There is an ancient Vulcan proverb: “Only Nixon could go to China.”
Perhaps only Barack Obama can revisit the basic assumptions of affirmative action.
In The Next American Nation, Michael Lind argues strongly that race-based affirmative action should be abolished, while at the same time a large number of vigorous “social escalator” programs should be introduced to improve the lot and the opportunities of poor and working-class Americans of all races. I find this persuasive. (Just don’t do the one without the other.) And maybe it would take an African-American POTUS to do it. But would he? I can’t find anything about AA on his website.
Just looking at the recent name-discrimination threads, where people openly admit to not hiring names associated with the lower classes, I agree that abolishing classism would actually do this country good. In my mind, you can’t be against racism but tolerate class bigotry. The two are kind of intertined.
But I’m skeptical that people, even those who say they would be for it, would really be for it. Some of the same arguments that people use against race-based discrimination can be applied to class-based discrimination (e.g., lowering of standards, more qualified applicants losing “their” spots, individuals being “rewarded” for circumstances out of their control, officials creating an arbitrary vision of “diversity”, etc.)
Additionally, at least learning institutions already use a scheme for giving preference to “hardship” cases–as well as folks from under-represented geographical regions (rural Apallachia, for instance). That’s why I’m suspicious of allegations that AA in the educational sector only sees race to the exclusion of more important factors. It doesn’t.
I’m curious what a “social escalator” program would entail. Seems to me the basic infrastructure (free school, libraries, scholarships) is already there to get people out of poverty, but for lots of reasons it just isn’t working. Substance abuse, out-of-wedlock births, teenage pregnancy, the scarcity of low-skill, family-supporting blue collar jobs…until these areas are improved, I don’t see how a “social escalator” can rescue but a few highly motivated individuals. What we need is something massive that will clean up the underlying factors of poverty.
Affirmative action is an effective, pragmatic thing. However, human nature being what it is, it does detract from unity and causes displeasure to some students and workers. When it comes to moral dilemmas, people like to err in their own favor
So, while I absolutely approve of the introduction of “large number of vigorous ‘social escalator’ programs to improve the lot and the opportunities of poor and working-class Americans of all races”, I think acting to improve racial unity and ensuring all inequalities are removed should get a special priority if we’re to have a clean conscience and avoid big problems down the line.
The parts of affirmative action that gets results towards those goals should stay, the others sould be replaced/removed.