May 15, 2007

Should Obama's Daughters Get Affirmative Action? Should Anyone's?

Eugene Robinson asks a contentious question in today's Washington Post about race, identity, and entitlements. Noting that Barack Obama wants to shift the idea of affirmative action from race to class, Robinson thinks both should apply:

Obama has repeatedly gone on record as a supporter of affirmative action. But "if we have done what needs to be done to ensure that kids who are qualified to go to college can afford it," he said in the ABC interview, "affirmative action becomes a diminishing tool for us to achieve racial equality in this society."

He seemed to side with those who think class predominates when he said, "I think that we should take into account white kids who have been disadvantaged and have grown up in poverty and shown themselves to have what it takes to succeed."

It's hard to disagree with that proposition, especially as economic inequality worsens in this country. Harvard University (where Obama went to law school) has taken the lead in guaranteeing that money will not be an obstacle for qualified low-income students.

But Obama seemed to agree with those who point to the lingering effects of racism when he noted that "there are a lot of African American kids who are still struggling, that even those who are in the middle class may be first-generation as opposed to fifth- or sixth-generation college attendees, and that we all have an interest in bringing as many people together to help build this country."

That observation points to circumstances that have to be taken into account. Diversity, in my view, is very much in the national interest. But diversity is a process, not a destination. We have to keep working at it. And since a college degree has become the great divider between those who make it in this society and those who don't, affirmative action in college admissions is one of the most powerful tools we have to increase diversity.

In my view, this is a dangerous expansion of a program that had a meritorious purpose when first launched. It addressed a specific wrong against a specific group in a manner which would reverse the damage inflicted by specific policies of the US and state governments. If affirmative action continues to expand past its original mandate, it will create even more divisions -- and in the end, it attempts to resolve the basic issue at the wrong point anyway.

Affirmative action for African-Americans made sense when first proposed. At the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, they had suffered under official oppression for almost a century after being freed from slavery. While some people believed that freedom addressed the wrongs of the past, without a doubt the African-American community as a whole had been held back from the key struts of success of mainstream American society -- education and employment. The government needed to address those decades of inequity if African-Americans were not to continue existing as a permanent underclass.

That is not the experience of others in American history. While poverty is a great equalizer, the truth is that poor Caucasians have never had to deal with the official government policies of Jim Crow that held back the black community for so long. The government did not owe them Affirmative Action, as they did those who suffered legal oppression at the hands of state governments.

The question remains, though, as to how long AA should remain in place. As Obama notes, the disadvantaged do not suffer from offical government policies of oppression as their parents and grandparents did, and the hurdle is now economic. That isn't what AA was meant to address, and as soon as one transfers that mantle away from the group specifically damaged by American governments, it loses its legitimacy.

It also addresses the wrong end of the educational system. The true problem for economic advancement is not access to college, but access to effective primary education. Failing schools in the areas where poverty reigns causes the greatest setback to low-income children for their future economic success. If the government allowed competition through school vouchers for these areas, we could eliminate that problem in a single generation. Educated children have hope for their future -- and do not fall prey to gangs and drug dealers.

It's time we changed the calculus on AA. We need to solve the problem of educational disadvantage where it begins, not where it ends, and we need to stop preference programs that have no end in sight.


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Comments (11)

Posted by Ammobob | May 15, 2007 11:24 AM

I was poor and white growing up in the 'projects' of NJ. My father raised 5 chidren making no more than $16,000 a year. I paid attention in school, read alot, joined the military and completed my education thru the GI Bill. I had no help other than that. I saw what I needed to do, and got on with it. I've taught my children the same.

Posted by BoWowBoy | May 15, 2007 11:45 AM

Is there really a question that needs to be settled amongst conservatives ......whether Affirmative Action should be continued .........??

Really ...........???

How are we conservatives if there is ......???

Posted by Carol Herman | May 15, 2007 12:10 PM

This is how the world works now. And, it's been working this way since I read an article on Haarvard's acceptance policies. And, how a black man, who had graduated from there; was using the system to get his daughter "in." INCLUDING that her math grades weren't great.

So, yes. There's an "appeal to color."

Also, many years ago, a movie was made of a white guy, who did black face, to get into Haarvard.

If you can manage the paperwork, you can "play the system."

One that leaves you in debt, I might add.

Now, once women started to go to college, the very rich had their special "women's schools," that had feeders into Haarvard, Yale, etc. So the well-born could meet husbands.

And, my cousin, who went to college, graduating in 1950; wasn't from a rich home. So she went to Boston College. Where the professors had no trouble "setting the women straight." One math professor instructed the women in his room "to ask the male students" for help when they needed it. "Because they were in college looking for husband, anyway."

