The Chicago Tribune is reporting that Alan Keyes is now advocating that black Americans descended from slaves be exempt from paying federal income taxes (but not Social Security taxes) for a generation or two. This is about as surprising as Rick Santorum announcing that he's gay and planning on travelling to Massachusetts to get married.
Though I'm on record as advocating reparations, this is the wrong way to go about it. Given the racial disparity in income distributions, this measure would do little to help most black Americans and especially those who are most in need of help. On the other hand, Oprah Winfrey (who is now serving as a juror in a Chicago murder trial), Michael Jordan, and Robert Johnson will do very well by this.
The politics of this are, of course, fascinating since I can't think of a better way for Keyes to undermine his campaign.
First, Keyes is on record as opposing reparations, so Obama can use this along with the carpetbagger issue to paint him as a flip-flopper.
Second, I doubt very much if this will get Keyes anywhere among black voters, where he's about as unpopular as David Duke. On Saturday, Keyes attended the Bud Billiken Day parade on Chicago's largely black South Side and received a pretty hostile reception. According to the Trib's account he was jeered by the crowd and one man "grabbed Keyes' arm and advised Keyes, "Take your [expletive] back to Maryland."" In contrast, Obama got an enthusiastic response from the crowd. By talking up reparations, I doubt if Keyes has picked up more than a handful of black votes.
Third, and more importantly, reparations are a sure looser among the much larger pool of white voters. This lets Obama outflank Keyes to the right and shore up his support among moderate whites who might be a bit uneasy about Obama's liberal voting record.
Of course, Keyes only helps alienate moderate whites by comparing women who receive abortions with terrorists and saying that the 9/11 attacks were God's punishment for legal abortions.
I'm guessing that the Illinois GOP honchos didn't have this is mind when they picked Keyes to run. Since I've just finished watching the DVD version of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, I'm inclined to think that Keyes might just be a Democratic mole, sent to destroy the Illinois GOP from within. Right now, I don't see how the Illinois Republicans could have done worse by not having a candidate at all.