Commentary Magazine


Topic: affirmative action

Sterling Blowback Proves Sotomayor Wrong

If there is a more unpopular man in America, or anywhere else, today than Donald Sterling, I wouldn’t like to be in his shoes. The opprobrium that has rained down on the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers in the wake of the publicizing of his racist rant has transcended the world of sports or even that of politics. In the space of a week Sterling has become a living, breathing symbol of hate. No one is lining up to rationalize, let alone defend, his disgusting comments about African-Americans. The universal disdain for Sterling is the reason why the National Basketball Association is not only punishing him with a fine and suspension but seeks to force him to give up a franchise that is estimated to be worth more than half a billion dollars.

And yet much of the commentary about Sterling as well as the less earthshaking dustup about the racial comments made by tax scofflaw rancher Cliven Bundy last week is focused on trying to sell us on just how bad things are. Many liberal voices are being raised today amid the Sterling furor to claim that not only is Sterling-like racism endemic but that his hate was of a piece with the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision on affirmative action. Such sentiments were heard today not only in the leftist echo chamber that is MSNBC but in the New Yorker, where legal writer Jeffrey Toobin claimed that Sterling proved that Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s dissent in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action was correct. Sotomayor asserted that racism in the U.S. was real and pervasive and justified, seemingly indefinitely, a regime of racial preferences in school admissions. Such a response is not only transparently cynical in terms of its attempt to exploit a controversy to further the liberal political agenda; it misreads what this episode tells us about the United States in 2014.

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If there is a more unpopular man in America, or anywhere else, today than Donald Sterling, I wouldn’t like to be in his shoes. The opprobrium that has rained down on the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers in the wake of the publicizing of his racist rant has transcended the world of sports or even that of politics. In the space of a week Sterling has become a living, breathing symbol of hate. No one is lining up to rationalize, let alone defend, his disgusting comments about African-Americans. The universal disdain for Sterling is the reason why the National Basketball Association is not only punishing him with a fine and suspension but seeks to force him to give up a franchise that is estimated to be worth more than half a billion dollars.

And yet much of the commentary about Sterling as well as the less earthshaking dustup about the racial comments made by tax scofflaw rancher Cliven Bundy last week is focused on trying to sell us on just how bad things are. Many liberal voices are being raised today amid the Sterling furor to claim that not only is Sterling-like racism endemic but that his hate was of a piece with the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision on affirmative action. Such sentiments were heard today not only in the leftist echo chamber that is MSNBC but in the New Yorker, where legal writer Jeffrey Toobin claimed that Sterling proved that Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s dissent in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action was correct. Sotomayor asserted that racism in the U.S. was real and pervasive and justified, seemingly indefinitely, a regime of racial preferences in school admissions. Such a response is not only transparently cynical in terms of its attempt to exploit a controversy to further the liberal political agenda; it misreads what this episode tells us about the United States in 2014.

Toobin takes Chief Justice John Roberts to task for a now oft-quoted statement in which he rightly asserted, “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” In his view, more racial discrimination in the form of affirmative action quotas is necessary because people like Sterling and Bundy still exist. That two such figures would utter prejudicial statements is therefore enough to render Sotomayor’s vision of an America torn by racial strife and thus in need of permanent measures to correct the injustices of the Jim Crow era.

But surely even Toobin has noticed that far from being universally held or backed up by the institutions of society or government, recent events have proved just how right Roberts was. Sterling and Bundy have showed that anyone who dares to speak in this manner is not only scolded but also effectively shunned in a manner more reminiscent of closed religious societies dealing with public sinners than someone expressing an outlier view in a 24/7 news cycle.

While we can all join in the condemnation of Sterling, Americans ought to be celebrating the fact that the expression of open racism in this manner isn’t merely controversial but is enough to render a wealthy and powerful man beyond the pale of decent society. Far from a commentary about how far we have yet to go to achieve equality, the Sterling brouhaha demonstrates just the opposite. That America has become a place where it is not possible to disdain associating with the likes of Magic Johnson and keep your frontcourt seats at NBA games shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. After all, this is a country that elected and then reelected a black man to the White House. If there is anything to learn from this story it is that the America that tolerated institutionalized racism only a half-century ago has become an entirely different and much better country.

