The House of Representatives is poised to pass the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act (known in the Senate as the “Akaka Bill”), the apogee of an aggressive multiculturalism that has manifested itself in local, state, and federal legislation in the last two decades. The bill faces a certain White House veto, but it’s unclear whether there are enough votes in the Senate to sustain it. If the Senate overrides the veto, it will speed the country’s embrace of a form of post-nationalism (already held by many elites) — a confederation of various races, ethnicities and interest groups competing for special privileges, exemptions and recognition.
The Akaka Bill creates a race-based government for native Hawaiians. Even its supporters don’t deny that the bill could lead to outright secession. In the meantime, the bill will produce a regime of racial preferences, reparations, and lawsuits fueled by ethnic grievance, victimhood, and entitlement.
The Akaka Bill is just the most audacious manifestation of an accelerating trend toward elevating racial/ethnic identity over American citizenship. Hyphenated-Americans have existed throughout our history; Americans have never suffered from a shortage of ethnic, cultural or regional pride. But for most of that history official primacy wasn’t given to race/ethnicity; and when such primacy was accorded, it supported the loathsome institutions of slavery, segregation and Jim Crow, institutions eradicated at a staggering price in lives, blood and societal upheaval.
Too many politicians, it seems, slept through history class. They blithely repeat the mistakes of the past.
Today government policies encourage tribalism and reward racial obsessives. State privileges and benefits are dispensed on the basis of skin tone and ancestry. The Supreme Court says that state universities can prefer some races over others. Federal, state and local governments award billions of dollars of contracts, not on the basis of who has more qualifications, but who has more melanin. Voting districts are designed to cluster voters by race and ensure that candidates of the right race are elected.
The phrase “equal treatment” has been supplanted by the platitude “celebrate diversity.” As Thomas Sowell has shown — repeatedly — societies organized around the latter phrase without the former as a predicate are usually riven by strife, discord, and civil war.
Yet “diversity” remains the feel-good term for our times. In many quarters it trumps freedom of speech, due process, equal protection and other annoyances actually contained in the Constitution. Not surprisingly then, witnesses appearing before Congress or federal agencies these days are as likely to be petitioning for special treatment as equal treatment; for “racial sensitivity” as colorblindness. The general welfare often is a concern secondary to ethnic advantage.
While government bureaucracies, media and the academy promote slow-motion American balkanization, the ranks of those trying to preserve our national unity dwindle. Washington, D.C. is waist-deep in special pleaders making their cases to politicians eager to appear progressive, sensitive and tolerant. Quite often, the politicians yield. Last year’s cloture vote on the Akaka Bill was 56-41, that is, 56 senators of the United States of America, including 13 from the party of Lincoln, thought a bill that would create a separate race-based government was worthy of consideration; a bill whose proponents acknowledge secession as a possibility merits a vote. And the 2006 election added to congress even more members likely to be sympathetic to the bill.
The Akaka Bill would provide the incentive and rationale for other ethnic groups to push for separate, privileged legal status. A century and a half ago a war costing 600,000 lives couldn’t sever the country. Now, strategic use of the words “victim,” “race,” “oppression,” and “disadvantage” may be all it takes.
The Akaka Bill is a legislative abomination on steroids. Its spirit runs counter to our animating principles and national ideal. As I’ve stated before, the bill is the worst piece of legislation ever analyzed by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (that’s saying something). In a few weeks the members of the world’s greatest deliberative body will have a chance to kill the bill for a second time and reaffirm that we are one nation, indivisible.
– Peter Kirsanow is a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. He is also a member of the National Labor Relations Board. These comments do not necessarily reflect the positions of either organization.