Bench Memos

The Post-Fisher Speech Obama Should Give (But Probably Won’t) (But Really Might If He’s Smart)


My fellow Americans, I want to talk to you tonight about the decision that the Supreme Court handed down today in Abigail Fisher v. University of Texas, in which a narrow majority of the Court said that our colleges and universities can no longer consider race in making admissions decisions.

My first reaction was disappointment, because my Justice Department had urged to Court to continue to allow this practice. But on reflection I have decided that maybe this is a blessing in disguise, or a wake-up call, or at least that if this decision is a lemon then we can still make lemonade out of it.

Sooner or later. this Court was probably going to say that it was time to stop making decisions based even partly on race. I thought affirmative action should have been left in place a while longer, since there are still so many disparities we see in our country.

The playing field isn’t level. But, you know, it is also true that there are people of all colors at both ends of the playing field. And I care about the people who are struggling, whatever their color is. And, I might add, there seem to be people out there — and I don’t want to be partisan, but they are mostly all Republicans — who don’t care about people who are struggling, whatever their color is. They don’t want to help anybody, and I want to help everybody. The disparity that really matters today is not between races, but between rich and poor — I mean, rich and middle-class.

As I said when I was first running for president, it probably doesn’t make sense for Sasha and Malia to get special treatment when they apply to college, and it probably would make sense for a gun-and-religion clinging poor white boy from Appalachia to get special consideration.

So today I am instructing my administration to start changing all federal programs that have racial classifications to using instead classifications that help anyone who is disadvantaged or needs assistance, whatever their race or ethnicity. Sooner or later the law is going to require that, and I think we might as well start making the change now, while I’m in charge, and can make sure that these good programs still survive, just in a broader form.

Another reason that I think the Supreme Court’s decision might be something we can live with is because of the changing face of America, in particular because of immigration. Unlike some people who hate immigrants — and, again, I don’t want to be divisive, but I’m talking about the Republicans — I actually like immigrants. Most of them today are people of color, Latinos and Asians (which is probably why the Republicans do not like them, by the way). But this makes it a little odd when, as soon as they get here, we start giving preferences to Latinos over Asians (in college admissions), while sometimes now giving preferences to Asians over Latinos (in government contracting).

As part of the immigration reform that this country needs but some people are refusing to pass, I think that we should be welcoming people of all colors to our country and treating them all as simply Americans when they get here. They come here wanting to work, and that’s what has made this country great. We should also be helping them acquire the skills they need to succeed in this country, like speaking English, which should also be an important part of immigration reform.

Finally, I want to say something more about the racial disparities that we still see in our country. Some of those disparities can be traced to the lingering effects of slavery, and Jim Crow, and discrimination. And the fact is that discrimination still exists. And I’m proud of that the Justice Department during my administration has been aggressively enforcing the law that makes such discrimination illegal. And we will continue to do so, rather than ignoring those laws the way that some people — and you know who they are — do when they are in charge.

But let’s be honest. Thanks to many great Americans, most of them a lot like me, discrimination isn’t the obstacle it once was. But there are other obstacles that are keeping many African Americans from taking advantage of the opportunities that America has made available to them.

The biggest such obstacle now is the destruction of the black family. Over 72 percent of African Americans now are born out of wedlock. And growing up in a home without a father means that you’re more likely to grow up poor, to get into trouble with the law, to be unemployed, to get mixed up with drugs, to have all kinds of problems. Harvard’s having an affirmative action plan isn’t going to help them.

Now, I know that single moms do a great job. I myself was basically raised by a single mom, and I like to think that I turned out okay. [Smiles.] But I might not have. There were some close calls when I was growing up, some times that I’m not proud of where I started heading down the wrong path. But I was lucky, and I think I would have been less likely to make those mistakes if my dad had been around.

The fact is that children have a better chance to succeed in life if their parents are married and they grow up in a stable, two-parent home.

Now, Republicans don’t want to talk about this because they don’t care. And white Democrats don’t want to talk about it because they are afraid it might sound racist, and black Democrats don’t want to talk about it because they think it’s showing their dirty laundry to the public.

But Michelle and I are going to start talking about it. We’ve been walking the walk for a long time, and we’re going to be talking the talk, too.

Michelle has done great work in fighting childhood obesity, and I know she’s going to do great work in this area as well. The problem of out-of-wedlock births is not limited to African Americans, by the way, and to be honest it is a much bigger problem than childhood obesity. Because, when you think about it, you can’t spell “fatherless” without “fat.”

America has always been a multi-racial and multi-ethnic country, and it’s becoming more so. More and more Americans are themselves of more than one race. I’m one of them. American will continue to be great if we continue to foster the values of studying hard, working hard, obeying the law — and treating one another as Americans, first and foremost. Even Republicans.

Thank you, and God bless America.


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