Today? Not so sure that guarantee is working, anymore. But you are going out of the experience saddled in more debt that if you went out and bought a starter home.

While the bigger piece? College is not for everyone.

One reason there's been grade inflation; is due to the fact that college is a worthless experience if you're not obtaining "A's" ... SO everyone is granted honors.

And, from politics? A cousin of mine graduated MIT. He won a Fullbright Scholarship. Ah. So did half his class. Fullbright had enormous political clout. That's how he used it.

While Stevens, in Alaska uses it to build bridges to nowhere.

I can't tell the difference, anymore.

Posted by Insufficiently Sensitive | May 15, 2007 12:14 PM

"In my view, this is a dangerous expansion of a program that had a meritorious purpose when first launched."

Even that 'meritorious purpose' derives its 'merit' from a specific flouting of the 14th Amendment. In soap opera fashion, special pleading is based on a focus on extreme cases of poverty, lack of education and lack of funds. A villain was selected - 'racism', defined as exclusively owned by whites. The solution was to select, by skin color, a cohort who were henceforth to receive legally mandated super-equal priveleges, ostensibly to 'catch up' with the racists.

That selection was not pretty to see. There was a Congressional huddle, and particular groups were anointed, while others (arguably equally deserving) were excluded. Worse, there was no mandated termination date where all groups were to revert to equality. Hence the so-called 'affirmative action' has resulted in a legally mandated, hereditable set of preferences - to be maintained, if MSM support is any indication, until every last member of those 'more equal than other' groups had achieved the Prairie Home Companion status of 'above average'. That means, forever.

The Balkanization of American society by such tortuous holes in the Constitution has arguably damaged society more than mended it. There were always other means available to rectify the supposed disadvantages (and statistics showed even at the time that by self-motivation those groups were leaving the legacies of the 19th century behind, and growing into prosperity).

The AA laws may well have brought that self-motivated progress down in flames, to be replaced by a taxpayer-funded, perpetual grievance industry with its own super-advantaged leaders perpetually working to expand their empires at the expense of the rest of us.

Yes, I know, it's verboten to even think such anti-PC thoughts, but some of us still believe in the First Amendment, foolish as it may seem.

Posted by hermie | May 15, 2007 12:20 PM

When asked about his daughters getting into college via affirmative action, Obama never said that was opposed to their getting in under that system. Instead he obscured the issue by changing the reasons for AA.

So Obama, a very wealthy and politically influential person, with a wife who is equally wealthy, would still consider their daughters entitled to college admission under AA.

Posted by Ron Trevino | May 15, 2007 1:38 PM

"...the truth is that poor Caucasians have never had to deal with the official government policies of Jim Crow that held back the black community for so long. The government did not owe them Affirmative Action, as they did those who suffered legal oppression at the hands of state governments."

Don't nobody owe nobody nothin' (sorry, I slipped into HillarySpeak mode). You make your own way in this life whatever the circumstances, such as in Ammobob's example. Or my grandparents' examples, coming into the country legally from Mexico and working their butts off their whole lives (my grandmother was a maid and seamstress for years, and with a leg shortened by polio) with no social protections so that their kids and grandkids could have better opportunities. I, like Ammobob, am teaching my children the very same thing. Work hard and get on with it. Do what you have to do, don't look to anybody for a handout.

If one follows this logic to its conclusion, that the goverment owed anybody Affirmative Action, then why make an arbitrary stop there? Why not advocate for reparations? What about reparations for any race or disability group who's been discriminated against or "held down"? Where does one stop? If this logic prevails, we might wind up owing reparations for anyone who gets their feelings hurt.

Suggesting the government owes anybody other than responsibilities outlined in the Constitution, to Insufficiently Sensitive's point, is a very, very slippery slope that can and does cause a great deal of damage.

Posted by NoDonkey | May 15, 2007 1:40 PM

Affirmative Action is a crutch, bottom line.

And when crutches outlive their purpose but are not discarded, they cripple.

White liberals have hamstrung certain favored minority groups with crutches and a ideology of playing the perpetual victim.

It's no surprise that those minority groups given crutches always struggle as a group, while those minority groups who are ignored by white liberals, prosper.

White liberals are better enemies than they are friends.

Posted by Kent | May 15, 2007 2:06 PM

No and No.

... Was it a trick question?

Posted by Carol Herman | May 15, 2007 4:20 PM

You can shout "no and no" all you want; but you can't change the weather.

And, while most people are well off, especially compared to the past; the world swirls with flux, just the same. And, new fads come. Before they "go."

