One of the dirtiest words in the field of public policy is “quotas.” I have never met an elected official or anyone running for public office–regardless of political affiliation–who proclaims support for quotas.
Even when they hide behind the fig leaf of “diversity” and “affirmative action,” which are the functional equivalents of quotas, virtually all political figures regard the characterization of being a supporter of quotas as “fightin’ words.”
Recently, the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (MCRI)–a ballot proposition patterned after California’s Proposition 209–won a court battle to be included on Michigan’s Election Day 2006 ballot. MCRI would install language in the Michigan constitution preventing “the state from discriminating against, or granting preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, color, gender, ethnicity or national origin in public employment, public education, or public contracting.”
According to the latest poll, MCRI enjoys favorable support from over 70 percent of likely Michigan voters. The support among Republicans is over 80 percent. This is the initiative that Al Sharpton assailed in his political commentary at the recent funeral services of Rosa Parks.
Well, it seems that Reverend Al is not alone in his opposition to this measure. A few Republican candidates for high office in Michigan also announced their opposition to MCRI the day the court handed down its ballot decision–although they had waited for over two years before expressing a position.
First, Michigan Republican gubernatorial hopeful Dick DeVos, a prominent conservative, had this to say:
I do not support this ballot initiative. Like most people in Michigan, I do not favor quotas. With our terrible job situation, we must look for ways to unify and provide equal opportunity for all people in our state–especially improving educational opportunities for all children–and must not distract our focus from the tough issues we face to make our state great again.
Within hours, a leading Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, Keith Butler, joined the ranks of preference supporters by announcing:
I do not support quotas or set aside programs for anyone. However, after much study of this issue, I have come to the conclusion that I cannot support Ward Connerly’s proposal. I have come to the conclusion that his proposal goes to [sic] far and has hidden unintended consequence [sic].
Let’s be clear, the U.S. Supreme Court in its decisions concerning the University of Michigan outlawed the use of added points for minority applicants. Regarding the University of Michigan Law School, the U.S. Supreme Court said that an applicant’s life circumstances could be evaluated in determining admissions. President George Bush praised the decision saying, “I applaud the Supreme Court for recognizing the value of diversity on our Nation’s campuses. Diversity is one of America’s greatest strengths.” I agree with President Bush and the U.S. Supreme Court.
This proposal is wrong for Michigan. We still live in a society where some among us still need assistance. We do not need quotas or set-asides for anyone, but is it wrong to encourage young girls to take math and science courses? Is it wrong to support a program that encourages young black men to go to college? Is it wrong to encourage single mothers to complete their education? I don’t believe it is.
In addition to either deliberately or unwittingly misrepresenting the purpose of MCRI, Butler engaged in a Clintonian rhetorical two-step that clearly seeks to have it both ways: oppose quotas while supporting their functional equivalent–”diversity.” Moreover, neither candidate seems to evidence any genuine understanding of why a quota system is so objectionable to the American way of life.
(I might also add that, while I continue to support our president, on the issue of race preferences I do not consider him or the U.S. Supreme Court to be good role models on the issue of race preferences and quotas.)
DeVos certainly must know that a strong economy depends on creative entrepreneurs and industrialists who take their ideas and capital to the marketplace and then rely on the principle of merit to propel their investments into successful ventures.
There is not one major American success throughout our history that can be placed at the doorstep of “diversity.” All that we are as a nation we owe to merit and individual enterprise. A quota system is the antithesis of a meritocracy. Quotas seek to build a workforce, a student body, a team, that “looks like America,” or that “reflects the ethnic and racial composition of the community.” An enterprise or venue based on merit simply tries to be the best that it can be with nary a thought given to the physical or ancestral characteristics of those involved.
A quota is not just a fixed number. It is the effort to engineer the outcome of a competitive process and to achieve proportionality based on group identity. Quotas rely on the principle of group representation. “Critical mass” and “diversity” are nothing more than euphemisms for the word “quotas.” Any effort to subordinate the operation of the meritocratic principle is an effort to achieve a quota.
Although there is universal rhetorical rejection of quotas, there is ample reason to believe that this expressed outrage is little more than political verbiage. To substantiate this view, we need look no further than the nomination of Harriett Miers to the Supreme Court.
There can be little doubt that the president felt obliged to fill the vacancy that existed on the Supreme Court with a female, and that Miers’s primary qualification was her gender. This was a vacancy that had a huge sign with the words “males need not apply.” Moreover, I believe it was understood that a white male would have about as much chance of being nominated and confirmed as a camel would have in navigating the eye of a needle. Were it not for the lack of at least a semblance of conservatism in her published background and qualifications, it is likely that Miers would now be Justice Miers.
The tragedy evidenced by the Harriet Miers nomination is that so many of us were content to accept the underlying quota reality that the nomination represented. As a nation, our ideological senses have been numbed by the constant blather about “diversity.” While we may not feel the pain through our numbness, it is there nonetheless, in the form of an educational system that has been dumbed down in its curriculum and its standards, a workforce that is layered with “affirmative action” programs and “diversity” officers and is not as productive as it otherwise might be, and a contracting system that is often fraudulent due to its set-asides and gender preferences.
America dodged a bullet when Harriet Miers withdrew her name. But the gun remains pointed at our collective heads in every sphere of American life. Whether it is a student body, a Supreme Court, an athletic team, or a private board, any organization or entity that is constituted around the quota mindset will not be the best that it otherwise could be–and the nation suffers because of this.
It is the height of hypocrisy for anyone to profess his belief in the marketplace or in Martin Luther King Jr.’s content-of-character guidance, but then to hide behind the specious rationale of “hidden unintended consequences” as the basis for opposition to initiatives such as Proposition 209 and the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative.
If we are to cleanse our nation of this quota poison, it is critical that we consciously grab hold of the principle of merit and embrace a single standard for all in the private, public, nonprofit, and philanthropic sectors of our society.
–Ward Connerly is founder and chairman of the American Civil Rights Institute and a Bradley Prize recipient..