The real lesson here is that while Sterling and Bundy may have thought lots of people agreed with them, the reaction to their statements has illustrated just how isolated racists are on the American public square. Though the 50 years of progress since the death of Jim Crow and even the election of Barack Obama does not mean we are a perfect, color-blind society, it does demonstrate that ours is a country in which racism has become the worst possible offense to public sensibilities. The racial quotas Sotomayor and Toobin advocate are not only as unnecessary as they are counter-productive; they are also rooted in a clearly outdated evaluation of American society. A place where Donald Sterling is the most hated man is not compatible with Sotomayor’s vision of a land where racial discrimination is rampant. As much as we may lament Sterling and Bundy as vestiges of a bygone era of hate, we should be grateful that they are treated with such general disdain and draw the appropriate conclusions.

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SCOTUS Roulette: Why Winning Matters

In recent years discourse between various wings of the Republican Party has descended into a fight between people who largely view each other as stereotypes rather than allies. Given the stakes involved, the antagonism between Tea Party activists on the one hand and the so-called establishment on the other is understandable and disagreements about tactics are inevitable. These disputes are rooted in part in philosophical differences that are driven in no small measure by the despair that some on the right feel about the future of the nation that seems to mandate that the normal give and take of politics should be superseded by an apocalyptic crusade in which all but true believers must be wiped out. When establishment types attempt to answer such demands with pragmatic sermons about the need to temper absolutism by remembering that the prime objective is to win general elections rather than to conduct ideological purity tests, they are dismissed as temporizing trimmers.

But yesterday’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Michigan affirmative action case should act as a reminder to even the most hard-core conservatives that not winning elections could have far more catastrophic consequences for the nation than the indignity of making common cause with the GOP establishment. While conservatives were somewhat satisfied with the failure of yet another liberal attempt to defend racial quotas, the refusal of three of the conservative majority on the court to address the core issue points out just how close liberals are to remaking America should they be able to appoint another two or three justices over the course of the next decade. Conservative commentators were united in their contempt for what several called the “Orwellian” reasoning of Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s dissent in the case that was lionized in both a New York Times news article and an editorial on the case. But unless Republicans nominate someone in 2016 that can beat Hillary Clinton, Sotomayor may firmly be in the majority by the time the former first lady finishes her second term 11 years from now.

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In recent years discourse between various wings of the Republican Party has descended into a fight between people who largely view each other as stereotypes rather than allies. Given the stakes involved, the antagonism between Tea Party activists on the one hand and the so-called establishment on the other is understandable and disagreements about tactics are inevitable. These disputes are rooted in part in philosophical differences that are driven in no small measure by the despair that some on the right feel about the future of the nation that seems to mandate that the normal give and take of politics should be superseded by an apocalyptic crusade in which all but true believers must be wiped out. When establishment types attempt to answer such demands with pragmatic sermons about the need to temper absolutism by remembering that the prime objective is to win general elections rather than to conduct ideological purity tests, they are dismissed as temporizing trimmers.

But yesterday’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Michigan affirmative action case should act as a reminder to even the most hard-core conservatives that not winning elections could have far more catastrophic consequences for the nation than the indignity of making common cause with the GOP establishment. While conservatives were somewhat satisfied with the failure of yet another liberal attempt to defend racial quotas, the refusal of three of the conservative majority on the court to address the core issue points out just how close liberals are to remaking America should they be able to appoint another two or three justices over the course of the next decade. Conservative commentators were united in their contempt for what several called the “Orwellian” reasoning of Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s dissent in the case that was lionized in both a New York Times news article and an editorial on the case. But unless Republicans nominate someone in 2016 that can beat Hillary Clinton, Sotomayor may firmly be in the majority by the time the former first lady finishes her second term 11 years from now.

