Politics & Policy

The “Diversity” Elephant

One area where the president is wrong.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am a Republican who strongly supports George W. Bush in his bid for reelection. I am also often described as the “national leader” in the movement to eliminate race preferences and to purge “race” from the public arena.

Recently, President Bush appeared at the “Unity Journalists of Color” convention in Washington, D.C. In response to a question from the audience about “diversity” and “affirmative action,” the president gave me a strong case of heartburn. My dilemma, and that of many others who support the president but disliked his response to this question, is whether to remain silent or to call attention to my disagreement with him.

Following is the question and the president’s response:

Q: In one of the most closely watched cases of the 2003 term, the Supreme Court split the difference on affirmative action, allowing Bakke to stand, but rejecting the numerical formulas used by the University of Michigan undergraduate schools. I’d like to hear your own view about when, and if, race and ethnicity are admissible as factors for consideration both in college admissions and in hiring in the workplace. [Applause.]

THE PRESIDENT: Yes. I agreed with the Court in saying that we ought to reject quotas. I think quotas are discriminatory by nature. They discriminate–I think they discriminate on the bottom, and I know they discriminate on the top. And so I agreed with their assessment that a quota system was an unfair system for all. As you might remember, we also agreed with the finding that–in terms of admissions policy, race-neutral admissions policies ought to be tried. If they don’t work, to achieve an objective which is diversification, race ought to be a factor. I agree with that assessment. I think it’s very important for all institutions to strive for diversity, and I believe there are ways to do so.”

The president went on to say: “I have a responsibility to work for diversity, as well, in the administration…. If you look at my administration, it’s diverse…. Condi Rice is there because she happens to be a very competent, smart, capable woman. She’s also African American…Colin Powell…Rod Paige…Alfonso Jackson, Elaine Chao, Norm Mineta…Mel Martinez was in my Cabinet. We’ve got a diverse Cabinet. I’ve got a diverse administration.”

There is, admittedly, a great temptation to ignore such a statement in the midst of a political season when your guy is fighting for his political life. But I respectfully and profoundly disagree with the president’s position–and, in this case, silence can easily be interpreted as concurrence.

The “diversity” rationale is one of the biggest threats to the fabric of our nation. “Diversity” is an excuse to discriminate; it is at war with the principle of merit; and it is the functional equivalent of “quotas.” Moreover, it is disingenuous for anyone to argue that the “consideration” of race is not a form of preference. Furthermore, the president of the United States has no “responsibility” to “work for diversity.” It is his responsibility to uphold and defend the Constitution, which guarantees every person the right to equal treatment before the law. The president has no constitutional obligation to promote “diversity”; there may be a political necessity for him to do so, but that is a different matter altogether.

To declare that universities, if they find that race-neutral policies don’t work, should be empowered to use race as a factor in college admissions, is tantamount to giving university admissions officers an unconstrained right to discriminate and to dole out preferences as they deem appropriate, as long as they don’t quantify the degree of preference being granted. How else are they going to override the academic gap that can be found among various groups?

If “diversity” simply means hiring or appointing individuals of superior qualifications, such as Rice, Powell, Paige, Jackson, Chao, and Mineta, who need no preference, why is their skin color or ethnic background even relevant? It is also interesting that when “diversity” is discussed, it appears that only “minorities” contribute to such a sacred concept. Don’t John Ashcroft, Ann Veneman, and Donald Rumsfeld, for example, contribute to “diversity?” Why is it that their names are never mentioned when the president recites his list of diversity contributors? The answer is obvious: “Diversity” is synonymous with “affirmative action.” Like so many of my fellow Republicans, the president knows that the latter has become a regime of quotas and preferences, and wants to put some distance between himself and such a system. What he hasn’t thought through, however, is that “diversity” and “affirmative action” amount to a distinction without much difference.

The governmental pursuit of “diversity” is the worst form of social engineering. The concept that the workplace, or the classroom, or the boardroom is incomplete unless there is the right mixture of individuals based on sex, skin color, or ethnic background is the antithesis of a society built upon the principle of individual merit, with people being considered on the strength of their individual contributions and not their physical or ancestral characteristics. Ronald Reagan and Teddy Roosevelt understood this; they knew the enormous harm that could be visited upon a nation by a philosophy in which–to use the multiculturalist phrase–”race matters.”

Roosevelt put it this way: “There is no room in this country for hyphenated Americanism. The one absolutely certain way of bringing this nation to ruin, of preventing all possibility of its continuing to be a nation at all, would be to permit it to become a tangle of squabbling nationalities.” At the time, the term “diversity” was not the fad that it has become, but Roosevelt’s perspective is just as valid today as it was then, because the active pursuit of “diversity” encourages hyphenated Americanism.

It is for these reasons that I dare not remain silent when the president defends “diversity.” Long after he has retired to his ranch at Crawford, Texas, which I pray will not be until 2009, the rest of us will be trying to cope with the Grutter and Gratz decisions that the president defends. In the name of “diversity,” our children and grandchildren will be living in a nation where skin color and ancestry matter, and the long-cherished American ideal of a colorblind society will have been abandoned in favor of “diversity.” The greatest tragedy of all would be that this happened with their parents and grandparents sitting on the sidelines, silently acquiescing in the abandonment of a basic American value.

There are many reasons why George Bush should be reelected. His position on affirmative action and “diversity” is not among them. But as Republicans gather this week, it’s a topic that should be debated amongst themselves.

Ward Connerly is founder and chairman of the American Civil Rights Institute.

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