Center for Equal Opportunity

The nation’s only conservative think tank devoted to issues of race and ethnicity.

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Some Funny Anti-PC Items

The Washington Post Magazine’s end-page is always a column by humorist Gene Weingarten, who’s very funny but extremely liberal.  His column this week, however, makes fun of Bowdoin College’s political correctness, which I recently wrote about, in the sombrero scandal

Mr. Weingarten’s column is styled a plea for forgiveness and addressed to the Bowdoin student government; he wants forgiveness for his daughter having dressed up as an Indian (complete with feather, horrors!) many years ago. It’s very funny, and if even a big liberal like Gene Weingarten agrees things have gotten out of hand, then maybe there’s hope.

Another funny item is the Stanford Review’s demands for change.  Sample:  “WE DEMAND that Stanford recognizes that half-lives matter, and establishes a committee to fund the Chemistry and Physics Departments accordingly.”  It’s also very funny, and — I hope — also evidence that this shark has been jumped.

Alas, not all Stanford students are as enlightened as those on the Review.  But our friend and frequent ally Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars, does a great job here of setting straight that campus’s students wildly indignant about nearly everything.  (Readers of a certain age will get the “s.w.i.n.e.” reference in the preceding sentence; others can look here.)

Better Thinking through Politically Correct “Diversity”? – Not so much, according to a spate of sources last week.  See our friend John Rosenberg (reporting on some recent social-science research on social-science research) here, some other researchers here, Jonathan Haidt’s interview with Tyler Cowen here, and even (sort of) Russell Jacoby here.

Hiring Discrimination at the University of Louisville – There’s an important article in the Spring 2016 issue of Academic Questions, giving chapter and verse on how affirmative action in faculty hiring works at the University of Louisville.  As I’ve noted before, the law is more hostile to such preferential selection in faculty hiring than it is to student admissions — there’s no “diversity” exception to the ban on discrimination, for example — but schools don’t seem to care. 

A Couple of We-Told-You-So’s –  One of my co-contributors at National Review Online is David French, and he noted last week that “The Cost of Radical Police ‘Reform’ Is Blood on Chicago’s Streets.”  And this week (in hard copy) the Washington Post — yes, again the Washington Post — has a story headlined, “Chicago grapples with a staggering rise in homicides amid police shake-up.”  Related to David’s article and the “Ferguson effect” is yet another recent Washington Post article, headlined, “Police are dying by gunfire at over twice last year’s rate.”

And in the run-up to the Supreme Court’s decision last year on whether “disparate impact” lawsuits may be brought under the Fair Housing Act, I warned that, if the Court said yes, then landlords would be pressured to stop excluding tenants based on their criminal records.  Well, the Court went the wrong way, and this week the New York Times has a story about the Obama administration’s expected “guidance” that will indeed limit the use that landlords make of tenants’ criminal records.

A Mixed Civil-Rights Bag in Congress – Just a quick update on recent civil-rights goings-on in Congress. 

The good:   Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), bless his heart, continues to harass the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, this time by requiring it to play by the same rules it wants the companies it regulates to play by.   Also good:  There has been anti-disparate-impact legislation introduced by Rep. Paul A. Gosar (R-AZ), and there’s more in the works

The bad:  The House (isn’t that supposedly controlled by the Republicans, by the way?) has passed some bad legislation with gender preferences in it. 

And the ugly:  Some Senators want to give arguably the worst agency in the federal government, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, more money to spend on policing campus sex.

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Finally, the New York Times this week published my response to Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner’s disappointing op-ed:

“Representative Jim Sensenbrenner calls for the passage of his Voting Rights Act of 2015 to overturn the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder. But no new legislation is needed.

“The Supreme Court struck down only one provision in the Voting Rights Act — which was indeed unconstitutional and was never a permanent part of the act anyway — and there are plenty of other voting rights laws available to ensure that the right to vote is not violated. And notwithstanding Mr. Sensenbrenner’s suggestion to the contrary, those provisions can be used to stop discriminatory voting practices before they affect any election.

“The bill that Mr. Sensenbrenner has drafted is not only unnecessary but also affirmatively bad. For example, it does not protect all races equally from discrimination; it includes dubious expansions of federal power that have nothing to do with the Supreme Court’s decision; and it itself violates the Constitution by prohibiting practices that are not actually racially discriminatory but only have racially disproportionate effects.

“The bill is not really bipartisan. It is intended to give a partisan advantage to the left, which is why nearly all its support comes from those across the aisle from Mr. Sensenbrenner.”

