May 15, 2007

Obama on Affirmative Action: Don't End It, Don't Mend It, Extend It!

Obama on Affirmative Action: Don't End It, Don't Mend It, Extend It! Mickey Kaus gets all excited over Sen. Barack Obama's Sunday talk show statement that he sort of kind of favors class-based preferences. Mickey writes:

Even Barack Obama, under pressure from George Stephanopoulos, seemed to be abandoning the affirmative action idea and shifting toward embracing a class-based preference system, notes Roger Clegg. ... This is more than a potential 'Sister Souljah moment' for Obama. Obama would not be showing that he can reject the more extreme, wacky positions of his party's component interest groups. He'd be showing he's rejecting what has been a central and widely accepted demand of an interest group with which he is inevitably identified. He's not quite there yet--and maybe he'll have to backtrack after his ABC This Week comments--but he's at least on the verge of giving voters not merely a reason to not oppose him, but a big reason to support him--the prospect that President Obama will end race preferences and the long, divisive debate they generate.

Mickey's enthusiasm is a classic example of Obama's knack for I-Have-Understood-Youisms, where people assume that because Obama seems to understand their views, he must share them. But as the French settlers in Algeria discovered when De Gaulle, shortly after famously telling them "I have understood you," gave their country to their mortal enemies, understanding is not always the same as favoring.

Anyway, the transcript is remarkably lacking in evidence "that President Obama will end race preferences." It just shows a politician slip-sliding around an interviewer. If anything, Obama seems to want to add class-based quotas on top of race-based ones. Hey, Obama didn't go into politics to leave people alone. The more government meddling the merrier!

Stephanopoulos: You've been a strong supporter of affirmative action.

Obama: Yes.

Stephanopoulos: And you're a constitutional law professor so let's go back in the classroom.....I'm your student. I say Professor, you and your wife went to Harvard Law School. Got plenty of money, you're running for president. Why should your daughters when they go to college get affirmative action?

Obama: Well, first of all, I think that my daughters should probably be treated by any admissions officer as folks who are pretty advantaged, and I think that there's nothing wrong with us taking that into account as we consider admissions policies at universities. I think that we should take into account white kids who have been disadvantaged and have grown up in poverty and shown themselves to have what it takes to succeed. So I don't think those concepts are mutually exclusive. I think what we can say is that in our society race and class still intersect, that there are a lot of African American kids who are still struggling, that even those who are in the middle class may be first generation as opposed to fifth or sixth generation college attendees, and that we all have an interest in bringing as many people together to help build this country.

Stephanopoulos:
Sandra Day O'Connor wrote that in 25 years affirmative action may no longer be necessary. Is she right?

Obama: I would like to think that if we make good decisions and we invest in early childhood education, improved K through 12, if we have done what needs to be done to ensure that kids who are qualified to go to college can afford it, that affirmative action becomes a diminishing tool for us to achieve racial equality in this society.

I would like to think that too. I don't actually think that, but I would like to think that.

That Obama is making vague noises in favor of class-based affirmative action is hardly new news -- the rhetoric is also in Obama's bestseller The Audacity of Hope.

Nor is the idea of class-based affirmative action new. There was a book about it a dozen years ago that made waves in the centrist wonk world. The idea was tangentially part of Clinton's disingenuous policy of delay and distraction on affirmative action: "Mend It, Don't End It." The reality is that quotas are a very simple policy, a hard to screw up policy that isn't really mendable. It's either a good idea or a bad idea. But the existence of vague alternatives in the air like class-based affirmative action helped Clinton give the impression that everything bad about affirmative action was going to be reformed away Real Soon Now, leaving just the good parts. In reality, almost nothing was done at the federal level (other than Gingrich's Congress abolished tax breaks for television stations bought by minorities), which is exactly what Clinton intended all along.

Nothing ever happens with the idea of class-based affirmative action because it is fatally flawed.

Switching to class-based affirmative action would either:

- Massively redistribute the current number of affirmative action slots from blacks and Hispanics to whites and Asians; or

- Require such huge increases in the extent of preferences (at least a doubling) to avoid hurting blacks and Hispanics that the economy would be badly damaged by the big increase in the number of incompetents getting admitted, hired, and promoted.

The latter would appear to be Obama's theoretical preference, but it's all just a rhetorical game. There is absolutely no chance that the upper half of the white population will give up significant money and power for the benefit of less competent individuals from the lower half of the white population.

