidate points to high unemployment among black youth, as well as high incarceration rates, and then dubs himself a radical, it seems prudent to ask what radical anti-racist policies that candidate actually embraces. Hillary Clinton has no interest in being labeled radical, left-wing, or even liberal. Thus announcing that Clinton doesn’t support reparations is akin to announcing that Ted Cruz doesn’t support a woman’s right to choose. The position is certainly wrong. But it is hardly a surprise, and doesn’t run counter to the candidate’s chosen name.

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