by Robert Weissberg
Issue 219– January 16, 2013
With Obama elected, mass media pundits are more than happy to advise the GOP on how to win next time around– expand its outreach to African Americans, Hispanics, women and even gays. This advice asks the GOP to commit “journalistic assisted” suicide. To recall a 1964 campaign slogan, this is a More-Echo-Less-Choice strategy is doomed. At least in the short run Democrats have a lock on their coalition. Even if a few African Americans or fans of government-funded abortions change sides, the gain would not be a net GOP gain.
Let me suggest a very different winning strategy that will (a) up the GOP’s share of the white vote (57% in 2012) (b) increase turnout among the party’s faithful and (c) and pick off some of the Asians (including Indians) who voted for Obama in 2012. If successful the result would be a Republican landslide.
The trick is to find the right mobilization issue and let me suggest what I call The Great Taboo: affirmative action and the sprawling, hugely expensive social engineering enterprise that marches under the banner of “Diversity is Great.”
Racial preferences (actually quotas) and set asides are undoubtedly widely disliked; for many they boil the blood. Why else must government force them on a reluctant public? After all, if racial/ethnic diversity were as wonderful as advertised, they should be voluntarily embraced. A February 2012 Rasmussen poll of likely voters reported that just 24% favored affirmative action in college admissions; 55% opposed it and 21% were undecided. And this poll is typical. When put to a vote, even in true blue California, Washington and Michigan plus the red Nebraska, Arizona and, in 2012, Oklahoma, racial preferences opponents won. By contrast, champions of coerced diversity must rely on judges and government fatwas for their victories. Opposing preferences powerfully combines economic self-interest and appeal to a deeply imbedded American cultural principle: that people should be treated as individuals, not as a group member.
Let’s begin with the bad news. Any Republican candidate in the 2016 presidential primary who condemned the racial spoils system would be excoriated by the mass media. He or she would be called a “racist” Neanderthal wanting to turn back the clock to Jim Crow or worse. In today’s Orwellian world, colorblind becomes extremist and thereby totally outside the mainstream. Liberal pundits would wail about Republicans ignoring the horrid legacy of slavery, the centuries of discrimination and all the rest that requires giving blacks (and Hispanics) a little leg up until that soon-to-arrive day when racial preferences are no longer necessary. Meanwhile millions who owed their job or college admission to preferences would be mobilized by the likes of Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, Jr. Some would whisper about a return to the 1960s style urban riots if preferences were ceased.
The situation is not as hopeless as it might initially appear. America may move slowly but surprising change does occur if the groundwork is done. What if somebody in 1980 told you that same sex marriage within three decades might not only become the high moral ground but legal in many states? Better yet, what if you asked them the odds of America having a two term black president? What “experts” in 1988 predicted the fall of the Soviet Empire?
So, how do we proceed? Let me offer three concrete suggestions.
First, abolishing racial preferences should apply only to government coercion, not private action. The parallel is the First Amendment that prohibits only government suppression of free speech. If General Motors wants its workforce to mirror Detroit’s population, so be it. But, government should not impose preferences, i.e., pressure private firms lacking the “correct” proportion of minorities or otherwise favor one group over another to achieve some Utopian fantasy.
Second, affirmative action should be exposed as corrupt and no longer relevant to its initial aim of temporarily helping African Americans. It has become Kafkaesque and is more about gaming the system, not redressing historical disadvantages. It is a world where those who can somehow claim some distant Native American ancestor profit along with those who thanks to marriage have a Hispanic-sounding name. Nobody can even precisely define what makes a person “a minority.” One half? One quarter? An eight? How does government decide that a person is telling the truth about some ancestor short of checking DNA? Being classified as a “minority” to receive extra benefits can just reflect skilled lobbying. How do we treat an upper-class person that recently emigrated from Spain?
Finally, good intentions aside, affirmative action is a failed policy and if anything, it only fuels racial animosities. Yes, it may help some blacks gain admission to top schools despite poor academic records, but these students would be better off at schools more suited to their academic abilities. Moreover, the racial spoils system has been in place for over three decades and it has not helped those at the bottom as measured by employment or escaping government dependency. It certainly has not resulted in educational gains for African Americans let alone closing the white/black gap in test scores.
Truth be told, the disadvantaged were the original intended beneficiaries of racial/ethnic preferences but today’ beneficiaries are middle class, whether college students or program administrators. The off-spring of a wealthy black lawyer hardly needs a little extra help, especially in competition with a poor white. Going one step further, the prospect of government-imposed racial quotas may discourage businesses from locating in areas with large minority populations (the EEOC that enforces anti-discrimination laws insists that private workforces somewhat mirror local demography regardless of the population’s suitability for employment). In short, the spoils system breeds yet more dependency and is an economic cost with few measurable benefits.
Opposing the racial spoils system is not a campaign gimmick that caters to racial enmity. Yes, black demigods will howl “racism” and all that, but in the final analysis, this is about a half-century old policy that was supposed to be temporary and has long outlived its justification. The debate is about keeping an expensive failure, not reversing civil rights progress and I suspect that most Americans (including many affirmative action beneficiaries) will privately recognize this failure.
That understood, a Republican candidate is doing nothing more than combining good politics with sound policy. This far out-shines doomed “me-too” outreach.
Robert Weissberg holds a Ph.D. in Political Science, has authored 11 books, and has taught at Cornell University and the University of Illinois-Urbana; he still occasionally teaches a graduate seminar on elections at New York University. A rare academic, Robert had owned and operated a clothing store for fourteen years. This first appeared at Conservative Action Alerts.