Posted on April 17, 2008

The Pennsylvania Democratic Debate

Real Clear Politics, April 17, 2008









MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Obama, last May we talked about affirmative action, ad you said at the time that affluent African Americans like your daughters should probably be treated as pretty advantaged when they apply to college, and that poor white children—kids—should get special consideration, affirmative action.

So, as president, how specifically would you recommend changing affirmative action policies so that affluent African Americans are not given advantages, and poor, less affluent whites are?

SENATOR OBAMA: Well, I think that the basic principle that should guide discussions not just on affirmative action but how we are admitting young people to college generally is, how do we make sure that we’re providing ladders of opportunity for people? How do we make sure that every child in America has a decent shot in pursuing their dreams?

And race is still a factor in our society. And I think that for universities and other institutions to say, you know, we’re going to take into account the hardships that somebody has experienced because they’re black or Latino or because they’re women—

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Even if they’re wealthy?

SENATOR OBAMA: I think that’s something that they can take into account, but it can only be in the context of looking at the whole situation of the young person. So if they look at my child and they say, you know, Malia and Sasha, they’ve had a pretty good deal, then that shouldn’t be factored in. On the other hand, if there’s a young white person who has been working hard, struggling, and has overcome great odds, that’s something that should be taken into account.

So I still believe in affirmative action as a means of overcoming both historic and potentially current discrimination, but I think that it can’t be a quota system and it can’t be something that is simply applied without looking at the whole person, whether that person is black or white or Hispanic, male or female.

What we want to do is make sure that people who have been locked out of opportunity are going to be able to walk through those doors of opportunity in the future.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Clinton, would you agree to that kind of change?

SENATOR CLINTON: Well, here’s the way I’d prefer to think about it.

I think we’ve got to have affirmative action generally to try to give more opportunities to young people from disadvantaged backgrounds—whoever they are. That’s why I’m a strong supporter of early childhood education and universal pre-kindergarten.

That’s why I’m against No Child Left Behind as it is currently operating. And I would end it, because we can do so much better to have an education system that really focuses in on kids who need extra help.

That’s why I’m in favor of much more college aid, not these outrageous predatory student loan rates that are charging people I’ve met, across Pennsylvania, 20, 25, 28 percent interest rates. Let’s make college affordable again.

See, I think we have to look at what we’re trying to achieve here somewhat differently. We do have a real gap. We have a gap in achievement. We have a gap in income. But we don’t have a potential gap.

I think our job should be to try to create the conditions that enable people to live up to their God-given potential. And that means health care for everyone—no exceptions, nobody left out. And it means taking a hard look at what we need to do to compete and win in the global economy.

So that’s how I prefer to think about it. You know, let’s affirmatively invest in our young people and make it possible for them to have a good middle-class life in today’s much more competitive economy.