As both our Peter Wehner wrote here and John Podhoretz also noted in the New York Post today, the result of yesterday’s decision was largely positive. The court upheld the right of Michigan’s voters to ban the use of so-called affirmative action in admissions in public universities by a 6-2 vote with Justice Elena Kagan recusing herself from the case. Both Peter and John rightly lauded the concurring opinion of Justice Antonin Scalia (joined by Justice Clarence Thomas) that would have ruled all racial quotas unconstitutional. By pointing out that the plurality opinion written by Justice Anthony Kennedy (and joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito) did not go far enough in striking down the efforts of the federal appeals courts to deem the referendum on affirmative action an act of prejudice, Scalia went to the heart of the matter.

As National Review noted in a cogent editorial, it was more like “half a win” than something to celebrate. So long as three-fifths of the conservative members of the court are afraid to act on the logic of Chief Justice Roberts’ apt statement in an earlier case that “the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race” and ban such discrimination outright, such efforts will continue to undermine both the Constitution and serve to feed racial discord.

But in addition to lauding Scalia’s brilliant logic, the opinion of Sotomayor merits our attention. The willingness of Sotomayor and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who concurred with her dissent, to embrace a radical stance that would trash the constitutional protections of equal protection in order to enshrine what would amount to permanent racial quotas so as to redress past acts of discrimination is alarming in its own right. But conservatives who think making common cause with less ideological Republicans is counter-productive should ponder what would happen if the next president gets the chance to replace any of the five conservatives on the court with justices who might embrace Sotomayor’s opinions.

At the moment, the justice most likely to be replaced is Ginsburg who is 81 and not in the best of health. Some on the left are calling for her to resign now while President Obama can replace her with a fellow liberal rather than taking the chance that a Republican successor would be presented with the choice. But whether or not Ginsburg sticks to her guns and stays at the court until she has to be carried out, Republicans also need to consider that if a Democrat is sworn in by Roberts in January 2017, that would raise the very real possibility that it is one or more of the justices they count on to preserve an admittedly weak and inconsistent conservative majority that would be swapped out for a leftist like Sotomayor.

At the moment, three of the conservatives (Roberts, 59; Alito, 64; and Thomas, 65) seem young enough to wait out even two more terms of a Democratic president after Obama. But are even Tea Partiers willing to bet the Constitution on the health of the 78-year-old Scalia or even the weathervane 77-year-old Kennedy holding out until 2025?

Winning elections is not the only purpose of politics. Ideology matters and Republican politicians must be held accountable for behavior that undermines the basic principles of limited government. But unless they want to wake up in an America in which the Sotomayors can twist the Constitution into a pretzel to preserve every variety of liberal legal atrocity, right-wingers need to get over their hostility to more moderate Republicans and work to build an electoral majority rather than a purist schismatic faction.

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Is Racial Equality Unconstitutional?

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court returns to the question of the legality of affirmative action policies on the part of universities that favor specific classes of applicants such as racial minorities. In the past, the court has preserved the right of schools to consider race provided that each person so favored is considered as an individual rather than making it a function of an illegal quota. Such policies were preserved in a 2003 case that allowed the University of Michigan Law School to have race-conscious admissions as well as one decided last spring that did the same for the University of Texas so long as there are no “workable race-neutral alternatives.” But those determined to keep racial discrimination of this sort alive are back at the court demanding something very different. Now they want to make it illegal for a state’s voters to ban affirmative action.

At stake in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action is whether an amendment to the Michigan state constitution banning the practice can be ruled unconstitutional. That’s what a 8-7 majority of the U.S. Court of Appeals Sixth Circuit did when it explicably claimed that an amendment that stated that public institutions of higher learning “shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin” is a form of discrimination against racial minorities. In doing so, they want to turn the dictionary definition of discrimination on its head in a manner that is worthy of George Orwell’s 1984. If they succeed, it will not only be a setback for the goal of a color-blind non-discriminatory society but to democracy itself.

