Friday, November 03, 2006
At City Journal is a long, thought-provoking article by Harry Stein on how the Republican Party has changed its stand on affirmative action quotas from opposition to outright acceptance. Anyone wanting a detailed case study as a companion to C. Bradley Thompson's outstanding "The Decline and Fall of American Conservatism" need look no further.
The article takes as its point of departure the failure of the GOP to support an anti-affirmative action ballot initiative in Michigan, but quickly moves on to show that the GOP even at the national level no longer wants to end affirmative action. Of particular note is why this disgraceful failure to stand up for all Americans as individuals -- rather than classifying them by skin color as if they were animals -- is occurring at all.
Thompson notes, of the collapse of the conservative movement as a whole, that two major branches of the movement lead inexorably to just such a capitulation. First, the altruist moral code of the "Compassionate Conservatives" leaves them morally unable to oppose the claims that those who "need" help from others should get it.
Once we peel away the sentimental rhetoric and cut through the doublespeak, compassionate conservatism's moral and political teaching boils down to this: first, that needs -- the needs of others -- constitute a moral claim on your life; second, that you -- you the taxpayer, you the private individual -- have a "duty" to support -- nay, to love and support -- the poor; and finally, that the federal government must coerce your love and compassion by taking your wealth and giving it to "private" organizations that will use it to serve "those whom prosperity has left behind." [notes removed]Thus the Compassionate Conservatives end up advocating, as Thompson notes elsewhere for example, the mere outsourcing of welfare via such mechanisms as "faith-based" initiatives rather than its outright abolition. This fails to end government redistribution of wealth and merely changes the details of its implementation. It does not take a genius to see how government imposition of racial quotas onto non-government organizations would make an excellent fit to this scheme of merely remodeling the Democrat's intrusive welfare state rather than demolishing it.
Second, the Neo-cons have their own further rationale for this change, from Republican opposition to Republican cooption of affirmative action.
[A]ccording to [Irving] Kristol and friends, the principles espoused by John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison lead inevitably to the Marquis de Sade, Abby Hoffman, and Jerry Springer. If the growth of the state represented the road to serfdom for Hayek, limiting the state to the protection of individual rights represents the road to nihilism for the neocons. The great political lesson that the neocons have successfully taught other conservatives and their Republican students over the course of the last twenty-five years is to embrace rather than resist the growth of the state.In other words, the Republicans, guided by these two factions, think that the welfare state is not only moral, but practical.
The neocons are committed proponents of what Kristol calls a "conservative welfare state." At first blush, they seem to support the idea of a welfare state rather begrudgingly and pragmatically, as an unfortunate reality of contemporary American politics that conservatives must learn to accept and use in order to remain politically relevant. "I shall, to begin with," Kristol writes, "assume that the welfare state is with us, for better or worse, and that conservatives should try to make it better rather than worse." Why fight the tide of history? Or, as neoconservative Ben Wattenberg has written: "I personally think the welfarists have probably gone too far and I am prepared to examine case by case, pragmatically, as Neo-Conservatives are supposed to do, what went wrong and how we ought to rectify it." As we will increasingly see, pragmatism is the neocons' modus operandi.
What GOP strategists need, according to Kristol and company, is a strong "dose of Machiavellian shrewdness," the characteristics of which are "quick-wittedness, articulateness, a clear sense of one's ideological agenda and the devious routes necessary for its enactment." The neocons' message to traditional conservatives and Republicans is, in effect: "Grow up! Get over your ideological hang-ups. Be clever. Develop an agenda that will get you elected and keep you in power." Once in power, says Kristol, the GOP must learn how to "shape" rather than balance or cut the budget, which means: shape it in politically advantageous ways (i.e., in ways that buy votes). [notes removed, bold added]
Now, let's see how this applies to affirmative action. Morally, because many Republicans largely do not understand or appreciate the importance of individual rights, they fail to see that both racial discrimination and government-enforced quotas are not problem-and-remedy, but two sides of the same collectivist coin. This leaves them staring in the headlights any time the corrupt civil rights establishment charges them with racism.
