"Race doesn`t matter! Race Doesn`t Matter!" chanted
Barack Obama supporters after his victory in South
Some of Obama`s relatively conservative supporters
are actually hoping that the crowd`s chant was not a
mere incantation, but had some substance behind it.
Mickey Kaus has
suggested that explicitly opposing affirmative
action could become Obama`s
"Sister Souljah Moment."
Writing in Slate, Richard D. Kahlenberg notes
that Ward Connerly and the
American Civil Rights Institute will be attempting
to put five statewide referenda against racial
preferences for the 2008 election. He argues that
Obama could use these initiatives as an opportunity to
white working class voters.
Kahlenberg believes that "Obama has been
encouraging on this front." He points to the
Senator`s reply to
George Stephanopoulos`s question of whether his own
kids deserved preferences—Obama conceded "I think
that my daughters should probably be treated by any
admissions officer as folks who are pretty advantaged…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."
Obama made some similar suggestions in his
latest book, The Audacity of Hope.
even argued that one is not ipso facto
"anti-Civil Rights" because one "questions the
efficacy of certain affirmative action programs."
Some Establishment conservatives have fallen for it.
Writing in National Review Online (of
course), the American Enterprise Institute`s
Edward Blum hoped that "like
Nixon`s overture to China, it may fall to a liberal,
black Democrat like Barack Obama to
question the wisdom of our current race-based
affirmative-action polices and map a new course."
The Left is already mulling over this possibility.
citing Connerly`s initiatives, Richard Kim
worries in The Nation about what
happens when Obama`s "own rhetoric of `race doesn`t
matter` comes back in the form of a civil rights
backlash?" and that his economic populist appeals
end up "deflecting the matter of structural racism."
Unfortunately, Kim`s fears and Kaus, Blum, and
Kahlenberg`s hopes, are unlikely to come to fruition.
vague allusions to the plight of
working class whites, Obama has a long record of
supporting racial preferences. The NAACP gives him a
100% rating for his votes on affirmative action. And
for all the talk about Connerly, no one has apparently
noticed that Obama made radio ads against his Michigan
Civil Rights Initiative just last year.
The only real difference between Obama and more left
wing supporters of Affirmative Action is that he does
not defend it with specific race-based arguments. But
this may be purely tactical. In The Audacity of
Hope, he wrote "rightly or wrongly,
white guilt has largely exhausted itself in America",
so that most whites do not want to hear arguments about
how blacks are owed anything due to past or present
Thus he told Tavis Smiley this summer that civil
rights legislation is not just good for blacks "but
it was good for America as a whole." Thus while he
acknowledged African Americans and Hispanics had some
responsibility to improve their own situation, he also
called for a general "social responsibility" of
all Americans to seek equality. Essentially, Obama
promotes race-based policies using race-blind rhetoric.
But however Obama chooses to use his words,
affirmative action cannot be separated from race. At
the end of the day, the whole purpose of the policy is
to give advantages to one race over another.
Obama has not suggested replacing race-based
affirmative action with income-based preferences. All he
would do, apparently, is add lower-income whites to the
list of "underprivileged" groups. This will
leave even fewer spots to the most qualified students.
The truly colorblind policy would be to abolish race
based preferences and reinstate meritocracy.
Obama may make long-winded speeches on the campaign
trail about how he will tinker with affirmative action,
but it is unlikely in the extreme that he will make any
serious move towards genuine equality of opportunity.
This leaves the state Civil Rights Initiatives as a
valuable wedge issue for Republicans.
But they probably won`t take it. For Obama was not
the only politician to oppose the Michigan Civil Rights
Initiative. He was joined by the Michigan Republican
gubernatorial and senate candidates, the chairman of the
state GOP, and virtually every statewide official with
the exception of Attorney General Mike Cox. (It still
passed overwhelmingly, of course).
With John McCain as the Republican nominee for
president, we shouldn`t expect more leadership. Ward
recalled that McCain had urged state legislators in
Arizona not to vote for a bill that would outlaw racial
preferences because "it might `send the wrong
You can be sure McCain will be even more concerned
about "sending the wrong message" if Obama
becomes the Democratic nominee. The mere thought of
being accused of playing the race card will scare
McCain and his
Republican Establishment supporters
out of their wits.
And even the slightest discussion of preferences will
certainly bring allegations of “racism”, complete
with media flashbacks to
Jesse Helms`s famous (and
election-winning, but that doesn`t seem to matter)
"white hands" ad. [Watch
Obama`s supporters have already done this
against Hillary Clinton.
You can only imagine what they have in store for
Marcus Epstein [send
him mail] is the founder of the
Robert A Taft Club and the executive director of the
Team America PAC. A selection of his articles can be
views he expresses are his own.