Sometime in the new millennium, "global warming" evolved into "climate change." Amid growing controversies over the planet's past temperatures, Al Gore and other activists understood that human-induced "climate change" could better explain almost any weather extremity -- droughts or floods, too much heat or cold, hurricanes and tornadoes.
Similar verbal gymnastics have gradually turned "affirmative action" into "diversity" -- a word ambiguous enough to avoid the innate contradictions of a liberal society affirming illiberal racial preferencing.
In an increasingly multiracial society, it has grown hard to determine the racial ancestry of millions of minorities. Is someone who is ostensibly one-half Native American or African-American classified as a minority eligible for special consideration in hiring or college admission, while someone one-quarter or one-eighth is not? How exactly does affirmative action adjudicate our precise ethnic identities these days? These are not illiberal questions -- given Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren's past claims of being Native American to find advantage in her academic career.
Aside from the increasing difficulty of determining the ancestry of multiracial, multiethnic and intermarried Americans, what exactly is the justification for affirmative action's ethnic preferences in hiring or admission -- historical grievance, current underrepresentation due to discrimination, or both?
Are the children of President Barack Obama or Attorney General Eric Holder more in need of help than the offspring of first-generation immigrants from the Punjab or Cambodia? If non-white ancestry no longer offers an accurate assessment of ongoing discrimination, is affirmative action justified by a legacy of historical bias or contemporary ethnic underrepresentation?
Does a recent arrival from Oaxaca who fled the racism and poverty of Mexico warrant special compensation upon arrival in the United States? And if so, when? A day, a month, a year or a decade after crossing the border? How about a Chilean, Korean or Iraqi immigrant? Should particular coveted employment match the nation's racial composition -- jobs on the faculty, but not jobs in the NBA or in the Postal Service?
How do we fairly allocate compensation for past collective sins against a bygone generation? Slavery, Jim Crow, internment of Japanese-Americans, racially exclusionary immigration laws and the denial of U.S. admission to Jews fleeing the Holocaust: All were reprehensible; but it is difficult to know the degree to which these injustices still distort the career paths of individual Americans, or who still alive is to blame.