Anyway, let me remind everybody that the debate over affirmative action is highly unrealistic because the model everybody has in their heads is university admissions, but that's just a minor element. In the more-important employment sphere, as I wrote in VDARE.com in "The Unmentionable Root of the Quota Problem," the reality is, unfortunately, that racial quotas are the inevitable by-products of our anti-discrimination laws. When Barry Goldwater explained how the 1964 Civil Rights Act would lead to quotas, Hubert Humphrey famously promised to eat a printed copy of the law if it ever happened. But merely a half-decade later, quotas were commonplace.

Quotas are now treated by conservative ideologists as the arch-betrayal of the “colorblind” 1964 Act—forgetting Goldwater's prophetic logic. But the truth is that, regardless of the letter of the law, aggressively-enforced anti-discrimination laws automatically lead to quotas. These laws place the burden of proof on the employer to justify any deviation from equal outcomes in hiring and promotions. Lawsuits can be won. But the cost can be so crushing that most firms will do what it takes to stay out of court. So they use quotas.

As long as there are strong anti-discrimination laws and enforcement agencies that prefer to err on the side of minorities, corporate America will impose quotas on itself.

So, will President Obama attack anti-discrimination laws? Well, here's a clue. When he got out of Harvard Law School at age 30, with hundreds of job offers to choose among, what job did he pick? Right ... anti-discrimination lawyer.


My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

26 comments:

russ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ziel said...

Great points, as usual. I'd say the vast majority of Americans have no clue what the "Civil Rights" act means to their everyday lives. The other side of the coin as far as employment quotas is what might be called bureaucratic due diligence. Being able to demonstrate to EEOC auditors that you routinely torture your employees via various diversity, "affirmative management", anti-harassment programs, and by using "diversity" measures as a management evaluative tool, is also important to showing good faith and avoid being sued. So you dont' necessarily need to meet, say, a 15% quota, just that you've made the effort. While perhaps not the worst thing in the world, it certainly contributes to making the jobs of millions of Americans more miserable than they need be.

Anonymous said...

As a victim of racial quotas myself (I'm in the generational niche that got hammered by them at the beginning of my working life, 1990-1994, along with "Dilbert" creator Scott Adams), I think President Obama (and all the scary people who would ride into power on his coattails) would be a long-term disaster for Whites. I came out semi-okay, thanks to a small conservative swing away from pro-quota attitudes in business around 1994-1999 (as did Scott Adams, because he's a genius), but the dent quotas made in my life in terms of lost opportunities that I had earned is large. No crying over spilled milk, but why plan to spill more of it?

It is interesting to look into the ethnicity of the drivers of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, but perhaps this topic is verboten, here as everywhere.

jody said...

i still don't understand why mexicans get affirmative action. also, i don't understand what is going to happen in america in 2040 when the majority of "americans" in high school are going to be eligible for affirmative action, whether it be to college or to jobs.

how do you handle a nation where the majority of people will get affirmative action for their entire lives? how much affirmative action does south africa have, and how do they handle having a majority eligible for it?

also i want to know why white and black are lower case, but Asian is capitalized. and of course "Hispanic" is not a race and should not be used that way, especially on this website. that makes me wonder how "Hispanic" is going to be handled in 2040. will anybody with a spanish name, or a single ancestor at any time with a spanish name, still be "Hispanic" in 2040? the magic of the "Hispanic transfer rule" opens all sorts of strange possibilities in a nation with interracial marriage. "Hispanic" muslims, "Hispanic" asians, "Hispanic" indians?

RKU said...

I really can't imagine why anyone would expect Obama to oppose let alone actually reduce racial AA. After all, his entire personal career and his presidential campaign is almost entirely based on racial AA.

For example, if his father had been white Kenyan rather than black Kenyan, I'd suspect that the likelihood of his being admitted to Harvard Law---let alone becoming Review president---would have been approximately zero.

Furthermore, if racial AA disappeared in the near future, I'd expect that the educational and economic life-chances of his own children and those of most of his closest friends and associates would be reduced by around 95%.

Now it's certainly possible that George W. will suddenly begin a national crusade against nepotism. Or that Paris Hilton will advocate a confiscatory tax on inherited wealth. Or that Ronald Reagan hoped to eliminate the American film industry. But none of these seems very likely. So why should be expect Obama to seek to destroy the source of his own personal success in life?

Anonymous said...