Look in the Mirror

Will Republicans learn the right lessons from the debacle that is the Trump candidacy? I am doubtful, because for many, it requires a good, hard look in the mirror. Donald Trump didn't create the masses supporting him, he simply played into their fears and prejudices, which have been nursed for the last decade by conservative talk show hosts, cable news programs, websites, grassroots groups and not a few GOP elected officials.

Like Trump's presidential campaign announcement, it began with immigration. It seems like an eon ago that Trump declared, "When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best ... They're sending people that have lots of problems, and they're bringing those problems with us [sic]. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people."

This sweeping denunciation -- not of illegal immigration, mind you, but of Mexicans and the government of Mexico -- would have been enough in normal times to sink most candidates. But the media, including the so-called mainstream media, gave him a pass, and many on the right embraced his supposed candor.

National Review's editor Rich Lowry wrote a column "Sorry, Donald Trump Has a Point," arguing, "For all its crassness, Trump's rant on immigration is closer to reality than the gauzy cliches of the immigration romantics unwilling to acknowledge that there might be an issue welcoming large numbers of high-school dropouts into a 21st-century economy." I responded immediately with my own NRO piece, "Stop Defending Donald Trump." But it took the magazine months to decide that Trump was unhinged and a danger to the conservative movement.

The right has made opposition to immigration -- increasingly legal immigration as well as illegal -- the sine qua non of conservatism for some time now. Conservatives who argue, as I do, that our immigration system needs a dramatic overhaul are routinely denounced as open-borders traitors because we favor making it easier for workers with needed skills to immigrate legally and giving legal status to those illegal immigrants whose labor we depend on -- and who have paid taxes and broken no other laws.

There is certainly room for legitimate debate about immigration policy among conservatives. One can argue for lower immigration levels, more diversity among the immigrant pool, and certainly for better border security in good conscience. But suggesting that immigrants are "taking jobs from Americans" and that they have "high rates of criminality" -- neither of which is true -- feeds into a narrative that was ripe for the extremism that Trump has spouted.

Organizations like the Center for Immigration Studies, the Federation for American Immigration Reform and NumbersUSA pump out mendacious studies purporting to show that all the jobs that have been created in the last decade have gone to immigrants, and that immigrants disproportionally fill our prisons. These, in turn, make headlines on Drudge, fill hours of rant on talk radio, get serious treatment from conservative news outlets and then turn into direct mail fundraisers from grassroots conservative organizations. Is it any wonder then, that when Trump comes along and spews his venom, it comes back to bite conservatives who would never think of talking about the issue in Trump's vulgar, hate-filled rhetoric?

But the problem isn't only immigration. Government itself has become the enemy for many conservatives. Instead of arguments for limited government and smaller bureaucracies, many on the right have begun to sound more like anarchists than Burkean conservatives. Republican elected officials -- even staunchly conservative ones -- get labeled as Republican In Name Only, so that all who serve in public life become immediately suspect. If you can't trust anyone who holds office now, an outsider like Donald Trump has a natural opening.

It is difficult to see an easy way out of the morass that has become the conservative movement. Conservatism has managed to hold together despite the inherent strains among its various elements, in large part because winning elections was considered important enough to minimize differences. Libertarians and economic conservatives might not have embraced social conservatives' agenda, (and vice versa) but they were willing to make peace in order to elect representatives who were at least marginally better than the alternative Democrat. Deficit hawks might have worried that defense conservatives would pile up more debt, but they knew prospects were worse if Democrats were elected. Paleo-cons could sit side-by-side with neo-cons with some uneasiness, but not outright enmity.

No more. These arrangements now look like quaint relics of a genteel past, not the realpolitik of election victory. We conservatives are likely to lose the 2016 election as a result, and, frankly, we have no one to blame but ourselves.

Why I Will Never Vote for Trump

If Donald Trump wins the Republican presidential nomination, I and millions of conservatives like me will not vote for him. Some will stay home on Election Day; others will go to the polls to support down-ticket candidates in important races. We will do so fully aware that this could well mean another four years of a Democrat in the White House. Does this make us traitors or, in the favorite epithet of our detractors, RINOs (Republicans in name only)? I can only speak for myself, and I'll start with the last accusation.

The first Republican I ever voted for was Ronald Reagan in 1980. I was still a registered Democrat -- but one who had only voted for the Democratic presidential nominee in a single presidential election, 1968, as a 21-year-old college student. I voted for Reagan largely because I believed that President Jimmy Carter had weakened America's defenses and our standing in the world. I was, from my Catholic school childhood on, a staunch anti-communist, and it was clear that during Carter's presidency, communism was aggressively on the march from Asia to Africa to Latin America. I joined President Reagan's administration in 1983, still a registered Democrat, and did not change my affiliation until 1985.

