Monday, July 28

OBAMA TALKS SENSE ABOUT AFFIRMATIVE ACTION

Richard Prince's Journal-isms - Obama told the Unity audience, "I've also said that affirmative action is not going to be the long-term solution to the problems of race in America, because, frankly, if you've got 50 percent of African American or Latino kids dropping out of high school, it doesn't really matter what you do in terms of affirmative action. Those kids are not getting into college.

"And, you know, there have been times where I think affirmative action has been viewed as a shortcut to solving some of these broader, long-term structural problems.

"I also think that we have to think about affirmative action and craft it in such a way where some of our children who are advantaged aren't getting more favorable treatment than a poor white kid who's struggled more. That has to be taken into account."

The Swamp - Obama said minority children who come from wealthy homes should not be given greater consideration for college, for example, than "a poor white kid who has struggled more."

Progress Report - On ABC News's This Week, George Stephanopoulos asked Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) about how "opponents of affirmative action" in his home state of Arizona are pushing a ballot initiative "that would do away" with the equal opportunity program. "Do you support that?" asked Stephanopoulos. "Yes, I do," replied McCain, adding that he had "not seen the details of some of these proposals," but that he's "always opposed quotas." Asked again specifically about "the one here in Arizona," McCain responded, "I support it, yes." McCain's support for the current anti-affirmative action initiative is a reversal of the stance he took in 1998 when Arizona previously considered a similar referendum. At the time, McCain said that "rather than engage in divisive ballot initiatives, we must have a dialogue and cooperation and mutual efforts together to provide every child in America to fulfill their expectations."

In his interview with Stephanopoulos, McCain justified his support for the Arizona initiative by saying, "I do not believe in quotas." But the effort to dismantle equal opportunity in Arizona has nothing to do with quotas, which were declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court 30 years ago. The proposed amendment to the Arizona's constitution, which is being pushed by the Arizona Civil Rights Initiative, seeks to "prohibit preferential treatment or discrimination" by Arizona governmental entities "based on race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education or public contracting." "The initiative is part of a nationwide attempt by Ward Connerly to have governmental affirmative action policies eliminated." Connerly's anti-affirmative action initiatives are set to capitalize on the "tensions of race, class, and ethnicity" stirred up by anti-immigrant efforts. Connerly, who successfully outlawed affirmative action in California, is also supporting initiatives in Colorado and Nebraska. On CNN's Late Edition yesterday, McCain declined to take a position on the Colorado initiative, saying, "I'm not familiar with the referendum." The language of Connerly's Colorado amendment is essentially the same as the Arizona amendment McCain endorsed on ABC.

As many news outlets have pointed out, McCain's embrace of Arizona's anti-affirmative action ballot initiative stands in opposition to his record on equal opportunity. Not only has McCain previously resisted state-level efforts to dismantle affirmative action, as he did in 1998, but he has also defended such programs on the federal level. In 1998, McCain worked with Democrats to defeat an amendment that would have ended a program that sought "to give 10 percent of all Federally financed highway contracts to companies owned by minorities and women." In 1999, while speaking at the Unity convention, McCain declared, "I'm in favor of affirmative action and I support it." He reiterated this support as recently as April 2008, telling reporters in Ohio, "all of us are for affirmative action to try to give assistance to those who need it, whether it be African-American or other groups of Americans that need it."

Sam Smith, Progressive Review, 1995 - Affirmative action has been ineffective in many ways. It has failed inner city residents. It has favored middle-class women over poorer ones. Its effects on minority participation on college campuses peaked some years ago. It has been abused and manipulated by unneedy members of minorities and by white business firms. And, like other aspects of liberal politics and race relations, it has been preempted by lawyers whose policies too often lead to the courthouse rather than to resolution. Affirmative action needs to be restudied and reframed by its friends before it is destroyed by its enemies. For starters, here are some ways its goals, rather than merely its chosen tactics, might be furthered:

-Tell people who's really taking their jobs: As with the anti-immigration hysteria, the attack on affirmative action is fed by real fears caused by job loss. In fact, neither minority hiring nor immigration is a major factor in this job loss. The real cause is white guys. The white guys who run multinational corporations that have taken jobs overseas. The white guys who came up with GATT and NAFTA. The white guys who are downsizing Fortunate 500 companies. The white guys who are automating. And the white economists who say that high unemployment is necessary for the health of the country and so you folks out there will just have to decide among yourselves who's going to suffer it.

Absent a politics that clearly identifies the real sources of economic pain -- the stateless corporation, automation, the corporatist policies of both parties, and the legal emigration of business rather than the illegal immigration of persons -- many will continue to place the blame on other victims rather than where it belongs. The Democratic Party -- even its liberal wing -- has been unwilling to do this. They would be criticizing too many of their contributors.

- Include affirmative action by zip-code, census tract, economic status or some other way that adds the factor of class to those of race and gender. Every really successful social program in this country has either been universal or strongly cross-cultural -- including needy whites. Failing to follow this basic rule of American politics has hurt affirmative action badly.

- Settle more cases by mediation. Affirmative action, like other ethnic and gender issues, begs for dispute resolution rather than litigation. Unfortunately, the rules have been drawn up by litigators and not by peacemakers.

- Give protection to those hurt by affirmative action. Part of the political problem of affirmative action has been the insensitivity of its supporters to the pain it has caused in specific instances. One way to mitigate this is to provide protection for an employee who loses out in order to make room for someone else. For example, imagine a white police sergeant who qualifies for lieutenant but is not chosen in the interest of better integration at headquarters. That sergeant should automatically go to the top of the list for the next hiring round. He has already done his part for affirmative action.

- Provide incentives rather than just regulations. For example, firms that lead the pack in improving their hiring practices or in overall diversity of employment could be given a federal seal they could use in advertising. Such an icon could have increasing value as minority markets expand.

- Provide wiggle room, especially for smaller businesses. A big problem for small businesses is that government regulations are too complex and unforgiving. What if we offered these smaller firms some leeway in how they help America become a better place? For example, what if, for such businesses, we lumped affirmative action, energy conservation and recycling together in such a way that a laggard in minority hiring could partially compensate by excelling in reduced energy use or vice versa? Such a program would be based on the principle that while we all have our faults, we all can do something right as well.

- Take on the discrimination we've been ducking: The two big areas are housing and transportation. We have failed to confront these forms of discrimination, preferring to deal only with their results -- often ineffectively -- through such means as school bussing and affirmative action. We would not need to rely so much on affirmative action if we finally faced these issues.

- Shorten the work-week and move towards full employment. Nothing would so ease the tensions surrounding affirmative action as jobs for everyone. As long as we fail at this, there are going to be too many people wanting too few jobs. Someone is going to lose. And be mad about it.

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