In what may the most offensive attempt yet to shape the meaning of the Lott mess, R. W. Apple writes in today’s New York Times “Week in Review” that
[i]n the weeks to come, the administration will likely do its utmost to avoid offending black and moderate Republicans. It may choose, for example, not to intervene on behalf of the plaintiffs who are challenging the University of Michigan’s affirmative action program before the Supreme Court.
But Mr. Lott’s rebel yell has put his party’s whole approach to racial matters in question. Conservatives were prominent in calling for him to step down, largely because they thought his insensitivity undermined their claim to moral authority in opposing affirmative action while championing civil rights.
In apologizing, Mr. Lott declared his support “across the board” for affirmative action and for social programs. He has seemingly leapt from right to left, across the center.
Out of leadership, will he continue to push for these things, which are contrary to mainstream Republican thinking, and make his colleagues look racist by doing so?
Exactly what is the Republicans’ “whole approach to racial matters”? Apple doesn’t say, but having just said that the administration may be inhibited from opposing race preferences in the Michigan case he implies that the “whole approach” is a commitment to colorblindness. But why would or should Lott’s extreme color consciousness — underlined by the ease with which he could move from appearing to favor preferences for whites to approving preferences for minorities — force Republicans to abandon their opposition to race conscious policies?
Most egregious, however, is Apple’s shocking statement — offered casually, as though it were common knowledge, and without hesitation or apparent recognition of the highly controversial assumptions he was exposing — that Lott’s support for affirmative action would make other Republicans “look racist.” Does Apple himself believe that it is racist to oppose racial preferences, or only that liberals and Democrats will say it is? If the latter, shouldn’t he also present the Republican view, or at least say what the Republicans’ “whole approach” is? This article is so one-sided that it almost makes the rest of the NYT seem fair and balanced.
As I have argued in other recent posts, the Bush administration will legitimize the argument that colorblindness is racist if, out of fear of looking racist, it fails to oppose racial preferences in the Michigan case.