With all my heart—and for the betterment of my country—I desperately wanted to believe that Sen. Barack Obama was not one of the same tired voices who peddle arguments about “institutional racism.”
I have heard him say that America is not about “black and white.” I was inspired when his supporters chanted at his rally on the night of his victory in South Carolina that “race doesn’t matter.” I thought his March 18 speech about race had the potential to become a defining moment in our endless struggle to confront and conquer this issue. I was encouraged by his perceptive acknowledgment that affirmative action breeds resentment and hostility. As millions of whites cast their votes for him in predominantly white states, I held out hope that, perhaps, he truly was a transformative leader.
But a June 10 article in USA Today by DeWayne Wickham dashed my hopes for Mr. Obama.
Mr. Wickham, who had interviewed the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, wrote that “Obama believes America can keep its promise to women and blacks without dashing the hopes of working-class whites. He doesn’t think opportunity guarantees made to one group must come at the expense of another.” Then he went on to quote Obama campaign spokeswoman Candice Toliver, who said that “Senator Obama believes in a country in which opportunity is available to all Americans, regardless of race, gender or economic status. That’s why he opposes these ballot initiatives, which would roll back opportunity for millions of Americans and cripple efforts to break down historic barriers to the progress of qualified women and minorities.”
Translation: Mr. Obama supports race preferences.
The rationale for using race preferences to “eliminate historic barriers,” upon which Mr. Obama relies as his primary justification, has been rejected consistently by the Supreme Court since the Bakke decision in 1978. Only the pursuit of “diversity” by higher education meets the strict constitutional test for race preferences. As a lawyer, I am sure that Mr. Obama must know this.
By supporting race preferences, Mr. Obama is unmistakably attaching himself to despicable ideas like Rev. Wright’s. And, if he believes in those precepts, how does he reconcile his impressive political success and that of Mrs. Clinton with this perspective? Thirty-six million Americans didn’t vote for the two of them because the majority of the American people are racist and sexist.
If either Barack Obama or John McCain want to be a truly “post-racial president,” then it is essential that they support efforts to place our nation on a path to guarantee equal treatment under the law for all Americans. That means preferential treatment for none on the basis of their race, ethnic background, skin color or sex.
Shortly after Hillary Rodham Clinton suspended her presidential campaign and urged her supporters—especially women—to embrace Barack Obama’s White House bid, the Democratic Party’s presumptive nominee gave them another reason to rally to his side.
In response to a question I put to him a day earlier, Obama answered that he opposes efforts to pass constitutional amendments this year in Arizona, Colorado and Nebraska to ban affirmative action in state contracting and college admissions.
“Sen. Obama believes in a country in which opportunity is available to all Americans, regardless of their race, gender or economic status. That’s why he opposes these ballot initiatives, which would roll back opportunity for millions of Americans and cripple efforts to break down historic barriers to the progress of qualified women and minorities,” Candice Tolliver, an Obama campaign spokesperson, told me.
White women and blacks are the biggest beneficiaries of affirmative action programs.
While Obama has long been on record in support of affirmative action, speaking out against the effort by Ward Connerly, a black California businessman who spearheaded successful campaigns to ban it in California, Michigan and Washington, is an act of political courage.
It comes at a time when Obama is trying to win over working-class whites, many of whom believe affirmative action gains by women and blacks come at their expense. Nothing reflects Obama’s call for a departure from the old political thinking more than his belief that he can address the concerns of disaffected whites without abandoning the interests of minorities and women—the Democrats’ core constituencies.
Obama believes America can keep its promise to women and blacks without dashing the hopes of working-class whites. He doesn’t think opportunity guarantees made to one group must come at the expense of another. His is admittedly a new political vision, one that may well propel him into the White House—and help this nation fully live up to its promise.