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How much of Obama’s rise to power had to do with affirmative action policies?

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Affirmative Action President

How much of Obama’s rise to power had to do with affirmative action policies?

President Obama appealed recently to blacks, Latinos and women to support him “again” in 2010. Many wondered whether this was a suggestion for a polarized racial, ethnic and gender struggle as a basic theme in the next election. If so, it was a bad idea.

Whether he acknowledges it or not, Obama needed white males vote to win in 2008—a quarter of the total votes cast for him. He won’t have a second term without it.

Perhaps even more out of touch, Obama has said that there would be “no repeat” this year of the 54-seat congressional swing in 1994. This because (and he’s quoted here by a Democratic congressman) “the big difference here and in ’94 was you’ve got me.” If that’s not enough super-sized ego for you, another revealing quote is this gem of humility: “I have a gift”—perhaps his most unabashed opinion of himself.

So, where does this colossal sense of political omnipotence come from—the idea that, for him, every difficult or complex problem is really easy?

Here’s one explanation: Obama is the product of generations of affirmative action, i.e., because of enforced social policy most everything was really easy for him. As a result, Barack Obama is not likely the top performer he has—and we have been led to believe he is—and it’s showing.

While researching for this piece, I was surprised—stunned is more like it—to find a article entitled “Obama makes affirmative action hip and cool” in the San Francisco Gate by Cecil Brown, credited as a “professor of African American literature” and author of “Dude, Where’s my Black Studies Department?”

After noting that he and Obama went to the same private university, Brown says:

“Without affirmative action, I could not have afforded to attend this Ivy League university. As a descendant of slaves, my father was a farmer and my duty was plowing with my mule.

“Obama’s mother was a single parent, and without affirmative action, he would not have attended Columbia University or Harvard Law School.

“Obama claims he has no way of knowing if he was a beneficiary of affirmative action in his admission to Harvard or to Columbia, but if he were, he says, he is not ashamed of receiving help.

“The question of whether Obama is for or against affirmative action is moot. He is not for affirmative action—he is affirmative action.”

Notice the subtle shift: Brown first says that without affirmative action, he and Obama could not have “afforded” to “attend” an Ivy League university. Fair point, and to the extent that affirmative action involved financial assistance for needy students—whether with single parents or not—many supported the idea.

However, Brown makes the logical skip that many affirmative action zealots make: That Obama had “no way of knowing if he was a beneficiary of affirmative action in his admission to Harvard or to Columbia, but if he were, he is not ashamed of receiving help”.

“No way of knowing” seems a stretch of Brown and Obama’s credibility. That point aside, however, no one expects Obama, Brown or any other “beneficiary” of an affirmative action college admission to be “ashamed” of it. Sufficing would be the realization that, but for qualifying racially for an affirmative-action admission, they would not have been admitted.

Brown clearly gets this, because he disagrees strongly with the action California voters took to amend their Constitution, ending the enforced discrimination of admissions to their state universities based on race. However, Brown has spin on this as well:

“In 1996, Republican Ward Connerly persuaded Californians to pass Proposition 209, a law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of race or gender in state institutions. Connerly promised that the law would bring the brightest African Americans to the universities.

“But it didn’t. After Prop. 209 passed, black enrollment dropped and a hostile racial climate blanketed campuses.

“Now the universities are in worse shape than ever.”

Contrary to what Brown argues, Proposition 209 acted to bring the brightest African American students to California universities—because only the most objectively qualified students could be admitted under the new policy. While there may have been fewer numerically black students admitted, they were not—as Brown and Obama were—admitted because they were black. As Ward Connerly promised, they were admitted because they were the brightest and best qualified. Yet, according to Brown, somehow this created “a hostile racial climate” on college campuses.

Finally, Brown’s assertion that California state universities are somehow in “worse shape” as a result of Proposition 209 is clearly a matter of opinion. Brown concludes this after he notes that “43% of blacks are failing to graduate from high school” in California. This seems convincing proof of a far wider social failure than can be explained by the ending of a discriminatory college admission policy favoring black students.

Because of persistent legal and constitutional challenges, most public colleges and universities have moved away from affirmative action admission policies, but private institutions continue to admit students because of race or ethnicity. However, by now it should be fair to ask whether these students are as “good” or “smart” as their other students—including those minority students admitted on the merits.

Not only that, it should be possible now to raise these questions without fears of being labeled “racist,” as is the tactic of some of the more vocal advocates of affirmative action based on race and ethnicity. In this context, for example, was it racist for Cecil Brown to identify Ward Connerly only as a “Republican” and not as a former member of the Board of Regents of the University of California—and an African American —who has long been opposed in principle to race-based affirmative action?

Affirmative action in education is not necessarily a Republican-Democrat or Liberal-Conservative issue, nor is it an issue that needs to divide the races. It was a well-intentioned social experiment that failed to achieve its objectives. And, if Mr. Obama truly “is affirmative action” as Cecil Brown argues—we may have proof of it in the White House.

Written By

Daniel Gallington, a national security and intelligence policy consultant, is a Senior Fellow and Member of the Board of Regents at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies in Arlington, Va.

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