Stephanopoulos: "You've been a strong supporter of affirmative action."

Obama: "Yes."

That's all you need to know. It's the only answer that matters. The answer that comes before the fluff and spin. Everything else is him just finessing the issue, trying to look like a moderate. I'm shocked if a guy as smart as Mickey Kaus doesn't see that.

Obama has also been an avid supporter of open borders/illegal immigration/amnesty for prior. He and Mel Martinez came out at a press conference together, demanding amnesty. He voted for the worst immigration bill in American history, 2. 2611. Apparently, Obama and many others think that immigrants (or children of) have a greater moral right to comment on America's immigration policy than the descendants of the people who welcomed them here.

Politicians say lots of things that voters want to hear, large percentages of which is complete crap. It's not a bad thing that they feel the need to voice the concerns of the voters. Even if they're sincere in wanting to listen, we've seen that when the chips are down the only political issues they'll fight for are the ones they truly believe in, and every adopted issue gets dumped by the side of the road.

Obama is the smooth-talking son of a serial bigamist (not unlike the last Demo president, come to think of it - is there a pattern here?) He was raised as a Muslim by his Indonesian step-father, then decided to follow a far-left, black Christian preacher - probably when he realized that being Muslim was a handicap.

The more I learn about him, the more I hope that he is the Democratic nominee. He'll be far easier to beat than Hillary.

reticentman said...

ahhhhh Barry Goldwater.
The exception that proves the rule that Politicians Are Scum. A man who had actual real principled beliefs about what was best for his constituents and was willing to fight for them at great cost personally and professionally.

Anonymous said...

Quotas and sinecures.

If you have to hire incompetents, you don't put them into important jobs. You put them somewhere where they simply cannot screw up too badly.

josh said...

The idea of Obama opposing AA,or doing anything other than expanding it,is crazy. Who is he supposed to be appealing to with that horsehockey? I love all this crap about how Obama is going to "transcend race",it makes me think of him in an Evel Kneivel suit jumping across a canyon:"I am about to Transcend Race! Here I gooooooooooooo....." without about as much success as the real Evel!

Peter said...

One often-overlooked but major advantage of race-based affirmative action is that it's ridiculously easy to administer. All that a college admissions office or corporate personnel department has to know is an applicant's race or ethnicity, and in the vast majority of cases that's obvious. There's no need to make the sort of value judgments and factor weighing that a socioeconomic class-based AA program would require. For instance, there's no need to determine whether an applicant raised in a middle-class single parent household is more deserving than one raised by both parents in relative poverty. While lawsuits challenging the validity of an AA program can occur whether the program is race/ethnicity-based or class-based, lawsuits challenging the specific application of the program are highly unlikely with the former type and all too predictable with the latter type.


As a result, don't expect to see universities or businesses adovating any change to the current system. They have it very easy.

Anonymous said...

Politics are, essentially, divvying up the spoils.

IMHO we seem to be getting towards a tipping point in politics where large masses of ordinary Anglo voters are seeing the spoils going to other groups. And as in Prop 13 or other causes needing only a candidate or cause to lead to a political upheaval of the current regime.

Steve is correct in his estimation that Wealthy White Elites won't give up the Affirmative Action hammer to keep lower class whites out of the upward mobility ladder. He's dead wrong that it's because of competence or IQ. It's because of privilege. If anything the threat is perceived to be much greater from working and middle class whites because they have both intellectual (native ability) and social (generally disciplined work habits) capital that African-American and Hispanic groups are perceived to lack (by the White Elites).

Ultimately scarce resources are going to be fought over. Given that Middle Class Whites still make up the majority of voters and citizens, despite the open borders proponents and efforts to dilute them with unfettered immigration, I don't see the current Affirmative Action status quo being sustainable much longer. Any more than the dominance of the NorthEastern Federalist-Whig coalition around John Quincy Adams could hold off the Westerners embodied by Andrew Jackson, or slavery compromises could hold off the Middle West ascendancy of Lincoln and the Republicans, etc.

Even admission to the "best" schools makes a huge difference in lifetime earnings which parents know and of course resent bitterly: "their" child's spot going to a minority who is not viewed as kin, etc. This is why the Michigan anti-Affirmative Action and also the California initiative by Ward Connerly were so wildly successful and popular even in very liberal states.