For me, party has always mattered less than political philosophy. I was always a conservative on most issues, from my opposition to racial quotas to my belief that the Soviet Union was indeed an evil empire. I vote for the candidate who best represents my principles -- and since 1980, that has been the GOP nominee. I haven't always been enthusiastic about my choices, but I have at least been confident that on the big issues, the Republican nominee would keep America safer and more prosperous than the alternative.

I cannot say that about Donald Trump, who, I believe, is a danger not only to the principles I hold dear but to the nation I love. I have heard nothing from him that suggests he has either a basic understanding of our constitutional system or minimal knowledge about domestic or foreign policy.

What I have heard is personal praise for authoritarian regimes and strongmen, from Vladimir Putin to, amazingly, Kim Jong Un. "How many young guys -- he was like 26 or 25 when his father died -- take over these tough generals, and all of a sudden ... he goes in, he takes over, and he's the boss," Trump said in Iowa. "You gotta give him credit." Of Putin, Trump lavishly praised the authoritarian's "leadership" and gave a hint of how he would deal with Putin's aims to stake a claim to the old Soviet empire: "A lot of good things could happen with Russia if we get along with Russia and if they respect us."

On economic policy, Trump's only platform is to launch a trade war with our major partners that would devastate the American economy. His appeal to blue-collar workers is that he would bring jobs home from China, Mexico and Japan by slapping huge tariffs on foreign goods and would force out Mexicans and others who are working in low-wage jobs for which Americans have shown no appetite. If he succeeded in both, it would mean that the goods and services all Americans buy -- including those packing his rallies in their "Make America Great Again" regalia -- would be far more expensive and less available. As for the jobs that undocumented immigrants would vacate, do you think his supporters would be lining up to pick lettuce and tomatoes or debone chickens or scrub toilets if Trump were to launch his deportation raids?

The media have enabled him from day one to become the front-runner by giving him unlimited free time to drive ratings and are ready to call the nomination for Trump four months out. I don't think it's too late to stop him, but the next two weeks will tell. Trump has yet to get much more than a third of the Republican primary vote, but it won't matter if the 60-plus percent of people who oppose him don't unite to defeat him. This was supposed to be the year Republicans took back the White House. We had everything going in our favor, including a polarizing and deeply flawed presumptive Democratic nominee in Hillary Clinton. But no one counted on a reality TV figure's hijacking the party of Lincoln and Reagan.

The GOP can survive another presidential loss, but it cannot survive a Trump presidency. More importantly, the country itself would be at risk if Trump were to become president. I and others who will never vote for him are no traitors; we are patriots who love our country more than we do any political party.

Renaming Campus Buildings?

Maryland's Stadium was recently renamed.I wrote at little about his earlier, but I’d like to add a couple of other thoughts regarding campus demands to rename buildings, statues, and the like commemorating individuals whose views on minorities and women have not stood well the test of time. 

First, as I noted before, since none of us is without sin, requiring sinlessness for commemoration means no one will be commemorated.  Yet even those who were terrible sinners in one area might be visionaries in another.  So a Woodrow Wilson Civil Rights Center might be a bad idea, but not a Woodrow Wilson Center for Loopy Progressivism.  Note, by the way, that the Left seems happy to name things after people who are actually convicted criminals, so long as the person is their convicted criminal:  Consider the recent proposals to honor former D.C. mayor Marion Barry. 

Second, one suspects, alas, that denigrating the Nation’s (and the West’s) founders — and thus the Nation (and the West) itself — is part of the long-term game here. If anyone who ever owned a slave or profited in any way from the slave trade or thought that a woman’s place is in the home is to be consigned to the memory hole, well, that’s it for a lot of our big names, isn’t it? 

Nor do I doubt that there’s a powerful subtext here:  “You should feel bad about yourself and your country because people of your color did bad things once upon a time to people of another color.”  The idea is to intimidate and to shut people up, the better to advance the Left’s agenda. But this backward-looking message is not good for race relations, being all about blame, envy, and resentment, about feeding guilt and refusing to forgive.

Nor is a backward-looking focus a helpful one for young African Americans in particular. The following analogy might be apt. Suppose that an ante bellum Southerner criticized Yankees for having bad manners. He might well have been right. But, in hindsight, we would all agree that, bad manners or not, the Yankees (or, more precisely, the abolitionists) were right about slavery, and to focus on bad manners at a time when that abhorrent institution was alive and well showed, to put it charitably, a lack of perspective.   

