Why not debate affirmative action?

Race-baiting or race-preference-baiting? Ben Smith on Donald Trump’s how’d-he-get-into-college charge:

The demand threatened to open another yawning abyss, the debate over affirmative action and race, and black leaders sharply rebuked Trump.

“Trump and the rest have played a very divisive card from the fact of his birth to now implying that he got into two Ivy League schools … by affirmative action, which clearly brings race into the matter,” said the Rev. Al Sharpton.

What’s wrong with having a debate over affirmative action? Is Sharpton saying African-Americans don’t get into Ivy League schools because of affirmative action? If not, then what’s the point of having it?**

The biggest problem with race preferences is that they taint the achievements, not just of those who benefit from them, but of everyone in the beneficiary group–even those who would have gotten into the college or gotten the job, etc., without the preference.  That is an unfairness Obama may acutely feel.  Race preferences are a big reason blacks feel they have to be twice as good as everyone else to measure up in society’s eyes–which is a powerful argument for ending the preferences.

The amazing thing isn’t that we would have a debate on this divisive issue now but that Obama’s been able to duck it for so long–in part by preemptively hinting that he’d replace race-based preferences with class-based preferences. It’s a hint he hasn’t dared to act on, while Ward Connerly has been running around the country actually getting racial preference laws repealed. Maybe Obama’s “leading from behind” on the issue. …

P.S: Were Obama a magnificent president in all respects, Trump’s charge would have little resonance. Who cares how Obama got into Harvard Law? In 2008, it was obvious enough to voters that he might have benefitted from preferences. He won a national majority anyway. But it turns out there are some ropes Obama doesn’t seem to have learned in his turbo-boosted ascent up the political hierarchy. He hasn’t been alert to some ingrained bureaucratic pathologies–he told Jon Alter he learned as president that “one of the biggest lies in government is the idea of ‘shovel-ready’ projects.” Wish he hadn’t had to learn that!  Nor does he appear to have acquired the skill–that someone like Bill Clinton would need to acquire to survive several terms as a governor–of making a policy sale.  And would a leader versed in effectively wielding power declare that, say, the leader of the sovereign nation of Libya “needs to go” if he wasn’t willing to do what was necessary to make him go? Rookie mistake? The synecdoche–Obama himself as Exhibit A in the broader race preference policy debate–works now in a way it didn’t in the Fall of 2008. Sorry, David! …

P.P.S.: Man who championed Charles Murray’s Bell Curve denounces “racist smears.”  Beyond excitable! …
Update: Walter Russell Mead elaborates on the experience Obama didn’t get in his too-rapid rise. Mead comes perilously close to a Unified Obama Critique. …

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Lee-Reynolds/10057472 Lee Reynolds

    There’s really nothing to debate. “Affirmative action” is just a leftist euphemism for illegitimate discrimination on the basis of race. The fact that it “helps” those who get jobs, positions, etc, on the basis of it does nothing to make it less wrong. Some people call it “reverse discrimination,” but there is no such thing. Either race is NOT a determining factor in whether someone is hired, promoted, etc, or it is a factor. Which racial subgroup gets preferential treatment is irrelevant.

    The older I get, and I’m only 38, the more childish and neurotic so many other people seem to me, even people who are older than me by several decades. What does it say about the human race that these self-created social problems continue to plague us?

  • truebearing

    Why do those who profess to love and worship nature, and all of her wisdom, steadfastly refuse to respect those laws that determine who gets to eat, or mate, when it comes to we humans, who they vociferously insist are co-equals with the slugs and baboons sharing this earth?

    Why does the neo-Darwinist left, creators of the Environmental Religion, reject the concept of survival of the fittest when it comes to humans? If one subspecies evolved to be stronger and one to be smarter, did not Mother Nature have a hand in that too, and is it not heresy for earth worshipping humans to disrespect the evolutionary results of the great Gaia?

    Isn’t Affirmative Action a form of collective diobedience to natural law? Can’t we trust nature to evolve according to what is best for the earth, and if that means the smartest rule over the less intelligent, isn’t that in keeping with nature’s will?

    Does the weakest lion get to mate with the pride of females, while the heavy-maned terror of the hyenas skulks in dark, alone and horny? I think not.

    Does the 2 year old elephant lead the herd through drought and desert to find water and food, while the oldest, wisest female follows meekly? Only if the herd is decidedly suicidal.

    Why would intelligent humans want to perpetuate a system where merit is subordinated to ridiculous political agendas that contradict themselves? They wouldn’t, unless they had ulterior, destructive motives.

    Affirmative Action is a contrivance of those who seek to reorder human society to serve their acquisition of political power. This unnatural tyranny of the stupid serves only the rapacity for power of those whose real interest in justice is to redefine and harness it to their ruthless cause. Affirmative Action is not “social justice”, it is social evil, violating natural law and therefore the survival of members of the species foolish enough to institutionalize such idiocy.

  • showb1zz

    Since we are speaking of affirmative action, if you are a believer then you should be for RESTRICTING women from college degrees, both undergraduate and graduate. According to the census women make up 50.7 percent of the population, yet they obtain anywhere from 54-58% of the undergraduate degrees and they currently represent 58 percent of graduate students. Hmmm…..?