Along with competition for real estate by illegal immigrants, special privileges (and again, the explosive nature politically of granting illegal immigrants in-state tuition and Affirmative Action Admits is IMHO obvious) for minorities means the white working and middle class lose and the elite wins. Given the nature of spoils politics this current status quo is IMHO not sustainable.

Expressions of group interests have been successfully stigmatized as racism, but it only works so far. A large and sustained economic downturn will only intensify efforts to carve out ethnic slices of the spoils. That's the logic of ethnically based spoils politics, it only encourages other identity politics. Nationally Obama will be seen as just another Tammany Hall spoils politician, but one hostile to the majority group's interests. If he's the nominee this alone will IMHO guarantee his defeat.

Anonymous said...

that makes me wonder how "Hispanic" is going to be handled in 2040

Deconstructing the language itself is a key step toward an Orwellian future. If the powers that be can label crucial issues with terms that have ambiguous meanings (like Hispanic), then they can conceal any agenda.

Hispanic means whatever the government wants it to mean. Sort of like Comprehensive Immigration Reform or War Czar.

Police departments all over the country classify mestizo perps as "white" because they are under pressure from the FBI to do so. But the same group of people is classified as Hispanic when they are victims of crime.

The US census is full of meaningless categories. For example: "white". The Iraqi refugees from this conflict are going to be classified as "white" and "non-Hispanic white" in the next census.

Deconstruction of language is basic strategy for all tyrannical regimes. Language control > idea control > media control > social control.

In the modern era, if a politician sticks to the PC lexicon (the new Newspeak), there is no way to determine where exactly they stand on any issue. That is the entire point. Because where they stand is almost always against the majority of the people's interest.

Anonymous said...

I'm all for colleges weighting class background in applications. There are tons of smart kids from all racial backgrounds who have the brains and the will to succeed, but were stuck in crappy schools with few or no AP classes, no expensive SAT preps, and mediocre to lousy teachers, putting them at a disadvantage when up against the resume-polishers of the upper middle class suburbs.

Anonymous said...

And as in Prop 13 or other causes needing only a candidate or cause to lead to a political upheaval of the current regime.

Hopefully this political upheaval will involve repeal of Prop 13 - it has been an all-around disaster for CA. How much "native ability" does it take to realize this?

Peter said...

Police departments all over the country classify mestizo perps as "white" because they are under pressure from the FBI to do so ... The US census is full of meaningless categories. For example: "white". The Iraqi refugees from this conflict are going to be classified as "white" and "non-Hispanic white" in the next census.

If your point is that the "white" category includes people who are physically nonwhite, consider that a person whose physical appearance is totally, 100% lily-white is nonetheless classified as nonwhite if he or she has even the slightest iota of black ancestry. Are you pale skinned, blonde-haired and blue-eyed? If great-great-great granddad was black, legally you are too.

C. Van Carter said...

I tried to find out if anyone ever asked Barry if he benefited from affirmative action. I only found this (which I can't access) where he says "I have no way of knowing whether I was a beneficiary of affirmative action either in my admission to Harvard or my initial election to the Review." Sure.

MensaRefugee said...

how do you handle a nation where the majority of people will get affirmative action for their entire lives? how much affirmative action does south africa have, and how do they handle having a majority eligible for it?
Posted by Jody

-----------------------

By massive taxation and making the whites do the jobs of their incompetent black bosses. Though, South Africa isnt the only country with a majority in AA. Malaysia has it too, I believe the Malays make 51-53% of the population and get AA against the Chinese and Indian minorities - but its definitely a softer AA than the draconian SA one. (Read Sowell's Affirmative Action around the world for the Malay case study).

An important point to consider in the SA case is that the whites are leaving as fast as they can pack their bags. Out of the ~6 mil there, over a million have left. Its worse than it sounds because that million is concentrated in the 18-40 group, so its more like half or more of the productive whites have left.

Peewee said...

I got into the JSTOR article. After Barack Obama said the quote you posted, he went on to add "If I was [a beneficiary], then I certainly am not ashamed of the fact, for I would argue that affirmative action is important precisely because those who benefit typically rise to the challenge when given an opportunity. Persons outside Harvard may have perceived my election to the presidency of the Review as a consequence of affirmative action, since they did not know me personally."

Also: South Africa doesn't really have anything like what we are familiar with as Affirmative Action. What they have is government agencies designed to restrict the economic activities of whites and other minorities such as Indians, all of whom are richer than the majority blacks.

(Uh-oh, comment moderation. I guess it had to happen.)

