Ilana Mercer, January 24, 2003

When the man who unleashed Colin Powell to preach affirmative action to the traditionally opposed Republicans takes a stand ostensibly against race quotas, skepticism is in order.


The president’s filing of a legal brief challenging racial preferences in student admissions at the University of Michigan warrants even more suspicion considering his conduct in the Trent Lott affair—personal loyalties didn’t prevent Mr. Bush from stabbing Lott in the back and deftly using the fracas to curry electoral favor with minorities. Since the administration has no legal involvement in the Michigan case, Mr. Bush’s intervention—let alone his position—is indeed unusual.


Anyone who suggests the Michigan undergraduate and law school programs are not racist can’t be serious, and if he is serious, should not be taken seriously. At the undergraduate level, African-American, non-white Hispanic and Native-American students receive 20 points out of 150 solely because of their race. A perfect SAT score nets a student only 12 points. It takes 100 points to gain admission, making the hue of one’s skin good for a fifth of the admission points. The law school completes the project with a relatively straightforward quota.


Michigan is not unusual. Many undergraduate institutions, and most law schools and medical schools in the U.S. practice affirmative action. Like the Constitution, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, however reprehensible, “gave the government no license to set quotas for hiring personnel by private enterprise or admitting students to institutions of higher learning, yet the federal bureaucracy acts as if it had,” confirms Harvard scholar, Richard Pipes.


The problems of affirmative action, as libertarians will point out, are the peculiar province of state-controlled schools. It goes without saying that in a free market for education, schools would be able to establish any admission criteria they like. If a school wants to give preference to African-American albinos, that’s the prerogative of private property. Predictably—although ironically—the ideology promoted in state-controlled schools is also responsible for producing a mentally monolithic population. This is to be expected when the State has the power to define and enforce politically correct diversity.


Small consolation: Any public institution practicing affirmative action does open itself up to 14th Amendment due process and equal protection claims.


Inequality under the law is of no particular consequence to Democrats. Their commitment to legally protect the febrile sensitivities of every self-styled victim group is unwavering. Why, diversity-quota devotees such as Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschele and Senator John Kerry even feign forgetfulness when it comes to the 1963 words of their hero, John F. Kennedy:


Simple justice requires that public funds, to which all taxpayers of all races [colors, and national origins] contribute, not be spent in any fashion which encourages, entrenches, subsidizes or results in racial [color or national origin] discrimination.


Close enough, considering the source of the quote, although at least one of the “simple” oversights Kennedy makes must be corrected: The nation’s personal income tax burden rests on roughly 32 million people, most of whom are white men. Affirmative action is a zero sum scheme, designed to disenfranchise the very people who foot the bill.


A closer look at the Bush brief, however, ought to quell denunciations from Democrats and minorities alike. Bush agrees that the American “Constitution makes it clear that people of all races must be treated equally under the law.” “Yet we know that our society has not fully achieved that ideal,” he equivocates. “Racial prejudice is a reality in America.”


The prevalence of deep-seated racism the president infers from the fact that African-Americans lag behind whites in academic and socio-economic achievements. This, of course, is a post hoc error, one that most Americans reject, root and branch.


Upheld by Mr. Bush, this error is the central tenet of affirmative action. According to the president’s diversity doxology, justice is achieved when racial and ethnic groups are reflected in academia and in the professions in proportion to their presence in the larger population, an impossibility considering individual and age-long inter-group differences. Absent such representation, Mr. Bush concludes that racism reigns.


This non sequitur is even harder to sustain when considering the Asian minority, a minority that has had its own historical hardships. In professions and academic pursuits where mathematical precocity is a factor, Asians are overrepresented and consistently outperform whites. If underrepresentation signals injustice, then overrepresentation must, too, reflect an unfair advantage. Surely justice demands that overrepresentation of any group, not only of white males, be similarly corrected by the State? (How about making the NBA reflect America?)


Malaysian governments certainly adopted this logic toward their Chinese population, whose starting status as indentured laborers didn’t stop them from rising to dominate business, professions and universities. To achieve “racial balance,” pro-Malaysian affirmative action laws were mandated in all government-controlled institutions.


Did not Hitler awaken to the same logic? In proportion to their numbers, Jews were also overrepresented in the economic and cultural life of Germany. In Malaysia, state ideology created a climate that was conducive to pogroms against the Chinese population; these were not looked upon unfavorably. Despite an antipathy toward the Jew—antipathy far in excess of the alleged racism African-Americans complain of nowadays—Jews remained active in German society until the State stepped in and stripped them of their rights. It’s far from hyperbolic to say that Hitler used the State apparatus to find a “Final Solution” to the Jewish advantage—that the “Final Solution” was a reductio ad inferno of state-approved affirmative action.


The U.S. federal government has gone the Malaysian route for its black minority. As syndicated columnist Paul Craig Roberts reports, “in all 22 independent federal agencies and in 16 of 17 executive departments, blacks are massively overrepresented” in proportion to their presence in the population. Understandably, the plaintiffs in the Michigan case want the State to relinquish its compelling interest in promoting whatever it construes as diversity.


Bush refuses to second this; his brief shies away from addressing “the outer bounds of the Constitution,” but only the case in its narrowest sense. Since he accepts racial discrimination as a cause for African-Americans’ lag in achievement, the president intends to reject only the methods associated with this faulty formulation. Diversity directives are to go full throttle ahead so long as they are “racially-neutral.” 


Mr. Bush’s “road map” includes encouraging schools to come up with racial cue cards such as “a statement people can make about whether they’ve overcome hardship.” Berkeley and Texas, for instance, already make unusual hardships and life experience a crucial consideration in admissions. “The kind of hardships” that’ll be given extra credit are “largely peculiar to preferred minorities such as having been shot,” notes commentator Steve Sailer, wryly. In short, the quest for diversity is unlikely to encompass the Midwestern experience.


The Condi, (Andy) Card and Karl (Rove) Crack Team has achieved a triumph of triangulation. The Bush base, of which 92 percent is white, will swallow the bait, believing, as it did after the landmark 1978 case of Bakke, that quotas had been outlawed. Despite Bakke, universities continued to take race into account. Same in this case: With presidential imprimatur, the Michigan point system will be palliated somewhat, but business as usual will see public funds diverted to other, less conspicuous, race-friendly recruiting methods, much to the glee of the ‘civil rights’ industry. The appeasement of both sides, while further entrenching the politically correct and favored side, is an example of slimy Clintonian tactics.


It is debatable whether Bush should be intervening in the admission standards of one Michigan College. But it is perfectly apparent that he should do something to restore a free market in labor in his own neck of the woods. Doing something about an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and a Justice Department, which impose and enforce de facto race and gender quotas on every business in America would be a start. As might be expected, Bush intervenes where he either can’t or should not, but doesn’t intervene where he can and should.


Ludwig von Mises Institute

January 24, 2003

CATEGORIES: Affirmative action, Education & Miseducation, Law, Racial issues

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