The "go" button hasn't been pushed, yet.

But the one thing you'd realize about Obama's daughters, is that when they are accepted they push out a wealthy kid; whose parents didn't make the cut. Because the compition, which is rare, is coming from Obama. And, how many competing daughters has he got? That it changes anything?

We've tossed meaningful credentialing aside.

And, I would have thought that "getting daughters married off," occupies some of the thinking parents do make. This means that to the Obama's Howard University doesn't hold the "wealth of finding a son-in-law."

But what do I know?

People sent their kids to college, in the past, when most DIDN'T GO AT ALL. (If you remember, Lincoln only had 4 formal years of schooling.)

Four happens to be the magic number. It takes four years to teach a kid English. And, some computational skills, too. It doesn't take twenty years!

If you put a cake in the oven for 20 years, you wouldn't take anything out worth eating.

Okay. You drop alcohol into an oak bucket; twenty years makes s difference. But the bucket just sits.

Education, these days, costs a fortune. It's a labor that we can't export to China; or we would.

As to the "diversity schtick," which is announced on the front cover; still doesn't provide any education WORTH THE BUCK.

As to Osama's daughters, I am reminded of a writer, who wrote speeches for Ronald Reagan. Seeing that MBA's were making money; he did some string pulling from the White House, to get into Sanford's MBA program. (His math skills? He needed to be tutored in algebra, during the summer. Before classes started.)

He wrote a wonderful book! SNAPSHOTS FROM HELL.

He talked about how Stanford got to pick the "top 1% of qualified candidates. And, one professor said, "Ya know what? You could take these kids to a golf course for two years, and they'd still come out on the top of industry. Because the school picks the cream of the crop.

Another professor, this one from Columbia, Jimmy Rogers, once told a mom NOT to send her daughter there for an MBA. For the $200,000 cost (before inflation). She should give this money to her daughter. And, let her open a business. She'd learn more! And, yes. She'd learn if the business, once opened, thrived. Or if she failed. Because both ends of the telescope teach lessons.

Whatever happens to Affirmative Action, doesn't change the picture much. The Education "dollar" is a rip off for the money.

Now, if schools are providing "mixers," where rich kids meet other rich kids, away from home, it's happy news there's no color barrier.

But it still doesn't seem to be translating to the social pages.

Besides, for yet another example. All the honchos at See-BS have credentials from the best places. Yet, they hired Katie Couric, and are now surprised.

So business failures aren't teaching lessons to the people who need it most.

We live in strange times.

Posted by docjim505 | May 15, 2007 6:36 PM

It's hard to disagree with that proposition, especially as economic inequality worsens in this country. Harvard University (where Obama went to law school) has taken the lead in guaranteeing that money will not be an obstacle for qualified low-income students.

The "economic inequality" meme really pisses me off. When "poor" people in America own cars, color TVs, cel phones, etc, they aren't "poor": they simply don't make nearly as much money as other people. Really poor people - and there ARE some in America - live in shacks... if they have a roof over their heads at all. They wonder where their next meal is coming from... or if they'll even get a next meal. The can't afford medical care... if there's even a doctor where they live.

THAT'S being poor. Only a tiny, tiny fraction of Americans know that lifestyle.

When libs wail about "economic inequality", they are simply playing the class warfare game and appealing to all that is selfish, spiteful and vindictive in our hearts. It's just not FAIR that somebody makes much more money that you do! It's just not FAIR that somebody has a nicer house or car or apartment than you! Vote for us and we'll make those rich bastards PAY!

As I've written before, my self-image doesn't stem from keeping up with the Joneses. My happiness doesn't (usually!) arise from punishing somebody else for daring to have more money that I have. Liberals, of course, are small, petty, spiteful people and they DO get malicious joy from punishing other people. It's really sick.

As for affirmative action, it's ridiculous. It MIGHT have had merit forty years ago, but I believe that it hurts far more than it helps these days by fostering racial animosity as well as casting a pall over minorities who DO succeed; people will always wonder if they got their MD or PhD or JD or even their job because they worked hard... or because the government "helped" them a little.

As it happens, my boss is a black woman with a PhD in chemistry from the University of North Carolina. She comes from a well-to-do family and attended private schools for high school and undergrad. I respect her because, despite having advantages that I DIDN'T have (my father was a sergeant in the Air Force), I know that she earned the degree that she has because she's smart and works hard. She didn't need affirmative action, and neither does anybody else.

Posted by Micah | May 15, 2007 10:59 PM

Affirmative Action is a bullying effort that tries to equate two wrongs as a right.