Why not debate affirmative action?

Mickey Kaus Columnist
Font Size:

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hasn’t dared to act on, while Ward Connerly has been running around the country actually getting racial preference laws repealed.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. …
**– Obama himself, while at Harvard, wrote that he had “undoubtedly benefited from affirmative action.”
Mickey Kaus