Did my first post go through? If this is a duplicate post, I apologize.

jody said...

well the timing of this article was convenient!

yahoo news:

Affirmative action is failing in South Africa

May 15 '07

http://tinyurl.com/2dfgmo

Anonymous said...

from the article linked by cvc..

--
According to JBHE's latest survey, the Harvard Law Review was the only review at which blacks made up a
larger percentage of the editorial board than of the student body at the law school. The Harvard Law Review has a long history of choosing black editors.
...
In 1991 Barack Obama was the first Afncan American to be named president of the Harvard Law Review. Obama, now 38 years old, is a graduate of Columbia University, After college he served as the director of the Developing Communities Project, a not-for-profit organization on Chicago's South Side, that provided job-training programs and college preparatory classes for low-income students. In 1988 Obama was accepted and enrolled at Harvard Law School. He was elected to the law review in his second year and, during his third year, was elected president of the Haward Law Review, the first African American to hold that post.
...
"I had established a presence
in the classroom and in other activities during my first
year of law school -serving as an editor on the Harvard
Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Review, assisting several professors on their scholarly work, and campaigning actively on issues of diversity in faculty hiring. As a result, I think my peers and professors knew that I took my work at the law school seriously and were less likely to question my qualifications for a spot on the Review. Moreover, by the time I was
elected to the presidency of the Review, the peers who voted for me had worked with me in close quarters for over a year
and were pretty familiar with my accomplishments."

"I have no way of knowing whether I was a beneficiary of -
affirmative action either in my admission to Harvard or my
initial election to the Review," Obama told JBHE. "If I was,
then I certainly am not ashamed of the fact, for I would argue
that affirmative action is important precisely because those
who benefit typically rise to the challenge when given an opportunity. Persons outside Harvard may have perceived my
election to the presidency of the Review as a consequence of
affirmative action, since they did not know me personally. At
least one white friend of mine mentioned that a federal appellate
court judge asked him during his clerkship whether I had been elected on the merits. And the issue did come up among those who were making the hiring decisions at the University of Chicago] law school -something that might
not have even been raised with respect to a white former
president of the Review."

Svigor said...

Just so you know Steve, this gay new moderation method of yours is causing pages to regularly eat my posts (FF 1.5).

Svigor said...

something that might
not have even been raised with respect to a white former
president of the Review


Thanks for the paste, Anon.

Blacks love to play the babe in the woods routine vis-a-vis "Affirmative Action" (sounds like a name the Einsatzgruppen might've given one of their programs); "I'll pretend not to know what it's really about, and you'll pretend there's no witch hunt waiting to pounce on you if you question me." Obviously, he's implying that questioning a black's qualifications be raciss, and assuming no one will question him (i.e., ask why it's racist to wonder if a member of a group eligible for preferences did in fact receive preferences).

Peewee said...

Moderating posts might keep trolls out but it messes up the flow of conversation. If someone has replied to another poster, but their comment has not yet appeared, I might think that they havent replied yet, and write my own reply, which looks useless and out of place when the other one appears. I liked it better the way it was.

Mark said...

"If I was [a benefit of affirmative action], then I certainly am not ashamed of the fact, for I would argue that affirmative action is important precisely because those who benefit typically rise to the challenge when given an pportunity.

OR...they could have risen to the challenge BEFORE applying for the job, by qualifying for it on the merits. My guess is that those people who don't do such won't rise to the occasion afterwards, either.

Back in the early 1970s, before affirmative action had kicked in, about 3% of American doctors were black. 20 years later, after two decades of affirmative action...3% of American doctors were black.

And FWIW, I think the moderation is great. I don't miss guys like "Jupiter."

Mark said...

If your point is that the "white" category includes people who are physically nonwhite, consider that a person whose physical appearance is totally, 100% lily-white is nonetheless classified as nonwhite if he or she has even the slightest iota of black ancestry. Are you pale skinned, blonde-haired and blue-eyed? If great-great-great granddad was black, legally you are too.

Categorized by who? People categorize themselves these days. I am pasty white European, but if I marked "African American" on the next census, the Bureau would be none the wiser. They'd count me and my family as black.

AA in business and college is based more on appearance and surnames than on alleged ancestry. (Trust me - I'm 3.125% American Indian, and I know that I'll never qualify as an AA appointee in anyone's manual.)

Anonymous said...

becarefull is all i can say just look at south africa