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This week, the U.S. Supreme Court returns to the question of the legality of affirmative action policies on the part of universities that favor specific classes of applicants such as racial minorities. In the past, the court has preserved the right of schools to consider race provided that each person so favored is considered as an individual rather than making it a function of an illegal quota. Such policies were preserved in a 2003 case that allowed the University of Michigan Law School to have race-conscious admissions as well as one decided last spring that did the same for the University of Texas so long as there are no “workable race-neutral alternatives.” But those determined to keep racial discrimination of this sort alive are back at the court demanding something very different. Now they want to make it illegal for a state’s voters to ban affirmative action.

At stake in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action is whether an amendment to the Michigan state constitution banning the practice can be ruled unconstitutional. That’s what a 8-7 majority of the U.S. Court of Appeals Sixth Circuit did when it explicably claimed that an amendment that stated that public institutions of higher learning “shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin” is a form of discrimination against racial minorities. In doing so, they want to turn the dictionary definition of discrimination on its head in a manner that is worthy of George Orwell’s 1984. If they succeed, it will not only be a setback for the goal of a color-blind non-discriminatory society but to democracy itself.

The argument in favor of overturning the amendment is that by banning affirmative action, the state is denying equal protection to racial minorities favored by such practices. As the New York Times editorial page explains, doing so means that those who would like the state to adopt admissions policies that favor different groups like alumni only have to lobby those who run colleges and universities to see things their way but those who want them to choose methods that discriminate on the basis of race must convince a majority of Michiganders to vote to repeal the constitutional provision that bans it. Since the former process is easier than the latter, that means a constitutional ban of affirmative action must thereby be considered unconstitutional.

But this piece of imaginative liberal legal manipulation passes neither the smell test nor one of rudimentary logic. Michigan’s position is that equality before the law when it comes to race is a fundamental value of law, and thus wrong in of itself — malum in se. As Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, said “It’s fundamentally wrong to treat people differently on the color of their skin.”

He’s right. To claim that a legal provision that prohibits discrimination on the basis of race is discriminatory because it injures those who would benefit from such discrimination is not just a poor argument; it’s exactly the kind of legal knot that liberals must tie themselves up in to justify an indefensible policy.

Those who wish to overturn the amendment further argue that the result of the Michigan law has led to a decline in the admissions of African Americans to Michigan Law is down 33 percent since its adoption in 2006. That’s a matter of concern but it says more about the school’s inability to come up with better policies not based in race to make their student body diverse than it does about the virtues of affirmative action.

It has long been apparent that the real problem in admissions has to do with the advantages of class and wealth than those rooted in race. Had Michigan Law and other schools that are committed to race-based admissions more out of political ideology than anything else chosen to institute new policies that helped those who were financially disadvantaged the numbers of African Americans might not have been affected as badly. Admitting someone to a school with less academic qualifications than other students solely because of race has often led to failure for both the student and the school. If instead those committed to affirmative action were to work to create new standards that would help those who are genuinely disadvantaged rather than merely of the right race or background regardless of their income, the result would promote genuine diversity. It would also not contribute to the poisoning of race relations that has often been the bottom line of affirmative action policies that work to discriminate against groups not so favored.

It should also be understood that the amendment in question was approved by 58 percent of Michigan voters. If their democratic will is to be overturned by a court fiat, liberals will have to come up with something better than the arguments they have mustered. To claim, as the Times does, that ballot initiatives are “prone to abuse” or that the process was “rife with fraud and deception” does not protect the integrity of democracy, it basically invalidates it. Were the court to rule against Michigan, it would be saying that the only votes that count are those of judges, not citizens. That is a position that cannot be allowed to stand.

Given recent court trends and the fact that Justice Elena Kagan has been forced to recuse herself from the case because of her involvement with the case while serving in the Obama administration, there is good reason to believe the court will do just that. If so, it will be a victory for the causes of equality before the law, logic and democracy.

