Lately I’ve been feeling a bit like Mickey Mouse in “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” furiously trying to bail out a boat that is being flooded with the bilge of moral equivalence/IUNS (invidious ubiquitous non sequitur) arguments that view racial discrimination as morally indistinguishable from any other kind of discrimination. You’ve memorized this bull by now as well as I have: how can you claim to oppose racial discrimination when you’re perfectly happy to accept ballet or baseball scholarships or bonus points to Boise residents or whatever. Because of Bush, the favorite equivalence argument at the moment is that preferences for legacies are the same as preferences based on race. Alas, I fear I can’t bail fast enough, and I can feel the intellectual muck rising from ankle to knee….
They may not have had an explicit point system at Yale in 1964, but Bush clearly got in because of affirmative action. Affirmative action for the son and grandson of alumni. Affirmative action for a member of a politically influential family. Affirmative action for a boy from a fancy prep school. These forms of affirmative action still go on.
…. George W. Bush, in fact, may be the most spectacular affirmative-action success story of all time. Until 1994, when he was 48 years old and got elected Governor of Texas, his life was almost empty of accomplishments.
You could finish this article without reading the rest and without my telling you what it says. Inconsistent, hypocrite, etc.
So what is the difference between the kind of affirmative action that got Bush where he is today and the kind he wants the Supreme Court to outlaw? One difference is that the second kind is about race, and race is an especially toxic subject. Of course, George W.’s affirmative action is about race too, at least indirectly.
Heard this too. Willing to give preferences for everything under the sun except race, aren’t you? We know what that makes W, don’t we? Of course we’re too polite to say, but you can figure it out: r*c**t.
I don’t have time now to repeat everything that is wrong with this argument. You’ve heard it all from me already anyway. The most profound flaw is the assumption that all types of discrimination lie on the same moral plane. If you’re willing to reward talent or privilege or geographical background, you can’t consistently refuse to reward race or, logically, religion. I find this argument almost bizarre in its moral obtuseness.
Another flaw, related to the first and in some sense enabling it, is the mistaken belief that a blind faith in “merit” provides the only basis for criticizing preferences. If that were true, it would make some sense to accuse people of inconsistency if they were willing to compromise merit when it benefited them (for legacies, etc.) but not when it benefited blacks and Hispanics.
But the most penetrating and persuasive criticism of racial preferences has nothing whatsoever to do with a fealty to merit. It is that discrimination on the basis of race or religions violated the fundamental American principle that people should be judged “without regard” to those characteristics. Indeed, the preferentialists are probably more committed to merit than we colorblinders. They are the ones who are unwilling to sacrifice their devotion to high grades and test scores for admission to the “flagship” schools where so many of them are or were. If they would compromise those standards, as suggested in little appreciated passages of the administration briefs in Grutter and Gratz (not the Top X% alternatives, which is all that anyone discusses), they could achieve diversity without being forced to turn to racial discrimination.
This schoolyard “You’re one, too!” refrain that legacy preference = racial preference is now so ubiquitous that I’m beginning to think there are operatives holed up somewhere in Preference Central writing everyone’s script and distributing it through mailing list, fax, and mimeograph. Otherwise how could so many of the herd of independent mines come up with the exactly the same deeply, disturbingly flawed argument?