[R]ace remains the most volatile and, for white politicians, the most terrifying issue in American life. The mere hint of a "racism" charge transforms even normally principled leaders into panderers and cowards.And then there's cold, hard political calculation as with the Neo-Cons, too.
The brilliant social critic Shelby Steele gives the best explanation for this fear. Of mixed race himself, Steele writes of the paramount role that "white guilt" plays in contemporary American race relations. Conscious of the stain of the nation's discriminatory past, whites often feel a powerful need "to demonstrate to the world that they're not bigots." They do so most readily by deferring, at least publicly, to the civil rights establishment on matters of racial justice. [bold]
With a mere 8 percent of blacks voting GOP in 2004, party leaders have made no secret of their eagerness to try to splinter the most reliable of Democratic voting blocs. Over the last year and a half, party chairman Ken Mehlman has appeared before numerous black audiences, preaching the virtues of Republicanism. As the New York Times noted in a lengthy and laudatory piece on Mehlman in July, the GOP chairman believes that "Republican advocacy of economic policies that would give more power to individuals rather than to government -- like health saving accounts -- would appeal to middle-class black voters as much as it would to whites."Great. And so we see that the bad premises of altruism-collectivism and pragmatism have driven out the good ones of self-interest and individual rights. As a bonus, we catch the GOP in the very act of tossing out the crime baby with the color-blind bath water!
All well and good. But as the Times (approvingly) points out, Mehlman's outreach agenda hardly ends there. He has also repeatedly "apologized for what he described as the racially polarized politics of some Republicans over the past 25 years" and for "what civil rights leaders view as decades of racial politics practiced or countenanced by Republicans. One example they point to is the first President Bush's use of the escape of Willie Horton, a black convicted murderer, to portray his Democratic opponent in the 1988 election, Michael S. Dukakis, as soft on crime."
This reading has helped me understand the depths to which the GOP has sunk and on one level why so many of my fellow Objectivists argue so vehemently for a GOP defeat in this election. I am still not sure that electing a bunch of Democrats is the correct way to respond to this rot, but it is clear between the Thompson and Stein articles that the GOP is no ally in the cause for individual rights.
I could comment on much more here, but do not have the time. One very interesting aspect of the article is that it brings up several aspects of the civil rights movement that, I think, make it particularly dangerous in this time of war against Islamofascism. Why? Because the civil rights movement started out in the right, but was coopted to the cause of collectivism. This means that blacks advocating the most egregious violations of individual rights wear the mantle of moral superiority whether they deserve it or not. For example:
Ward Connerly has repeatedly witnessed [the] dynamic [described above by Shelby Steele] at work firsthand. "I've often had the experience of speaking in a room of 100 people, and knowing that 99 of them agree with me," he says. "But if there's one angry black person in the audience who disagrees, that person controls the room. He'll go on about the last 400 years, and institutional racism, and 'driving while black,' and the other 99 will just sit there and fold like a cheap accordion." [bold]Does this not sound just like dhimmitude? I have long thought that the corruption of the civil rights movement has played a major role in paving the way for our nation's weakness in morally opposing militant Islam. (How many pacifists keep calling this a "racist" war?) It is hardly a coincidence, seen in this light, that the Arab American Institute would sign on against the anti-affirmative action Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, which is on the ballot this election day.
I will leave with one last thought.
The 17-year-old daughter of a police sergeant in a working-class Detroit suburb and the first in her family aiming for college, Jennifer Gratz had been turned down by the Ann Arbor campus that she'd long dreamed of attending in favor of "some friends of mine, kids I sat next to in class," who clearly didn't measure up to her academically. "I really had trouble at first believing they would do that," she says now, laughing at her naivety. "It was so against everything I'd been taught was right -- that you treat everyone fairly and equally."This resulted in a court case that made it to the Supreme Court, about which Stein says, "For preference foes, the Supreme Court battle was a disappointment in another crucial respect: it signaled the Bush administration's abandonment of the cause."
"It was so against everything I'd been taught was right -- that you treat everyone fairly and equally." Ms. Gratz, you are the author of the most pithy moral concemnation of "Compassionate" Conservatism I have ever read!
So what if this was a Democrat policy? If the Republicans are going to adopt it, they also deserve the blame for its effects.