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Timing of Warren Statement is Shady

Elizabeth Warren finally acknowledged to the Boston Globe that she told Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania she was Native American when she served on their faculties, but she continues to insist it had no influence on her hiring:

“At some point after I was hired by them, I . . . provided that information to the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard,’’ [Warren] said in a statement issued by her campaign. “My Native American heritage is part of who I am, I’m proud of it and I have been open about it.’’

Warren’s admission comes after the Boston Globe reported that Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania cited a Native American faculty member in federal diversity statistics during Warren’s tenure at the schools. Obviously Harvard and Penn didn’t both list her as Native American based on a wild hunch, so the only real explanation was that Warren told them about her alleged ancestry.

That’s what makes the timing of Warren’s statement to the Globe today so shady. If her self-proclaimed ancestry had nothing to do with her hiring, why did she only admit to telling Harvard and Penn about it after she was backed into a corner by the Globe?

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Elizabeth Warren finally acknowledged to the Boston Globe that she told Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania she was Native American when she served on their faculties, but she continues to insist it had no influence on her hiring:

“At some point after I was hired by them, I . . . provided that information to the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard,’’ [Warren] said in a statement issued by her campaign. “My Native American heritage is part of who I am, I’m proud of it and I have been open about it.’’

Warren’s admission comes after the Boston Globe reported that Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania cited a Native American faculty member in federal diversity statistics during Warren’s tenure at the schools. Obviously Harvard and Penn didn’t both list her as Native American based on a wild hunch, so the only real explanation was that Warren told them about her alleged ancestry.

That’s what makes the timing of Warren’s statement to the Globe today so shady. If her self-proclaimed ancestry had nothing to do with her hiring, why did she only admit to telling Harvard and Penn about it after she was backed into a corner by the Globe?

Her story is that Harvard was unaware of her heritage until after she was hired and it came up casually at a faculty lunch. That’s not exactly scandalous, and failing to mention it earlier makes her look like she had something to hide. Add that to the fact that Harvard was reportedly under enormous pressure to hire minority faculty at the time, and plenty of questions remain.

So far, other Harvard faculty involved in Warren’s hiring have backed up her story to the Globe. But does anyone really want to admit to giving someone preferential treatment because of her (now questionable) minority status? First of all, it’s an uncomfortable thing to make public, particularly as it could damage both Harvard’s and Warren’s reputations. And second, no matter how you feel about affirmative action, it would be a major embarrassment if it actually helped someone like Warren cut in line.

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Warren’s Indian Tales Help Turn Mass. Race Into Town vs. Gown

Contentions has already explored the contradictions at the heart of Elizabeth Warren’s use of her slim ties to a Native American ancestor to portray herself as a member of a minority group at Harvard University Law School. The Democratic candidate has become something of a poster child for the excesses of the world of affirmative action, but the story got a bit more damaging today when the Boston Herald reported that in addition to using her status as a 1/32 Cherokee Indian, she also went native during her time at the University of Pennsylvania.

The Herald discovered that Penn (where she worked from 1987 to 1994), listed her as a minority in a “Minority Equity Report.” Warren’s office is probably right to say that her reputation was good enough in the world of liberal jurisprudence to have earned her a job at prestigious universities. But the revelation that she was touted as a minority hire at yet another school makes her claim that she was unaware of her status as an affirmative action case that much less credible. When added to the fact that she admits listing herself as a minority in the Association of American Law Schools directory for a decade (supposedly in order to meet “other Native Americans”), this new information gives the story new life.

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Contentions has already explored the contradictions at the heart of Elizabeth Warren’s use of her slim ties to a Native American ancestor to portray herself as a member of a minority group at Harvard University Law School. The Democratic candidate has become something of a poster child for the excesses of the world of affirmative action, but the story got a bit more damaging today when the Boston Herald reported that in addition to using her status as a 1/32 Cherokee Indian, she also went native during her time at the University of Pennsylvania.

