I'm a pretty big fan of Jon Chait, and in principle, I agree that Obama should embrace class-based Affirmative Action, but I find some of the reasoning behind this disturbing:
Third, the politics are phenomenal for him. He needs to try to regain his "post-racial image" that took such a beating in the primary. When you read interviews with whites who fear Obama, they often express a fear that Obama is only going to look out for his fellow African-Americans. What better way to show this isn't true?
But Chait doesn't ask why this is true. Maybe it's because I'm, you know, black, but there is nothing more irritating about the heat Affirmative Action generates, as compared to its actual effect on white people. From a black perspective, the greatest engine of our middle class are Historically Black Colleges and Universities which still generate half of all black college degrees in this country, 50 percent of all black school teachers, and 70 percent of all black doctors and physicians. This is why I've always been kind of "meh" about Affirmative Action myself. On the other hand, I'd love to see some stats on how many white folks will ever be affected by Affirmative Action in any way. I know that this is politics and Obama is a politician, but a tacit acceptance of irrational racial fear, is dangerous and short-sighted.
I have a radical theory: If you never address white paranoia, class-based Affirmative Action is doomed. What Chait isn't seeing (and I submit this with much respect, because I am a fan) is that racism poisons everything. The War on Poverty programs were also class-based, but that didn't stop white racists from demonizing these programs a handouts to Negroes. Welfare supported more white people than black, but that didn't stop people from turning poor black women into welfare queens. The theory of class-based Affirmative Action as "great politics" rest on a foundation which black folks have always found wanting--the ability of crucial swaths of white people to not cut off their nose to spite their face. But, in regards to race, this country entire history is based on white people cutting off their nose to spite their face.
As policy, class-based Affirmative Action is great. As politics it is a nasty short-cut which seeks to avoid a very difficult, and politically costly discussion: Of all the great forces affecting the daily lives of white people, why do so many believe that Affirmative Action is somehow crucial? Given this country history and treatment of black people why does AA bother so many whites? Is it because it's poorly constructed policy? Or is it something else. You know what I think kids.
MORE: Commenter Riise offers an interesting critique:
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