Or, to give a funnier example, recall the scene in the original movie version of Mel Brooks’s The Producers, where the Nazi playwright is bemoaning the fact that Churchill is more fondly remembered than Hitler, notwithstanding the fact that Hitler was a better dresser, a better dancer, and a better joke-teller. Well, maybe, but still ….

In 2016, for the Left to be focused on renaming buildings and removing statues — when 71 percent of African Americans are being born out of wedlock, and that is the real obstacle to black progress — shows a similar lack of perspective. To live well and prosper, the focus must be on seizing opportunities in the present and preparing for the future, not obsessing over wrongs in the past.

Emory Protestors Admit “Mismatch” Problem – As Harvey Klehr says in his good discussion of the recent pro–Donald Trump sidewalk chalkings at Emory University:

Citing the fact that “not all Black students are adequately prepared for the rigor of Emory University” and that a number are “unprepared for the academic rigor of Emory’s pre-professional academic track,” the students demanded special tutoring programs and facilities for minority students. Instead of asking whether Emory’s affirmative action policies on admission and financial aid were leading to the admission of students who struggled to succeed in a very competitive environment, the administration responded by pledging to create task forces and hold conversations to address the demands.

Tragedy:Farce :: 1968:2016 – I’m starting to read comparisons of 2016 to 1968, given the sorry state of the world in general and American politics in particular. But I must say that, if this is an example of history repeating itself, perhaps it’s also an example of the first time being tragedy and the second time being farce. 

Consider, for example, race relations. In 1968 the Justice Department was putting an end to Jim Crow, but in 2016 the feds are telling us that the problem is overaggressive traffic ticketing. On the world stage, ISIS is surely a threat to the United States, but compared to the Soviet Union?  Plus, there’s no draft and no hippies. 

And consider our politicians. Can Donald Trump match George Wallace’s credentials in the bigotry department? He cannot. Is Ted Cruz as tricky as Dick Nixon? Don’t be silly. Is Hillary Clinton scarier than Hubert Humphrey? Okay, I’ll give you that one.

Flint, Race, and the New York TimesLast week there was a front-page, above-the-fold headline (hard copy) in the New York Times:  “Report on Flint Cites ‘Injustice’: Race Is Said to Play a Role in Inaction.”  And it’s true that the Flint Water Advisory Task Force report that is the subject of the article makes that claim (see pages 54-55).  But no evidence is cited in the report for the proposition that race played a role in any of the lamentable actions or inactions involved — none.  The closest it comes is a footnote to a Huffington Post (!) article, but that article also contains no such evidence.  The reasoning is that something bad happened here, and the people involved were black, and so therefore what happened must have happened because the people involved were black.  To deny this is, I suspect, likewise proof of racism.

Addendum:  The next day, an editorial in the Times (“The Racism at the Heart of Flint’s Crisis”) repeated and sharpened the charge, but naturally also failed to produce any evidence.

Let the Sunshine In

The Center for Equal Opportunity often makes common cause with the National Association of Scholars, an organization of conservative academics.  Recently the good folks there asked me to contribute a short piece to their publication, Academic Questions, which was weighing the pros and cons of federal and state freedom-of-information (FOIA) statutes.  Below is a slightly edited version of what is appearing in that journal.

The principal use that the Center for Equal Opportunity has made of state FOIA requests is to get information from public universities about the way that race and ethnicity are weighed in student admissions.  That includes documents that shed light on “affirmative action” and “diversity” policies, and admissions data.  CEO – through the work of Althea Nagai and the late Robert Lerner – has used the latter data as the basis for numerous studies that have documented how heavily race and ethnicity are weighed in student admissions.  Those studies can be found on our website here (scroll down).  

Relatedly, CEO has also used federal FOIA requests to see how the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has handled its enforcement of civil-rights laws – principally Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act – that make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of race and ethnicity in federally funded programs (which would include nearly all universities).  We have been particularly interested in how OCR has dealt with admissions discrimination and with racially exclusive programs for students (for example, scholarships and recruitment “job fairs”).

In our view, the use of FOIA in this context has many salutary effects and no bad ones.  We do not believe that racial discrimination in admissions is sound policy, and it is good to shed as much light on the practice as possible – especially since schools invariably hide and sometimes deliberately mislead about how heavily race and ethnicity are weighed.   Even if such policies are favored, it is hard to understand why they should be kept secret, particularly at public universities, and especially when there is a federal law that generally makes it illegal for the taxpayer money to be spent on discriminatory programs.  While the Supreme Court has, unfortunately, left the door ajar – for now – and allowed some weight to be given to race and ethnicity, it has limited the circumstances when it is allowed, and so FOIA requests like ours are also a good way to ensure that those decisions are being followed.

