In an interview with George Stephanopoulos over the weekend, John McCain said that he supports the Arizona Civil Rights Initiative. This is a big deal, and Sen. McCain is to be roundly congratulated.
The AzCRI is a ballot initiative that will be voted on this fall by the people of Arizona, and would ban preferences based on race, ethnicity, and sex in the state’s public contracting, education (including university admissions), and employment programs. It contains the same language that will be before voters on the same day in Colorado and Nebraska, too, and that has already been enacted in California, Washington, and — most recently — Michigan.
If Sen. McCain is trying to show conservatives that he is one of us, on this issue, at least, he has succeeded. But our considerations ought to be broader than that: The principle of e pluribus unum is vital to all Americans across the political spectrum.
McCain’s commitment is not only sound on principle, but it is wise politics, in both the high and low meanings of the term. In an America that is increasingly multiethnic and multiracial — indeed, in a country where individual Americans are themselves more and more likely to be multiethnic and multiracial — we cannot have a legal regime that sorts people according to skin color and national origin. And, overwhelmingly, American voters recognize this.
Yet Sen. McCain’s statement is paradoxically one that also required courage on his part, for the media and entrenched interest groups are likely to attack him for “playing the race card.” As bizarre as it seems, it will be denounced as divisive to oppose racial divisions. So we applaud McCain’s courage as well.
We have a divergence of interest with McCain, however, in one respect: While it might be to McCain’s advantage for Barack Obama to insist on continuing his own opposition to these ballot initiatives and his support for racial preferences, we hope for the good of the country he will not do so. And we hope this is not the pipe dream it might appear to be.
Obama, after all, himself recognized the divisiveness of preferential treatment in his Philadelphia race speech earlier this year. And a little over a year ago, in an interview with George Stephanopoulos, he acknowledged that his own daughters, for starters, come from privileged backgrounds and thus are “probably” not deserving of preferential treatment. Once upon a time, there was hope that Sen. Obama would be a race-transcending candidate who would bring us all together — not just another Democratic pol who lacks the courage to stand up to powerful but aging interests in his own party.
If Sen. Obama were to take a deep breath and acknowledge that, yes, the logic of his own past pronouncements means that the time has come, at long last, to end racial preferences, it would be good for him and his campaign — and a great thing for the nation.