Mitch McConnell defends views on reparations by comparing himself to Barack Obama

"We both are the descendants of slave owners," McConnell said when confronted about his opposition to reparations

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published July 10, 2019 9:36AM (EDT)

Mitch McConnell; Barack Obama (Getty/Tom Brenner/AP/Julio Cortez)
Mitch McConnell; Barack Obama (Getty/Tom Brenner/AP/Julio Cortez)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell defended his views on reparations for slavery Tuesday by invoking the name of former President Barack Obama.

"I find myself once again in the same position as President Obama. We both oppose reparations. We both are the descendants of slave owners," McConnell told reporters when confronted about his opposition to reparations.

McConnell's views on the subject have received renewed attention due to a report earlier this week, which revealed his great-great-grandfathers in Alabama had owned at least 14 slaves.

Last month, prior to a hearing in the House of Representatives on reparations, McConnell had said, "I don’t think reparations for something that happened 150 years ago — when none of us currently living are responsible — is a good idea. We’ve tried to deal with our original sin of slavery by fighting a Civil War by passing landmark civil rights legislation. We’ve elected an African-American president."

His reference to the election of former President Barack Obama was ironic, considering how he notoriously proclaimed after Obama took office that "the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president." That goal, of course, never panned out.

In response to McConnell's comments, author Ta-Nehisi Coates observed that the mistreatment of blacks did not end with the close of the Civil War.

"When it ended, this country could have extended its hallowed principles of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to all, regardless of color — but America had other principles in mind. And so, for a century after the Civil War, black people were subjected to a relentless campaign of terror — a campaign that extended well into the lifetime of Majority Leader McConnell," Coates explained to the House Judiciary Committee last month.

He added, "He was alive for the electrocution of George Stinney. He was alive for the blinding of Isaac Woodard. He was alive to witness kleptocracy in his native Alabama and a regime premised on electoral theft. Majority Leader McConnell cited civil rights legislation yesterday — as well he should, as he was alive to witness the harassment, jailing and betrayal of those responsible for that legislation by a government sworn to protect them."

Ironically, McConnell was actually present during Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech in 1963, which he attended as a student at the University of Louisville while interning under Sen. John Sherman Cooper. McConnell once recalled that "you could see a massive throng of humanity down to the memorial" and praised Cooper, who helped mentor him in politics, for opposing segregation despite the popularity of the racist policy in his home state.

"There are times when you are supposed to lead and other times to reflect the views of your state, and I think it is time to lead," McConnell later said. "That was pretty inspirational to a young guy just going to law school."

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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All Salon Barack Obama Donald Trump Kentucky Mitch Mcconnell News & Politics Politics Racism Reparations Slavery