The Herald discovered that Penn (where she worked from 1987 to 1994), listed her as a minority in a “Minority Equity Report.” Warren’s office is probably right to say that her reputation was good enough in the world of liberal jurisprudence to have earned her a job at prestigious universities. But the revelation that she was touted as a minority hire at yet another school makes her claim that she was unaware of her status as an affirmative action case that much less credible. When added to the fact that she admits listing herself as a minority in the Association of American Law Schools directory for a decade (supposedly in order to meet “other Native Americans”), this new information gives the story new life.

Far from a distraction from more important issues, the WASPy Warren’s use of “family lore” to get a leg up as a faux minority at some of the country’s most prestigious institutions speaks volumes about the cynical way liberals think about affirmation action and their thinly-veiled contempt for real minorities.

The bad news for Warren is not just that she has been taken off message for weeks dealing with a campaign hiccup that no one could have foreseen. It is that she has been effectively branded as a fake when it was her authenticity as a tough-talking advocate of liberalism which launched her political career.

Even worse, the affirmative action fraud reminds Massachusetts voters of everything they hate about Harvard elites. Though the Bay State is reliably liberal and Democratic, it is a mistake to think most of its citizens worship at the altar of Harvard. Warren needed her race against incumbent Scott Brown to be one of liberal versus conservative. Instead, the Cherokee story will help him frame it as one of town versus gown. And that is a contest that gown will lose every time.

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Elizabeth Warren and the Tragedy of Modern Liberalism

As utterly obnoxious–and insulting to voters–as the White House’s “war on women” was, there were moments when I actually felt a pang of sympathy for the loyal foot soldiers dispatched to pillage the news cycle. Carrying the banner of this base anti-intellectualism required a certain shamelessness that was off-putting, but at times strangely pitiful. One such example came after Rush Limbaugh insulted the 30-year-old liberal activist Sandra Fluke, and in response Neera Tanden, once an adviser to both Clintons and to President Obama and now president of the Center for American Progress, was reduced to tweeting this:

Outraged Rush is attacking all women thru Sandra Fluke? Pl sign CAP’s petition: http://cap.af/xNDJwc – I #standwithsandra & hope you will 2

That the Obama White House has taken men and women of repute and transformed them into Axelrodian snark artists long preceded Tanden’s tweet. But it caught my attention because it seemed to be the reductio ad absurdum of modern liberalism. Until, that is, Elizabeth Warren bailed her out.

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As utterly obnoxious–and insulting to voters–as the White House’s “war on women” was, there were moments when I actually felt a pang of sympathy for the loyal foot soldiers dispatched to pillage the news cycle. Carrying the banner of this base anti-intellectualism required a certain shamelessness that was off-putting, but at times strangely pitiful. One such example came after Rush Limbaugh insulted the 30-year-old liberal activist Sandra Fluke, and in response Neera Tanden, once an adviser to both Clintons and to President Obama and now president of the Center for American Progress, was reduced to tweeting this:

Outraged Rush is attacking all women thru Sandra Fluke? Pl sign CAP’s petition: http://cap.af/xNDJwc – I #standwithsandra & hope you will 2

That the Obama White House has taken men and women of repute and transformed them into Axelrodian snark artists long preceded Tanden’s tweet. But it caught my attention because it seemed to be the reductio ad absurdum of modern liberalism. Until, that is, Elizabeth Warren bailed her out.

Warren, the Democratic Senate candidate challenging Scott Brown in Massachusetts, was the subject of a rather bizarre controversy this week when it was revealed she claimed Native American heritage as her career in academia proceeded, only to drop the dubious claim once she reached the pinnacle of her academic career track: Harvard Law faculty. She has not handled the controversy well, to say the least. And the wreckage of her campaign’s attempts at spinning this make you want to look away.

But don’t. Because Warren is playing an important role in our political discourse: she is the ghost of liberalism future. Warren’s alleged use of affirmative action, if true, would have to be the most egregious abuse of the system at the expense of minorities we’ve seen yet. Elizabeth Warren is, as a white woman, statistically speaking very much a member of this country’s majority. The only category in which she is a true minority is wealth: Elizabeth Warren is very, very rich.