Unless “academic freedom” includes the right to discriminate on the basis of race in secret, our FOIA requests do not hinder academic freedom.

If, however, there are FOIA abuses in other, nonracial contexts, we could accomplish much of what we want without FOIA by means of other legislation we have proposed (at the state or, preferably, the federal level).  This legislation would require universities that receive taxpayer funding to report annually in detail on whether and how race, color, and national origin factor into the student admissions process.

Again:  The Supreme Court has upheld the use of race to achieve the “educational benefits of a more diverse student body” as constitutionally permissible, at least for now, subject to numerous restrictions. Even if some insist that universities should continue to practice racial discrimination in admissions, it should not be done secretly and without taking pains to satisfy the Supreme Court’s requirements.   

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights endorsed this approach, including “sunshine” legislation, as a recommendation to the President and Congress in a 2006 report.  Likewise, Representative Steve King (R–IA) has introduced similar legislation that would require universities that receive federal financial assistance to disclose data to the U.S. Department of Education on how race, color, and national origin factor into admissions decisions.  We are hoping that such a bill will be introduced in the Senate as well.  It would be interesting to hear politicians explain why they are voting against a bill that would end secret and illegal racial preferences.  And, as Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis once said, sunshine is “the best of disinfectants.”  For more details, and for the draft legislation itself, see this link (scroll down to the heading, “Requiring Disclosure of Preferential Policies: Model Bill No. 2”).

Finally, I have to note that all of this would be unnecessary if schools would just treat people without regard to skin color or what country their ancestors came from.  And if a state’s public schools won’t voluntarily honor this principle, then the people in that state should require them to.

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Justice Scalia and “the little guy” – Those on the left like to pretend that they want justices who stand up for “the little guy.”  But it ain’t necessarily so, as George Leef explains here, noting that cases involving eminent domain, school choice, gun rights, and compulsory union dues usually have the anti-Scalias on the side opposing the interests of the little guy.  I should note that Mr. Leef is another frequent ally of the Center for Equal Opportunity. 

Along these lines I’ll add my own favorite Scalia dissent, in Johnson v. Transportation Agency, a case where the Court majority upheld a government affirmative-action program. 

That dissent concludes with this paragraph: 

It is unlikely that today’s result will be displeasing to politically elected officials, to whom it provides the means of quickly accommodating the demands of organized groups to achieve concrete, numerical improvement in the economic status of particular constituencies. Nor will it displease the world of corporate and governmental employers (many of whom have filed briefs as amici in the present case, all on the side of Santa Clara) for whom the cost of hiring less qualified workers is often substantially less — and infinitely more predictable — than the cost of litigating Title VII cases and of seeking to convince federal agencies by nonnumerical means that no discrimination exists. In fact, the only losers in the process are the [plaintiff Paul] Johnsons of the country, for whom Title VII has been not merely repealed, but actually inverted. The irony is that these individuals — predominantly unknown, unaffluent, unorganized — suffer this injustice at the hands of a Court fond of thinking itself the champion of the politically impotent. I dissent.

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Finally, the Chronicle of Higher Education had a long article last week that extolled the successes of Historically Black College and Universities (HBCUs) in the graduating students with majors in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) disciplines.  But here’s my posted response:

It is surprising that the word "mismatch" does not appear in this article.  It has been repeatedly demonstrated by critics of racial preferences in university admissions that the resulting mismatch of students and institutions commonly sets up African American students for failure, especially in the STEM disciplines.  It is no surprise, then, that a disproportionate number of successful African American students in this area attend HBCUs, where racial preferences favoring black students are generally not used and where, therefore, the mismatch problem is absent.  See, for example, this paper

Trump's Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Donald Trump has predicted there will be riots in the streets if he is not crowned victor at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland this summer. Given his exhortations to his supporters to "knock the crap out of" anyone disrupting his rallies and his promise to "pay for the legal fees," I'll take him at his word. Trump's comments are what sociologist Robert K. Merton called a self-fulfilling prophecy: "a false definition of the situation evoking a new behavior which makes the originally false conception come true." Trump likes to play the tough guy, and his rallies have become a gathering place for those attracted to his strongman image, including some who think you silence dissent with a sucker punch.

I have had my share of dealing with protesters, including some who threatened or engaged in violence. In 1991, I was punched by a male protester as I was leaving Hostos Community College in the Bronx. I think he was aiming at my jaw, but it landed on my shoulder, leaving a visible bruise. I had been scheduled to give a speech on my new book, "Out of the Barrio: Toward a New Politics of Hispanic Assimilation." But when I arrived at the venue, the school's administrator told me that he couldn't guarantee my safety or that of the students because a group of radical Puerto Rican demonstrators were armed "with eggs and who knows what else" if I "insisted" on taking the stage.

