No more cheating for a good cause
Sandra day o’connor’s retirement from the Supreme Court should make us ponder affirmative action. Her most influential piece of writing might well be the 2003 court opinion allowing the University of Michigan Law School to continue race-based admissions for the time being -- so long as there were no racial quotas. It was the first time the court had ever endorsed race-based university admissions.
And of course, O’Connor herself was the first woman on the Supreme Court. When President Reagan nominated her in 1981, affirmative action was fairly new; O’Connor made it look good. She was superbly qualified, yet presumably would have been overlooked had Reagan not searched expressly for a female.
But that was long ago. Today, affirmative action is ripe for the junkyard. There’s dramatic evidence in President Bush nominating a garden-variety white male to O’Connor’s seat. He said something important by doing so. Consider the fact that for much of the 20th century, the “Jewish seat” was a Supreme Court convention. To have one Jew on the court (no more, no less) seemed proper and fitting. But in time Jews went mainstream and the single “Jewish seat” quietly disappeared. (There are now two Jewish justices).
Bush has delivered a comparable message to women and minorities: Welcome to the mainstream! We don’t need a “woman’s seat” on the court. There are no more outsiders in American life.
Now let’s get rid of affirmative action.
In practice, affirmative action means cheating in a good cause. (But all cheating, for any cause, gnaws at a nation’s moral innards like termites.) Affirmative action means a plus factor in university admissions, job hiring and promotion for candidates from protected groups, in the interests of “diversity.” (But why should “diversity” mean official “minorities” and women but not libertarians, farmers, Mormons, Texans, children of soldiers, aspiring Catholic priests, etc.?)
Affirmative action is highly unpopular: A 2003 Washington Post-Harvard-Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that 92% of the public (86% of blacks) agreed that admissions, hiring and promotion decisions “should be based strictly on merit and qualifications other than race/ethnicity.” Only bureaucrats and intellectuals (species that are more closely related than they seem) love affirmative action.
Is it really “cheating”? In 2003, Linda Chavez, the head of the Center for Equal Opportunity, described University of Michigan freshman admissions as they stood in the mid-1990s: “We found that the odds ratio favoring admission of a black applicant with identical grades and test scores to a white applicant was 174 to 1.” The high court struck down that admissions procedure, but it’s a frightening reminder of what people can do in the name of fairness.
Affirmative actions begs comparison with the Vietnam War: two hugely ambitious programs with no exit strategies. In 1965, the Johnson administration launched affirmative action. The Nixon administration relaunched it in 1970, requiring all federal contractors to set “goals and timetables” to govern black hiring. It spread quickly (as a legal requirement or voluntary policy) to unions, government agencies, big business, universities.
It was intended originally not to create diversity but to stamp out prejudice in a hurry. As such, it bears another strange resemblance to Vietnam. You could argue in both cases that we won but refused to admit it. Some modern historians insist that we defeated the Vietnamese communists, then walked off and let them win by default. And we have stamped out so much prejudice that nowadays we are at least as strongly bigoted in favor of women and minorities as we are bigoted against them -- as any 10-year-old can tell you.
Textbooks widely used in public schools consistently downplay white men in favor of women and minorities. (Thomas Edison gets less space than a black scientist who tweaked one of Edison’s inventions. A Navajo physicist gets a detailed write-up, but Albert Einstein doesn’t appear. A biologist of the Seneca tribe is credited with nothing noteworthy, but he gets a picture while James Watson and Francis Crick, co-founders of modern genetics, don’t rate a mention. At virtually any U.S. university, female or minority faculty candidates are in vastly greater demand than plain old white males.
Affirmative action has turned the United States into an aristocracy. British aristocrats have enjoyed their own kind of “reverse discrimination” for a thousand years. America’s affirmative-action aristocrats were only created a generation ago; until then, they were targets of bigotry themselves. So what? No aristocracy is acceptable in the U.S.
O’Connor wrote in the University of Michigan ruling that affirmative action must end some day. George W. might be just the man to end it.
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