Obama and Affirmative Action

Richard Kahlenberg observes that it would be politically savvy of Barack Obama to embrace a shift toward class-based affirmative action and that the logic of several things his said over the years seems to point in this direction. I tend to think so as well, and have been hopeful that this might happen at some point, but then I read this Noam Scheiber article focused on another topic and saw this graf:

The run-up to South Carolina was rife with talk that post-racial Obama was morphing into a decidedly pre-post-racial candidate. To reverse the slide, blogger Mickey Kaus suggested he give a speech embracing class- rather than race-based affirmative action, something Obama had flirted with in the past. Kaus had a point: The atmospherics would have been irresistible to ambivalent whites. I pushed a milder form of the idea on my own blog. Not long after, I got a response from an Obama adviser: Never gonna happen. Urging Sister Souljah politicking on him was the surest way to provoke a scowl.

Well that's that. But in the hopes of persuading people otherwise I wouldn't really see this as "Sister Souljah politicking." To me, the defining feature of the S.S. stunt was that, on the merits, it was silly. The point was just to show that Bill Clinton was picking a fight with black people which proved he wasn't one of those nasty ol' liberals. But shifting from the current system of affirmative action to one with a firmer grounded in actual socioeconomic disadvantage would, especially paired to a broader critique of other dimensions of privilege (legacy admissions, etc.), be the right thing to do on the merits.

And a black politician would be the right person to lead the charge -- the current system isn't sustainable over the long term and it would be much better to see it dismantled by someone with genuine concern for social justice than to go down at the hands of someone intent on fanning the flames of racial resentment and then leaving every other inequity in the education system unchallenged.