I considered my options. I'd never backed out of giving a speech before, even when faced with threats on my life. I regret that I caved in to the administrator's wishes -- which denied the students the opportunity to judge for themselves whether I was the racist, anti-Hispanic Hispanic that radical professors and protesters claimed I was. But at least I was the only one who got hurt.

Every other time I've faced protests, even threatening ones, I've held my ground. I reckon I've done this some two dozen times over the many years I've been in public life. The same year as the Bronx fiasco, I was invited to give the commencement speech at the University of Northern Colorado and then disinvited when Hispanic students occupied the college president's office. I gave the speech I had intended at my alma mater, the University of Colorado in Boulder, instead; but there, too, I was met with hecklers, and the university turned over the campus quadrangle to protesters, who launched an anti-Linda Chavez "speak-in."

At the University of Illinois, protesters armed with coconuts (brown on the outside, white on the inside, get it?) stood at the back of the auditorium menacingly and then smashed them on the stage after I spoke. I've had to hire off-duty police to accompany me on some campuses and register in hotels under false names, as well. But never once have I called on my supporters to silence the protesters, much less to mete out their own violence in response to threats against me.

Donald Trump, on the other hand, seems to believe that the way you deal with dissent is to crush it -- not with more compelling ideas or more reasoned speech, not with dignity in the face of foul threats but with punches that will see the protesters "carried out on a stretcher" as they were in the "old days." His models are Bull Connor, Deng Xiaoping, even Kim Jong Un, the latter two of whom he praised as strong leaders adept at dealing with problems.

We are facing dangerous times ahead, certainly the worst presidential election since 1968. Radicals on the right and left could well turn this summer into a bloody one. In 1968, the riots basically handed the election to Richard Nixon. It is impossible to know what will happen this year. But one thing is sure: If Donald Trump keeps predicting violence, he's likely to get it -- and the results for our country will be ugly.

Not All Elections Are Democratic

As messy as this year's U.S. presidential election seems in the midst of the hard-fought nomination battle in both parties, no one questions that the voters will decide. Anyone wishing to run who meets the basic qualifications of being a natural-born citizen at least 35 years old can put his or her name before the voters. Those supporting a losing candidate may not like the results, but we can't question that we've been given a fair chance in the process. The same can't be said for elections taking place Feb. 26 in Iran, which will effect not only the people of Iran but Americans as well, after the disastrous agreement on nuclear weapons reached by the Obama administration with the current regime.

Iranians go to the polls Friday to select members of the 290-member Islamic Consultative Assembly -- the nearest thing Iran has to an actual parliament -- and for the 86-member Assembly of Experts, which is nominally tasked with selecting the Supreme Leader. Iran's system, despite the facade of elections, is anything but democratic. Its constitution provides for a "Guardian Council" made up of six theologians and six jurists, appointed by the Supreme Leader and the Supreme Leader-appointed chief jurist, respectively. The Guardian Council's purpose is to ensure that any laws passed by the consulting assembly are compatible with Islam as interpreted by the Guardian Council. There is no separation of powers as we know it; it is essentially a system where one man rules: namely the Supreme Leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Nonetheless, as in most totalitarian systems, the government desperately seeks legitimacy in the eyes of its own people and the world, which is why sham elections take place. The illusion that the people have a role to play helps keep dissent in check, though, as we saw in 2009, when obvious vote-rigging occurs the people protest. But those protests were met with violent crackdowns. And in the face of total abandonment of democratic forces in Iran by the West, especially U.S. President Barack Obama, their protests led to little change.

Friday's elections are guaranteed to produce the results the ayatollah wants. Initially, more than 12,000 individuals registered as candidates for the 290 parliamentary seats. But unlike in a democracy, those candidates don't go through a vetting process by the people to winnow the field; instead, the Guardian Council approves a five-member team to consider the eligibility of candidates. In order to qualify, candidates must "believe and adhere to Islam and the sacred system of the Islamic Republic in practice." These positions "belong to Hezbollahis and revolutionary and committed individuals," according to a statement by the secretary of the Guardian Council in October 2015. In other words, they must be in line with the regime, which brooks no dissent or argument.

As a result of the Guardian Council's role in selecting who will actually appear on the ballot, half were disqualified for the Consultative Assembly, including 50 current members who wanted to run for re-election. Of the 810 candidates for the Assembly of Experts, only 165 were approved, and not a single woman qualified.

