Last week I wrote about my displeasure at being invited to a Republican Minority Conference in Florida. I said then that I am an American, not a minority. The next day, the Justice Department defended the Federal Government's current affirmative action program. Amazingly, Attorney General Ashcroft's people filed a legal brief supporting the current system in anticipation of a U.S. Supreme Court hearing on the case this fall (Adarand vs. Mineta.). I am not amused.
Unlike some conservatives, I am not afraid to admit that America has a sick, racist past. Where there is clear evidence of damage because of government-sponsored racism, the government, like any other defendant, has an obligation to make things right. However, that's not the system that is in place today. So I have no choice but to speak out against it again.
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What chaps my hide is that the current federal affirmative action program presumes that anyone with "black" or "brown" skin is socially, economically and culturally disadvantaged. I can think of nothing that is more offensive and un-American.
According to the current program, if your grandparents were Harvard or Howard Medical School graduates, your parents were Harvard or Howard Medical School graduates and you are a Harvard or Howard Medical School graduate, then you are presumed to be socially, economically and culturally disadvantaged if your "race" is "black." I'm sorry, friends, but that makes no sense. Nevertheless, that is exactly what our government wants to defend.
What makes this even more offensive is that America has never had an "affirmative action" program for poor whites. All you have to do is go up into the hills and valleys of Appalachia and the Ozarks to know that poor white Americans have been poor for hundreds of years. How in the name of all that is good can the American government say a third generation Harvard or Howard Medical School Doctor is presumed to be disadvantaged while sixth generation poor white hillbilly is not? That just doesn't compute.
My friends, we have a real problem in America. Some people work hard but can't break out of poverty. Press reports this week say that while the number of people on welfare has declined, the number of Americans who are poor has not changed. Some conservatives say that if you are poor, it's your fault. They say, "pull yourself up by your bootstraps." Nevertheless, in far too many cases, it's not that simple.
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My father was a Methodist Minister in South Central Los Angeles when no one knew what South Central meant. I spent my first years as a lawyer representing poor people. What I learned is that some wonderful poor people work their you-know-what's off every day. I have a college classmate who couldn't cut it in medical school because his family wouldn't turn off the TV so he could study math and science in high school.
His commitment to success was so strong that he left his apartment and studied in the parking lot every night and on weekends. But it turned out that just wasn't good enough. Was that his fault? No, but he never made any excuses for what happened. Those are the people we should be encouraging. Not the white women and upper class blacks and Hispanics who feast off today's affirmative action programs.
As a Christian and an American, I believe that we have an obligation to help folks break out of the cycle of poverty. As a conservative, however, I don't believe in handouts: I believe in hand-ups.
So I call on Attorney General John Ashcroft to change his department's position in Adarand vs. Mineta. Mr. Attorney General, abandon the race-based presumption and replace it with a means and harm test. Let any poor or lower-middle-class American who wants to work hard have a fair chance to compete for government small business contracts no matter the color of their skin.
If you make these changes, you can help us transform a culture of entitlement into a culture of opportunity. If you make this simple, but profound change, you will acknowledge the importance of each human's accomplishments and strike another blow at our perverse fascination with skin color.