The New Yorker’s Jelani Cobb Rebukes McConnell’s ‘Obscene’ Comparison of Himself and Obama as a Descendant of Slaveholders


On MSNBC’s The Beat, Jelani Cobb rebuked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for comparing himself to President Barack Obama as also being someone who is a descendant of slaveholders: “It’s an obscene inversion of a very traumatic and morally troubling aspect of American history.”

Cobb, contributing writer for The New Yorker, was commenting on an analogy McConnell used to put a dismissive spin on an exclusive NBC News report from the day before that found two of the senator’s great-great-grandfathers owned a total of 14 slaves. Obama also has slave-holding ancestors from his white mother’s side of the family.

The issue of slavery and descendants has risen to the fore of political debate thanks to a campaign to pay reparations to descendants of slaves, which McConnell publicly opposes. Back in June, his tone-deaf rejection of the proposal ignited outrage when he said that reparations weren’t necessary because, in part, “we’ve elected an African American president.”

“It’s obscene for Mitch McConnell to compare himself to Barack Obama in that regard,” Cobb explained. “Now, true, Barack Obama is atypical in that he is a descendent of slaveholders on his mother’s side. Does Mitch McConnell really want to talk about, if you’re looking at the single-largest grouping of people who are descendants of slaveholders, you would be looking at African-Americans because of the institutionalization of rape of black women during slavery. And so most of us could say the same — that we’re descendants of slaveholders.”

Cobb added that McConnell’s arch comparison shows how the Kentucky Republican misses the point of the political debate on the subject.

“The whole foundation of the question of reparations, at least as it pertains to slavery, is to repair the damage that’s been done beginning there and passing down through successive generations,” Cobb said. “And so, no, that doesn’t get you off the hook, Mr. McConnell. It’s an obscene inversion of a very traumatic and morally troubling aspect of American history.”

Melber then asked Cobb if he through McConnell’s attempt to lump himself and Obama together was an attempt to blur the political lines on civil rights. He also noted that McConnell’s lifetime grade from the NAACP on supporting civil rights legislation is a mere 11 percent.

“That’s right. If we’re going to talk about this, Barack Obama has inherited race as a headwind. It’s something that had to be navigated in his life. For Mitch McConnell race has been a tailwind,” Cobb responded. “When we look at these questions, it’s not kind of abstract that we can going ‘Oh, let’s muddy the waters,’ and don’t understand what’s happening here. The moral lines are very clear. Maybe this is an attempt to distract from the entry of [Kentucky Senate challenger Amy] McGrath into this race, but it has the potential of actually going down the roads of some very ugly historical paths.”

Watch the video above, via MSNBC.

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