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Affirmative Action Questions for the Candidates

With the Supreme Court set now—in an election year— to revisit the issue of racial preferences in university admissions, the various political candidates need to be ready for questions regarding their stance on affirmative action.  Here are my suggested Q’s and A’s (originally posted on National Review Online here):

 

Q. What do you think of affirmative action? Do you want to abolish affirmative action?

A. Americans should not be treated differently because of their skin color or what country their ancestors came from. Period. We should all agree on that, because we’re all Americans. No discrimination, no preferences, no quotas, no goals based on race or ethnicity.

Unfortunately, many so-called affirmative-action programs do just that, and they need to be changed. President Obama has acknowledged that there’s something wrong when well-to-do students (he gave the example of his own daughters) who apply to college are given a preference over students from poverty-stricken homes—just because the rich kids may have skin that’s a little darker than the poor kids, who happen to be white.

That’s not what affirmative action or civil rights was originally supposed to be about. Now, if a program is designed to stop discrimination, that’s great—and it should stop it for everyone. If a program reaches out beyond an old-boy network, that’s great, too—but it should reach out to everyone. If a program is designed to help poor people, or small companies, or people who are the first in their families to go to college—again, fine, but that can describe people of any color and all ethnic groups.

Diamonds in the rough come in all colors, you know.

Q. Isn’t there a difference between “quotas” and “goals”?

A. Goals inevitably become quotas, so, no, I don’t think there really is a difference. If the boss gives someone a goal, then they are going to try to meet that goal, and if the goal involves hiring more people of a certain skin color, then there is going to be racial discrimination. The goal should be to treat everyone without regard to skin color, not to hire a certain number of people of this or that skin color.

Q. But don’t we have to do something to make up for past discrimination in this country?

A. The Supreme Court has rejected that approach, and rightly so. You create a new class of victims who have had nothing to do with past discrimination. It might make sense to have special programs for individuals who are disadvantaged, but there is no reason to use skin color as the litmus test for disadvantage. There are plenty of rich people of all colors, and plenty of poor people of all colors.

Q. But doesn’t discrimination still exist?

A. Yes, unfortunately—and, unfortunately, there will always be some discrimination, even though we’ve made enormous progress. But the way to fight discrimination is not through more discrimination. As Chief Justice Roberts wrote, “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” We have plenty of laws that ban racial discrimination, and they should be enforced. That’s the way to fight discrimination—not by piling politically correct discrimination on top of politically incorrect discrimination.

Q. Isn’t diversity important?

A. Diversity is great, but a desire for it does not justify discrimination and division. And I’m confident that we can have plenty of diversity without discrimination. I reject that idea that the only way that African Americans or Latinos or some other group can succeed is by lowering the standard for them. That sounds like just another kind of bigotry to me.

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By the way, a National Review editorial from 2008 congratulating Senator John McCain for taking the above stances as a presidential candidate had this to say:

If Sen. McCain is trying to show conservatives that he is one of us, on this issue, at least, he has succeeded. But our considerations ought to be broader than that: The principle of e pluribus unum is vital to all Americans across the political spectrum.

McCain’s commitment is not only sound on principle, but it is wise politics, in both the high and low meanings of the term. In an America that is increasingly multiethnic and multiracial—indeed, in a country where individual Americans are themselves more and more likely to be multiethnic and multiracial—we cannot have a legal regime that sorts people according to skin color and national origin. And, overwhelmingly, American voters recognize this.

Yet Sen. McCain’s statement is paradoxically one that also required courage on his part, for the media and entrenched interest groups are likely to attack him for “playing the race card.” As bizarre as it seems, it will be denounced as divisive to oppose racial divisions. So we applaud McCain’s courage as well. 

The editorial went on to urge Mr. Obama to take the same position:

Obama, after all, himself recognized the divisiveness of preferential treatment in his Philadelphia race speech earlier this year. And a little over a year ago, in an interview with George Stephanopoulos, he acknowledged that his own daughters, for starters, come from privileged backgrounds and thus are “probably” not deserving of preferential treatment. Once upon a time, there was hope that Sen. Obama would be a race-transcending candidate who would bring us all together—not just another Democratic pol who lacks the courage to stand up to powerful but aging interests in his own party.

If Sen. Obama were to take a deep breath and acknowledge that, yes, the logic of his own past pronouncements means that the time has come, at long last, to end racial preferences, it would be good for him and his campaign — and a great thing for the nation.

All still true. Also, see the “Ensuring Equal Treatment for All” section in the 2008 Republican platform.