    Of course the real goal of affirmative action is not equality, or fairness, unless by fairness you mean women and minorities over everyone else, regardless of merit.

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  • Luke Lea

    How about affirmative action for all? Ivy League student bodies representing the racial, ethnic, and geographical diversity of America wouldn’t be such a bad thing. A governing elite chosen from “the best and the brightest” of every group in the country. What stigma there?

    Let’s be honest: this is about choosing governing elites in a multi-ethnic, multi-racial democracy. Why should academic “merit” translate into a right to dominate? Are Ashkenazis and East Asians disproportionately “better” at representing the interests of the American people as a whole? Who designed our current trade and immigration policies?

    Imagine a Harvard student body with 3% Ashkenazi, 3% East Asian, 12% African American, 12% Hispanic, and the rest a cross-section of the rest of America. What would be so bad about that? Who would it be good for? Who would it not be good for?

    • joeedh

      That’s a very intriguing point. I agree with Kaus that affirmative action is, in general, more harmful then not to minorities. But when it comes to elite schools, who produce those who will one day rule over us, you have a point. That does make a lot more sense.

    • garyinfh

      Since this comment — suggesting that elite colleges should select their student bodies by the principles of proportional representation — appears to be sincere, and not in jest (deadpan is easier to pull off on the Internet, where no one knows you’re a trickster), I’ll tell you what’s wrong with a Harvard class “with 3% Ashkenazi, 3% East Asian, 12% African American, 12% Hispanic, and the rest a cross-section of the rest of America.” For one thing, it wouldn’t be Harvard anymore. If Harvard (or Yale, Princeton, Stanford, Chicago, MIT, Swarthmore, Amherst, take your pick) actually tried this, it would cease to be an elite institution in short order, and the value of its degrees would decline sharply. (There’s a reason for the old saw that the hardest thing about Harvard is getting in; anyone with enough brains to be admitted in the first place won’t have much difficulty graduating.)

      To get to a point where blacks and Hispanics each outnumbered Jews and East Asians 4-1, Harvard would have to (i) abandon the SAT and any other standardized tests as criteria for admission, (ii) stop giving admissions preference to graduates of highly competitive high schools, whether public [Stuyvesant/Bronx Science] or private, and (iii) radically redefine “previous academic success” into meaninglessness (again, as a criterion for admission, with standardized tests already having been rendered verboten). Alumni would stop giving money, at which point the Harvard Corporation would oust the whole lot of administrators who had this bright idea in the first place.

      (Limiting “Ashkenazi” enrollment to 3%? Quotas meant explicitly to keep Jews out of elite institutions are no better today than the implicit quotas were for most of the 20th century. Do you really think successful Jewish or East Asian alumni will want to donate to schools that tried their best to keep them and their kinds out?)

      As for the notion that “affirmative action for all” means choosing from “the best and the brightest” of every group in the country: in practice, it means taking black and Hispanic students who are less academically qualified than their white and Asian counterparts. The SAT was “recentered” and “re-normed” (read: watered down) in the mid-1990’s to lessen the glaring differences in standardized test scores between the races that every admissions officer in the country knew to exist. Don’t blame the messenger here: ignoring the one standard deviation differential doesn’t make it go away.

      • Luke Lea

        But you have to admit it would not be discriminating in favor of or against any ethnic group, which cannot be said of present policies. Admissions would still be merit based — SAT’s would not go out the window — and the absolutely “best and brightest” (equating “best” with IQ) would still be at Harvard if they choose, just not all the “next best and brightest.” The absolutely best and brightest of every ethnic group would though — rubbing shoulders, making valuable contacts for the rest of their lives. I think that would be good for American governance, for American culture, for American liberal arts education in general, which currently is in a very sad state. (How’s your history?)

        But would it be good for the Ashkenazi Jews? That is the question. Yes, I think it would, on the whole, and over the long term. But more important question is would be good for our society? Can what is good for one not be good for the other?

        I might add that it would also be good for a lot of our colleges and universities further down the food chain. They could use a good dose of more talented students. Spread the wealth around.

        P.S. This argument would not apply to science and engineering schools like MIT where raw brain power is the primary consideration and there are no over-riding social, cultural, and political considerations.

        P.P.S. This is about geography as much as race and ethnicity. Regional and urban/rural biases are equally important. It’s not like there is a serious shortage of ability in this country. In fact if anything there is a surplus, which is one more reason why America should stop stripping the third world of its scarce human capital. Immigration is bad for the sending countries.

      • Luke Lea

        BTW, I’m not suggesting that the Harvard Corporation would have to make this decision (though it would be nice if they did). The United States Congress could do it for them, as a condition for getting federal money and maintaining their tax-exempt status. Such a race neutral law would, I should think, pass constitutional muster. And it would certainly pass the diversity test. :)

        As for alumni giving, alumni will give to the schools they go to if they have fond memories. Does Harvard seriously need $30 billion? Again, spread the wealth around. In fact, there is a shortage of first-rate colleges and universities in my part of the country. (I won’t tell you where I live.) Why don’t today’s billionaires found a few more? Leland Stanford is immortal, but guys like Gates and Buffet will soon be forgotten. Come on guys, make a permanent mark. Found a new college or university — the ultimate status symbol.

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