Faith and Freedom Foundation

Bush administration's formal position on a key affirmative-action case

By Alan Keyes

August 11th, 2001

I write before and you are reading this after public announcement of the Bush administration's formal position on a key affirmative-action case before the Supreme Court. This fall, the high court will consider for a third probably last time whether it was constitutional for Congress to establish a legally-binding presumption that minority-owned businesses are, by that fact alone, "disadvantaged business enterprises" deserving preferential treatment in awarding of federal-government contracts.

It is agreed by all sides in the case that Adarand Constructors, the plaintiff in the now-decade-old lawsuit, was denied the government-construction contract for which it successfully offered the lowest bid, entirely because it is not a minority-owned company. The company which did receive the contract did so entirely because it is a minority-owned company. If you would like to read the details of the case, I suggest going to the website of Mountain States Legal Foundation.

Now, for anyone committed to the principle of human equality, and who understands how discredited, blunt and counterproductive is the notion of "race" in the making of judgments about human beings, deciding which side to argue in this case should not be hard. And despite what seems to be a concerted set of administration leaks to the press that the president intends to support racial preferences in this case, I hope by the time you read this he will have decided to do the right thing.

Whatever President Bush decides, the reasons that race-based preferential treatment is wrong, and specifically un-American, will remain valid. I want to remind you of those reasons, and invite you to evaluate the Bush administration's position on Adarand accordingly.

Where real and substantial discrimination has occurred, all Americans should pursue remedies that will eliminate that discrimination. If a legacy of racial discrimination has produced real effects on people, then, as a people, we need to seek remedies to make sure that those people who were truly harmed can receive amelioration. Because racial discrimination has historically been such a direct threat to the principles of our public order to the principle of equality on which our government is based it is appropriate that government play a role in this amelioration. The goal of government policy must be justice and equity for everyone regardless of racial background.

But "affirmative action" in its usual form has nothing to do with this. Relying simply on alleged "under representation" found in statistical analysis, accompanied by the dogmatic assumption that racist discrimination lurks behind every lump in the homogenization of American life, it is concluded that entire racial categories of citizen as though there could be such categories of citizen in America are held back by racism. The remedy, no less crude than the diagnosis, is the government-imposed advancement of citizens solely on the basis of their race.

As the racial composition of the NBA famously shows, statistics can be extremely unreliable in identifying discrimination, much less in determining the best remedy for achieving justice. Argument merely from statistics doesn't tell us much of anything, and greatly risks the abstraction from genuine human diversity so typical of the statist mind and so offensive to human dignity. The demeaning racial labeling that such statistics require is practically useless in making real judgments of justice, however useful it is for politicians seeking to establish neatly-packaged client constituencies.

Those who have been victimized by discrimination will not really be helped by re-establishing the principle of discrimination. In fact, the path of discrimination harms even those who nominally benefit from it. It degrades the performance record of the labeled group that receives its benefits, especially of those who have succeeded quite well on their own merits. It creates the presumption that few members of the recipient groups have succeeded except through the back door of special preference. And so it perpetuates the racial stereotypes that we have spent many decades trying to destroy. There are those, for example, who are only too ready to conclude that affirmative action is the only way that any black person in America has succeeded.

And what will happen if we resurrect the principle of discrimination because today we have the power to use it on behalf of minorities? What if tomorrow somebody gets the power to use it on behalf of whites again and we have thrown away the argument that discrimination is wrong in principle? We cannot achieve a just society by resurrecting the very cause of the injustice we are seeking to remedy racial categorization and discrimination.

To state the obvious, the evils of racial categorization are not a new threat in American life, however perversely modern the current form may be, with its condescending, therapeutic and meddling spirit. The deep evil of denying the fundamental principle of human equality, and the particular temptation to treat race as the occasion of that denial, have been with us from the beginning. But so, fortunately, has the wisdom of our founders and their heirs to keep us on track.

In the interval between the presidential election of 1856 and the inauguration of President James Buchanan, and on the eve of the infamous Dred Scott decision that in its ambition to impose the spirit of racial categorization on the whole country is close kin to federal affirmative-action programs, a private citizen named Abraham Lincoln addressed a political dinner in Chicago. His words that evening gave voice to the perennial spirit of American justice and prudence, as against ideological dogmatism and impatience. If our leaders today look to Lincoln as their guide in such matters, we may yet avoid the tragic reincarnation of the spirit of inequality, disunion and injustice.

Our government rests in public opinion. Whoever can change public opinion, can change the government, practically, just so much. Public opinion on any subject, always has a "central idea," from which all its minor thoughts radiate. That "central idea" in our political public opinion, at the beginning was, and until recently has continued to be, "the equality of men." And although it has always submitted patiently to whatever of inequality there seemed to be as a matter of actual necessity, its constant working has been a steady progress towards the practical equality of all men.

What most Americans want is an end to discrimination, not to see it perpetuated so that a privileged people, regardless of the color of their skin, can get special breaks. Patient, but principled, progress toward this goal remains the "central idea" of our people, and our president has the chance, in his statement on the Adarand case, to support it against the agitators of racial disunion and inequality. I invite you to visit the website of the Declaration Foundation to review the president's position and compare it to the American principle of color blind justice.

And, then, let your words and political actions take shape accordingly. If leadership is lacking, remember that sometimes the people must lead. And remember as well the courageous words of Lincoln, on the same evening just before the storm that shook the Union almost, but not quite, to its foundation:

Let every one who really believes, and is resolved, that free society is not, and shall not be, a failure, and who can conscientiously declare that in the past contest he has done only what he thought best let every such one have charity to believe that every other one can say as much. Thus, let bygones be bygones. Let past differences, as nothing be. And with steady eye on the real issue, let us re-inaugurate the good old "central ideas" of the Republic. We can do it. The human heart is with us God is with us. We shall again be able not to declare, that "all States as States, are equal," nor yet that "all citizens as citizens are equal," but to renew the broader, better declaration, including both these and much more, that "all men are created equal."

Originally published at WorldNetDaily.