George Will

Well. The phrase "affirmative action" came into vogue in the years after the 1976 Democratic platform endorsed "compensatory opportunity." That obfuscating phrase appeared immediately after the platform said "we must insure that all citizens are treated equally before the law." Advocates of affirmative action have long denied that it involves racial preferences. Now Missouri is insisting that a ban on such preferences would eliminate all affirmative action.

Ward Connerly, the man organizing this year's five initiatives to promote colorblind governance, disagrees. A California businessman and former member, for 12 years, of the University of California Board of Regents, he stresses that many affirmative action measures, such as outreach to recruit students and employees from economically disadvantaged and isolated groups, do not require racial preferences.

MoCRI supporters went to court, arguing that the two Democrats' "explanation" of their amendment is couched in language that is "convoluted, ambiguous and muddled" and is "prejudicial, conclusory and untrue." They said that banning racial discrimination in the form of racial preferences does not ban programs to eliminate discrimination. They noted that MoCRI does not "allow" preferential treatment; rather, it would not obstruct receipt of federal funds tied to federal requirements. And the secretary of state's and the attorney general's "explanation" of MoCRI does not explain that MoCRI authorizes granting preferential treatment on the basis of age, disability or status as a veteran.

The judge largely sided with MoCRI's supporters, ordering this ballot language: "Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to: Ban state and local government affirmative action programs that give preferential treatment in public contracting, employment, or education based on race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin, unless such programs are necessary to establish or maintain eligibility for federal funding or to comply with an existing court order?" The two Democrats, aware that similar language has won landslides in three other states, are appealing the decision.

The conventions that govern America's racial discourse derive from the odious "one drop" rule. According to it, anyone with any admixture of black ancestry -- one drop of black "blood" -- is black. So, Connerly is an African-American. One of his grandparents was of African descent, one was Irish, a third was Irish and American Indian, the fourth was French Canadian. Two of the grandchildren of Connerly and his Irish wife have a Vietnamese mother. Are these grandchildren African-Americans?

Will the superstitions surrounding race ever fade away? Not before governance is cleansed of the sort of race-based policies opposed by Connerly, who intimately knows the increasing absurdity of racial classifications, and the folly of government preferences based on them.


George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
 
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