This is surprising - a Democratic Senator calling for an end to most affirmative action programs. Even more surpising - he does so on the grounds that the programs have ceased to be a remedial measure to help minorities injured by discrimination in America and have morphed into a means to discriminate against white males.
Sen. Webb has picked a popular cause, at least among the nation's electorate. Polls last year found that the nation's electorate, by a wide margin, supported the end of affirmative action programs. That support was very strong among Republicans and Independents, but only at 33% among Democrats.
While race based affirmative action programs made sense in the 1960's as a means to assisst those who had suffered from years of discrimination, that justification is absent today in an America where equality is the norm and minorities and women can be found in every occupation and position of power, from the Office of President on down. While race based affirmative action programs are no longer justified, that still does not answer the question of what programs would be effective in breaking the cycle of poverty in which 25% of blacks are still mired.
This from Sen. Webb, writing in the WSJ:
. . . Forty years ago, as the United States experienced the civil rights movement, the supposed monolith of White Anglo-Saxon Protestant dominance served as the whipping post for almost every debate about power and status in America. After a full generation of such debate, WASP elites have fallen by the wayside and a plethora of government-enforced diversity policies have marginalized many white workers. The time has come to cease the false arguments and allow every American the benefit of a fair chance at the future.
I have dedicated my political career to bringing fairness to America's economic system and to our work force, regardless of what people look like or where they may worship. Unfortunately, present-day diversity programs work against that notion, having expanded so far beyond their original purpose that they now favor anyone who does not happen to be white.
In an odd historical twist that all Americans see but few can understand, many programs allow recently arrived immigrants to move ahead of similarly situated whites whose families have been in the country for generations. These programs have damaged racial harmony. And the more they have grown, the less they have actually helped African-Americans, the intended beneficiaries of affirmative action as it was originally conceived.
.Lyndon Johnson's initial program for affirmative action was based on the 13th Amendment and on the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which authorized the federal government to take actions in order to eliminate "the badges of slavery." Affirmative action was designed to recognize the uniquely difficult journey of African-Americans. This policy was justifiable and understandable, even to those who came from white cultural groups that had also suffered in socio-economic terms from the Civil War and its aftermath.
The injustices endured by black Americans at the hands of their own government have no parallel in our history, not only during the period of slavery but also in the Jim Crow era that followed. But the extrapolation of this logic to all "people of color"—especially since 1965, when new immigration laws dramatically altered the demographic makeup of the U.S.—moved affirmative action away from remediation and toward discrimination, this time against whites. It has also lessened the focus on assisting African-Americans, who despite a veneer of successful people at the very top still experience high rates of poverty, drug abuse, incarceration and family breakup.
Those who came to this country in recent decades from Asia, Latin America and Africa did not suffer discrimination from our government, and in fact have frequently been the beneficiaries of special government programs. The same cannot be said of many hard-working white Americans, including those whose roots in America go back more than 200 years.
Contrary to assumptions in the law, white America is hardly a monolith. And the journey of white American cultures is so diverse (yes) that one strains to find the logic that could lump them together for the purpose of public policy. . . .
Policy makers ignored such disparities within America's white cultures when, in advancing minority diversity programs, they treated whites as a fungible monolith. Also lost on these policy makers were the differences in economic and educational attainment among nonwhite cultures. Thus nonwhite groups received special consideration in a wide variety of areas including business startups, academic admissions, job promotions and lucrative government contracts.
Where should we go from here? Beyond our continuing obligation to assist those African-Americans still in need, government-directed diversity programs should end.
Nondiscrimination laws should be applied equally among all citizens, including those who happen to be white. The need for inclusiveness in our society is undeniable and irreversible, both in our markets and in our communities. Our government should be in the business of enabling opportunity for all, not in picking winners. It can do so by ensuring that artificial distinctions such as race do not determine outcomes.
Memo to my fellow politicians: Drop the Procrustean policies and allow harmony to invade the public mindset. Fairness will happen, and bitterness will fade away.
Senator Webb is certainly correct in all that he opines - but he is also going against the very center of the far left's base. As I wrote below, in An Overdrawn Race Card:
Either Webb is a lone wolf in the Dem. Party on this matter, or he is part of a larger strategy to stem Obama's loss of support by throwing out a red herring to Middle America that the left has no intention of acting upon. To the contrary, the far left has been busy over the past eighteen months legislating ever more affirmative action type policies. Indeed, it is beyond any doubt that the far left, whose very existence is centered on special treatment of victim classes, would defend affirmative action with all the furor of the Nazis defending Berlin in the last days of WWII.
But as I pointed out in that post, the left's use of the race card is rapidly losing effectiveness. When the race card finally loses its last vestige of legitimacy, then we will see the end of affirmative action programs. It will also mark the end of our far left's hold on power. That will be a major step forward for America - and all of its citizens.