But Warren was not done making a mockery of a system she seems to have exploited, and in so doing risked discrediting. To call her on these shenanigans, she explained, is sexist. Hot Air has caught her repeating this claim, making it a pillar of her defense. First, her campaign spokeswoman said this: “Once again, the qualifications and ability of a woman are being called into question by Scott Brown who did the same thing with the Supreme Court nomination of Elena Kagan. It’s outrageous.”

Then Warren waded into it herself, saying of Brown: “What does he think it takes for a woman to be qualified?”

The sad part about all this is that Warren is clearly intelligent and dedicated to her (redistributionist) cause. Back in August, Christopher Caldwell wrote a piece on her in the Weekly Standard in which he praised her earlier writing as “brilliant and counterintuitive work.” Though many on the right object to Warren’s politics, no one thought she was ill-equipped intellectually for the important debate on economic policy now sweeping the public sphere.

Yet in the age of Obama, this is how campaigns are run. Warren may have interesting things to say, but she, too, has become something of a liberal cliché. Despite her obvious smarts, she has reflexively fallen back on charges of sexism, even when they are so ridiculous as to make you cringe. If Warren, a rich, white, Harvard professor, is a victim, everyone is.

Why does this matter? Because it reveals that the left thinks affirmative action is a joke, another cudgel with which to attack political opponents at the expense of minorities who might, thanks to liberalism’s insistence on keeping students in failed school districts, actually put the policy to some good use. And because if Elizabeth Warren is unable to advance coherent liberal policy arguments, then there may be none to advance.

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Affirmative Action in Action

Elizabeth Warren, the super-liberal Harvard law professor and candidate for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts, seems to have gamed the affirmative action system for her own benefit. When she was on her way up the greasy pole of law-school professorships she claimed she belonged to a “minority”–American Indian to be precise. From 1986 to 1995, while teaching at the University of Texas and the University of Pennsylvania, she was listed in the Association of American Law Schools’ annual directory of minority law professors. But once she went to work at Harvard, and could no longer benefit by being a minority, she dropped the minority shtick.

The Boston Herald brought this fact to life; her opponent, Scott Brown, pounced, and the Warren campaign has been in damage-control mode ever since. At first they said her Indian ancestry was according to “family lore.” Now, it seems, (one senses an emergency call to a genealogist) her great great great grandmother was Cherokee. So Warren is 1/32 Indian.

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Elizabeth Warren, the super-liberal Harvard law professor and candidate for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts, seems to have gamed the affirmative action system for her own benefit. When she was on her way up the greasy pole of law-school professorships she claimed she belonged to a “minority”–American Indian to be precise. From 1986 to 1995, while teaching at the University of Texas and the University of Pennsylvania, she was listed in the Association of American Law Schools’ annual directory of minority law professors. But once she went to work at Harvard, and could no longer benefit by being a minority, she dropped the minority shtick.

The Boston Herald brought this fact to life; her opponent, Scott Brown, pounced, and the Warren campaign has been in damage-control mode ever since. At first they said her Indian ancestry was according to “family lore.” Now, it seems, (one senses an emergency call to a genealogist) her great great great grandmother was Cherokee. So Warren is 1/32 Indian.

Does that make her a member of a minority? Well, she’s closer to being Indian than I am, as I have to go back not five generations but 13 to get to my first American Indian ancestor, Pocahontas. (Yes, that Pocahontas. I was nearly named Powhatan, after my great great grandfather, Powhatan Gordon. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and I was named after my mother’s brother instead.) But still, 1/32? As the comedian Susan Vass noted, “Funny, she doesn’t look Siouxish.”

It’s all so reminiscent of the race laws in the old South, South Africa, Nazi Germany and other places no one wants to go back to, only in reverse. Warren Harding was haunted by the rumor that he had a black ancestor. Now a candidate for the Senate has exploited the fact that an ancestor she had never heard of until the day before yesterday was American Indian.

This kerfuffle will all be forgotten in a week, but it exposes vividly the utter bankruptcy of affirmative action.

 

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