One of the most interesting aspects of Iran's election is that it reflects a power struggle between Ayatollah Khamenei and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Khamenei is old and sick and will not likely last much longer in power as the Supreme Leader. He is believed to want to step down and to play the decisive role in selecting his successor, but Rouhani and former President Hashemi Rafsanjani have other ideas. While some in the West see the Rouhani-Rafsanjani faction as "moderate," the fact is neither man behaved as a moderate in office, engaging in the same extrajudicial killing and torture of dissidents and pursuing the same goal of an expansionist, nuclear-armed Iran. The fight is not so much one of ideology as it is a power struggle, with the Rouhani-Rafsanjani group seeing an opening to the West that helps the Iranian economy as consolidating their hold over the people.

In the end, nothing will change in Iran until the Iranian people can make their own choices for leadership. As the leading opponent of the regime, president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran Maryam Rajavi, said, "The sham elections are merely an instrument for imposing a medieval caliphate on the 21st century." Unfortunately, the Obama administration has helped prop up that regime, which will be a greater threat to the United States in the future and will pose a major challenge to whoever ends up winning our messy, democratic presidential election.

Mrs. Reagan's Legacy

Nancy Reagan's death marks the final chapter in what was one of the greatest love stories of all time. The role of political spouse is not an easy one, but Mrs. Reagan managed her role brilliantly. She had her critics -- most notably former White House chief of staff Donald Regan, who accused her, unfairly in my view, of meddling and using astrology to try to steer the president's course -- but her only priority was protecting the president. I served on the senior staff of the White House in Ronald Reagan's second term as director of public liaison, at the time the highest job held by a woman. My interaction with Mrs. Reagan was minimal -- a few social occasions -- but I was close enough to witness the bond that existed between them.

President Reagan always seemed to me a very private man, despite his outward ease with people. As his published love letters to Nancy made clear, she was the one person whom he trusted completely. She was his rock. "There would be no life without you nor would I want any," the president once wrote her. When you saw them side by side, you could feel their connection. It wasn't just the way she looked at him, a gaze that drew much snide ridicule from their detractors. If you looked at the president with Mrs. Reagan next to him, you felt as if she was his guardian angel. There was an invisible wall around them that kept everyone else at bay.

The only time I glimpsed them in a private moment was during a Christmas party for the White House staff. It was late in the evening, and I had slipped out into the grand hallway on the second floor of the White House. The Reagans were known to retire early, and sure enough, as I looked down the long red carpet, I spied Mrs. Reagan, a glass of wine in her hand, gently kicking up her high heels in rhythm to the music emanating from the next room, the president at her side. Their backs were to me, but I imagined her smiling, maybe humming along, when the president gently took her elbow and steered her toward the elevator to their private residence on the third floor. She seemed to be having such a grand time, and he seemed to be her steady hand.

Life in a fishbowl is not easy, but as the pictures of their private rooms in the White House show, Mrs. Reagan tried to create a home for her husband. They ate their meals on TV trays in the residence, the kind of relaxed California style in which they had lived their lives before the presidency. It was their cocoon, where the president could retreat from the burdens and worries that everyone who occupies that office must bear on his shoulders every day.

I doubt they talked politics. His politics were deeply rooted in a political philosophy acquired through reading and experience. He needed no one to guide him in those quarters. But you can imagine him unburdening himself to her about the tough decisions he had to make, the best way to deal with troublesome adversaries or convince skeptical allies of the right path. Most of all, however, you can imagine that she lifted his spirits when they were down, convinced him that no matter how difficult the task seemed, he was up to it.

No marriage is perfect, but theirs seemed as close to perfection as one can imagine. We don't often think of the importance of the role of first lady in terms of what she does to keep the president on an even keel. History is replete with examples of presidents whose wives were a source of distraction and sorrow for their husbands. In almost undefinable ways, however, Nancy Reagan made Ronald Reagan's legacy possible. And that is something for which the country, indeed the world, owes her a debt of gratitude.

Justice Scalia Cannot Be Replaced

Roger Clegg debates the issue of Affirmative Action at the University of Texas.

It is impossible to overstate the love that conservative lawyers for over a generation have felt for Antonin Scalia. 

When he was nominated by President Reagan to the Supreme Court in 1986, he and Robert Bork were not just the two people quickly left on the list being considered by administration officials at the Justice Department (a much younger yours truly was among them) — there was no third place on that list. As a justice, he transformed the importance given to constitutional and statutory texts, over not only over a judge’s selfish policy preferences but also over other nontextual sources like legislative history.  And not only his intelligence, but his wit and faith were legendary. 

He cannot be replaced. 

Some Thoughts on the Sanders–Clinton Race/Crime Exchange – The discussion of race during one of the recent Bernie Sanders–Hillary Clinton debates, especially with regard to crime, was disturbing but not surprising, following as it did the standard leftist script.

