It’s a pretty safe bet that the majority of Obama supporters also champion affirmative action or racial and gender preferences in employment, college admissions and government contracting. It’s an even safer bet most Obama supporters who want to hang onto what little federal courts still grant by way of racial and gender preferences have not considered the devastating impact an Obama presidency could have on those preferences, particularly racial preferences.
What impact would an African-American in the White House have on racial preferences? The liberal Left has not done much by way of debating the issue thus far in the presidential race. But the conservative Right sure has. The Boston Globe’s Web site in March ran an article relating the fact that anti-affirmative action conservatives are "seizing" on Obama’s run as proof of how passe race-based remedies are for past discrimination:
"Influential Republicans and a growing number of policy specialists at conservative organizations, including the Goldwater Institute, Project 21, and the Manhattan Institute, are citing the fact that large numbers of white voters are supporting Obama, who leads in the race for Democratic delegates, as evidence that affirmative action has run its course. Ward Connerly, a black conservative who is leading a national effort to ban racial preferences, vowed to use Obama’s success as evidence for anti-affirmative action ballot initiatives his organization is promoting in five states."
Obama distances himself from racial preferences whenever he discusses affirmative action in public. Most recently in May he was asked on ABC’s "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" if his daughters should be given racial preferences when they apply to college. He responded they should probably be treated by any admissions officer as "folks who are pretty advantaged."
It seems like ancient history but this time last year and even into the fall of ’07, Sen. Hillary Clinton was garnering the majority of support from African-American voters. Until she made her ill-considered remarks (which appeared to diminish the accomplishments of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and bolstered the role played by President Lyndon Johnson in passing civil rights laws) Clinton was backed by some three-quarters of black voters.
By the end of the primaries, of course, Obama amassed 90 percent of the black vote. But earlier on I remember asking several African-American friends why the black community was supporting Clinton by such large margins when there was an African-American in the primary race. The most common response was that African-Americans trusted Clinton more to do more for their community.
This is, of course, anecdotal information unsubstantiated by data. Most voters at the time (white, black and every other color) didn’t know much about Obama’s record, so that could have been why they told pollsters they were backing Clinton over Obama. Sen. Clinton and her husband both went on to make inexplicably stupid remarks about race. That could have been why she lost majority black support.
But the fact it came up so often as a response tells me those same voters should be registering more concern over Obama’s stance and impact on racial preferences if he becomes president.
Federal courts have traditionally permitted racial preferences as a remedy for past discrimination. The Supreme Court has slowly been whittling away at the use of such preferences, continuously narrowing the scenarios under which they are permissible. In June 2007, the court struck down plans in Louisville, Ky., and Seattle, Wash., that assigned students to K-12 public schools based partly on the color of their skin. This was the most recent in a series of cases since the mid-1980s in which the court has whittled away first at quotas and later at preferences.
What could do more damage to the argument that African-Americans deserve racial preferences than the fact a majority of Americans voted to put an African-American in the White House? Little, from where I sit. Of course, there will still be economic data showing African-Americans disproportionately represented among low-income Americans. But the argument that racial bias is widespread in American society becomes that much more difficult to make.
(Bonnie Erbe is a TV host and columnist. E-mail bonnieerbe(at)CompuServe.com.)