Unfortunately, President Bush's powerful words condemning the raced-based admissions tests at the University of Michigan did not extend to the entire idea of "affirmative action." For that phrase has to come to mean quotas and racial preferences that are every bit as odious as the policies they were designed to correct.
Affirmative action belongs in the same graveyard as Jim Crow. But now we must rely upon the U.S. Supreme Court to put it there.
Nevertheless, the president is to be commended for taking a principled stand in this blazing controversy and for rejecting the timid counsel of White House aides who wanted him to declare neutrality. That would have been a dereliction of moral duty that would have crippled his reputation for leadership and demoralized millions.
The Michigan case is so egregious, few liberals take pains to defend it. The law school uses the same sort of admissions quotas once used to keep Jews out of the Ivy League. The college has a policy where a perfect score of 1600 on a Scholastic Aptitude Test will get a student 12 points toward admission, but being black, Hispanic or Native American gets you 20
This is like giving white sprinters a 20-yard head start in the 100-yard dash -- because, otherwise, only blacks will be up on the victory stand. It is almost laughably anti-white. That the administration and faculty at Michigan support such racism speaks volumes about the corruption of the academic community. At least "Pitchfork Ben" Tillman and "Bull" Connor were open about their racist beliefs.
What is it that causes so many politicians to recoil from the bold and unequivocal stand the president took? Back in the 1950s and 1960s, when America concluded that government-sanctioned segregation was wrong, it was gone with the wind. When the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was debated, liberals were clear: This law means an end to all discrimination! Said Sen. Hubert Humphrey, I will eat it page by page if it proves that we have introduced a new kind of discrimination -- i.e., racial quotas -- to replace the old "separate but equal."
Upon this commitment, the Silent Majority accepted the civil rights revolution. But now, in place of the old clarity, we have confusion, and it is hard to see how even the Supreme Court can sort it all out. But the court remains this country's last best hope of stopping our headlong plunge toward Balkanization.
For all of these race- and ethnic-based policies -- in admissions, hirings, promotions, firings, contracts -- have not only failed to heal the old divisions. They have created new ones. They have engendered an "identity politics" where what is central to one's self-identification is the ethnic or racial group to which one belongs.
Democrats have piled on the president for taking a stand against the Michigan admissions policy, but the politics are all on the president's side. Everywhere Americans have had a chance to vote on the clear principle -- no discrimination and no preferential treatment based on race -- they have voted in favor. Even in California, a constitutional amendment declaring an end to affirmative action in state schools won in a landslide, though white folks there are now in the minority.
In denouncing Bush's opposition to the Michigan admissions policies, only Richard Gephardt, a graduate of Michigan Law, rose up in their defense. Most Democrats confined their criticisms to generalities.
"The Bush administration continues a disturbing pattern of using the rhetoric of diversity as a substitute for real progress on a civil rights agenda," said John Kerry. The president "sided with the right wing of his party and sent a signal that equal opportunity in higher education has a low priority for his administration," chirps Joe Lieberman. "Once again today, the administration has said as clearly by their actions as anyone can, they will continue to side with those opposed to civil rights," said Tom Daschle.
This is blather, boilerplate. Where was the ringing endorsement of the Michigan policy of quotas in law school or 20 points for being black in college? Nowhere. And if Democrats choose to make affirmative action their cutting issue in 2004, they could lose the election of 2004 by the same margins as they used to lose elections in the 1980s.
But, politics aside, the direction in which the president has pointed is the only safe harbor for America if we are to survive as one nation and one people: the elimination of race and ethnicity as a reference point for state policy. If discrimination must exist, and it regrettably will to the end of time, at least let's privatize it.