Senator John McCain said today that he supports the Arizona Civil Rights Initiative, which would ban preferences based on race, ethnicity, and sex in the state’s public contracting, education (including university admissions), and employment programs. Essentially identical initiatives will be before voters this fall in Colorado and Nebraska, and have been enacted in California, Washington, and most recently Michigan.
Disappointingly, Senator Barack Obama immediately criticized McCain: “I think in the past he’d been opposed to these Ward Connerly initiatives as divisive. And I think he’s right. These are not designed to solve a big problem, but they’re all too often designed to drive a wedge between people.”
Obama’s criticism is wrongheaded for at least three reasons: (1) it is obviously preferential policies that are divisive, not their abolition; (2) the “big problem” of helping people from disadvantaged backgrounds can be addressed by helping people of all colors who are disadvantaged, rather than crudely and unfairly using race as a proxy for disadvantage; and (3) Obama himself has recognized as much, albeit fitfully and inconsistently, in his own statements—for instance, acknowledging the divisiveness of preferential treatment (in his Philadelphia speech), and the fact that his own daughters, for starters, come from privileged backgrounds and thus are “probably” not deserving of preferential treatment.
Kudos to John McCain! This is a solid, important commitment by him to the principle of E pluribus unum, and Americans across the political spectrum, but especially conservatives, should applaud him. As for Barack Obama: This is a critical moment in his campaign. Is he a candidate of change who will transcend race and bring us all together, rejecting divisive policies he knows in his heart are outdated and irrelevant—or just another Democratic pol who lacks the courage to stand up to powerful but aging interests in his own party, which remain hopelessly infatuated with identity politics and insist on perpetuating a set of policies that have always been unfair and divisive and are now outmoded to boot?