Senator Sanders pointed to the disproportionate number of African Americans in prison and called for “radical reform” of a “broken criminal-justice system.” The solution is less aggressive policing in black neighborhoods, he said, since after all, African Americans use marijuana at essentially the same rate as other groups, but are much more likely to be arrested for drug crimes. Secretary Clinton said, “I completely agree” with all this, called for an end to “mass incarceration,” and added that these and other, noncriminal racial discrepancies are caused by “systemic racism.” And in his response to that, Sanders said that he disagreed with nothing that Clinton had said, adding only that police departments must look like their communities (quotas, anyone?). Later Clinton referred to “systemic racism” again, and Sanders to “institutional racism.”

Three quick points: First, the dog that didn’t bark is that there was no mention, of course, of the fact that 71 percent of African Americans are born out of wedlock, and it is the implosion of the black family that is most to blame for the continuing (and in many cases growing) racial disparities in this country — in crime, poverty, unemployment, substance abuse, you name it. Second, as I discuss in more detail here, all races do not abuse drugs at the same rate and, in any event, this would tell us very little about prison disparities, since hard time seldom results from simple drug use and, besides, most imprisonment is not for drug crimes at all. Third, the simple fact is that imprisonment rates reflect crime rates, and to characterize our police and prosecutors as systematically racist is false, divisive, and demagogic, and a call for less aggressive policing is the last thing that law-abiding people in high-crime areas want.

Felon Voting in Maryland Just in Time for the Election — and Plenty of Hypocrisy – Unfortunately for the law-abiding citizens of Maryland, on February 9 the state legislature overrode Governor Larry Hogan’s veto of a bill allowing felons to register and vote the moment they are out of prison — even if they are still on parole or probation and haven’t paid any required restitution to their victims or other court costs and fines. The law will take effect in 30 days, just in time for about 44,000 felons to register and vote in the April 26 Maryland primary.

Using the usual argument of those who support allowing felons to vote as soon as they are released, Thomas V. Miller (D), the president of the Maryland Senate, said that felons are “people who have returned to society, repaid their debt to society . . .  [and] we want to reincorporate them into society . . .  We want them to be able to hold their head high, and that’s what this is all about.” But is this what it is really all about, or is it just an attempt to get more voters that favor his political party to the polls?

What Miller doesn’t mention is that under Maryland law, like other states, you don’t just lose your right to vote when you are convicted of a felony — Maryland also bars felons from owning a gun or serving on a jury. The state allows licensing boards to deny an application or impose sanctions on a current license holder for individuals convicted of “drug crimes.”

Licensing boards as varied as cosmetology and architecture are also allowed to deny or suspend the license of an applicant who has been convicted of any felony or even “a misdemeanor that is directly related to the fitness and qualification of the applicant or licensee.”

There is nothing barring the state Department of Corrections or sheriff’s offices from doing background checks and refusing to hire felons. More generally, felons can be barred from any other state employment positions that require a background check or are designated state personnel-management positions. Since you have to undergo a criminal background check to get a teaching certificate in Maryland, this means you can be denied a teaching job the moment you step out of prison — even if you can now vote.

Furthermore, state law allows landlords to discriminate against anyone convicted of felony drug crimes or any person “whose tenancy would . . .  constitute a direct threat to the health or safety of other individuals,” which may describe many felons convicted of violent crimes. Public-housing authorities like Montgomery County and Prince George’s County specifically say that they consider an applicant’s criminal history when determining their “suitability” for public housing.

If the members of the Maryland state legislature who voted to allow felons to vote immediately really believe that felons have “repaid their debt to society” and if they really want to “reincorporate them into society,” why didn’t they include provisions in this voting bill restoring all of those other rights? Are we to believe that they don’t trust a felon fresh out of prison to own a gun? That they don’t believe that felons have the judgment to serve on a jury? To work as law-enforcement officers or teachers? To live in public housing?

So even though these legislators don’t trust felons to be responsible in all of these other areas of licensing, public employment, housing, and the judicial system, they do trust that felons have the judgment to make responsible decisions in the voting booth that will affect the rule of law and specifically, the rules governing our civil society that those felons have proven they are willing to break.

Are these legislators really interested in “reincorporating” felons into our civil society? Or are they just interested in the potential votes these felons will bring?

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Last week I traveled to the University of Texas to debate the issue of affirmative action, and you can watch the event here.  And this week I’ll be traveling to Pittsburgh to talk on the same topic at a couple of events; the newspaper there ran a preview/interview with me, which you can read here.