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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

McCain's Sudden Reversal on Affirmative Action

In a wide ranging interview with George Stephanopolous, here is what John McCain said about an affirmative action initiative in his home state of Arizona.

During a "This Week" interview with ABC News' George Stephanopoulos John McCain reversed himself on affirmative action and endorsed for the first time a proposed state ballot measure which would end race and gender-based affirmative action in his home state of Arizona.

"I support it," McCain declared when asked about the referendum. "I do not believe in quotas... I have not seen the details of some of these proposals. But I’ve always opposed quotas."

McCain has long opposed quotas but his new support for ending affirmative action programs which stop short of quotas puts him at odds not only with Democratic rival Barack Obama but also with the Arizona senator's own views in 1998.

Back then, when the legislature in McCain's home state of Arizona considered sending the voters a measure to end affirmative action, McCain spoke out against it calling it "divisive."

As the piece indicates, McCain's position is in direct conflict with a strong position he took in 1998. Furthermore, his office had no good explanation for the reversal.

I do not have a firm enough grasp on the historical and relevant context of McCain's remark in 1998 to give you the pushback that this question deserves," McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds told ABC News.

So, as it stands, this reversal appears to be the product of naked political opportunism by John McCain. The Obama campaign wasted no time in attacking this flip flop.

“Obama told attendees to the Unity conference that he was “disappointed… that John McCain flipped and changed his position. I think in the past he had been opposed to these kinds of… initiatives as divisive. And I think he’s right.”

Civil rights leader Al Sharpton, a prominent Obama supporter, issued a statement accusing McCain of having made “a stunning reversal on his respectable record on affirmative action.”

McCain's problem appears partially to be the "nuance" in his previous position. While he appeared to be against quotas, he was against making such quotas illegal. While I can't support McCain's naked political opportunism, I do agree with his current position. Affirmative action is the sort of politically correct policy that makes for a good sound bite but makes absolutely no sense. The best counter to the concept of affirmative action is the case of Jayson Blair. Blair was the recipient of unofficial affirmative action at the New York Times. His editors were convinced that the newsroom needed more balance in their races and so Blair was promoted into positions he never would have received had he been white. As a result, he was thrown into positions he was never ready for. He folded under the pressure and began plagiarizing stories.

Affirmative action produces a student body and workforce that is inferior. Furthermore, it winds up hurting those it is supposed to help.

For instance, researchers Stephen Cole and Elinor Barber found that racial preferences at Ivy League colleges had a large and negative effect on the academic aspirations of black students.

The mechanism worked like this: Blacks admitted to elite schools with large preferences had more trouble competing with their classmates, and tended to get lower grades. Low grades, in turn, sapped the confidence of students, persuading them that they would not be able to compete effectively in Ph.D. programs. As a result, blacks at Ivy League schools were only half as likely as blacks at state universities to stick with plans for an academic career.

Dartmouth psychologist Rogers Elliot and three co-authors found that the same problem was keeping blacks out of the sciences.

Black students who received preferential admissions were at such a strong academic disadvantage compared with their classmates that fully half of those interested in the sciences tended to switch to majors with easier grading and less competition. Again, the net effect of preferential policies was to "mismatch" blacks with their academic environments.

Racism is racism and that's all affirmative action or any quota system is. When someone is chosen over another based on their race that is RACISM. Just because the racism is reversed to help minorities that were the subjects of previous forms of racism doesn't make it any less racist.


Anonymous said...

Actually, Senator McCain did not have a reversal on affirmative action. He has always opposed affirmative action. In 1998, he expressed reservations about using a referendum to address the issue. But he has always opposed quotas. Saying that he reversed his position, or "flip-flopped", is a stretch and misrepresents Sen. McCain's views.

Anonymous said...

Using Jayson Blair as a club to beat affirmative action is the easy way out. Jayson and a great many other young reporters at The Times were pushed up the ranks because of Howell Raines' need for bodies to make his "flood the zone" theory of journalism work. Jayson's and The Times' problem was that both he and his superiors failed to recognize that he was mentally ill with manic-depression, now often called bi-polar disorder.

I know Jayson very well and worked with him on a number of stories as a source. He was a very talented reporter. It is a mistake to say that he was promoted above his qualifications and a mistake to say that the reason he was promoted was race. He was not unqualified professionally. He was just nuts.

mike volpe said...

He was qualified. That's your story. He is now 32 years old. This all happened up to eight years ago. That would have made him 25 at the time. How many twenty five year olds get such a high profile gig at such an important newspaper? I am sure that Raines open admission that he was looking for "diversity in the newsroom" at exactly the same time that Blair was given far more responsibility than anyone else with his experience was merely a coincidence. I am further sure that his minority race was nothing more than a coincidence in him receiving far more responsibility than anyone his age.

Qualified reporters don't need to plagiarize. Your statement is absurd on its face. He may very well have had personal issues. That is another matter entirely. If he was up to the job, he wouldn't have stolen stories at will.