This article originally appeared on the Huffington Post on September 23, 2008 and was written by Paula Mays.

We have come a long way as a nation but have we come far enough and are we destined to go backward if the U.S. elects candidate McCain and Governor Palin?

I’m talking about race relations and the demonized term “Affirmative Action,” which has now come to mean “quotas” and “set asides,” but from the beginning was about making policy and programs that would seek to redress past discrimination by ensuring present-day equal opportunity.

Increasingly over the years, and compounded in the Bush Administration, the term affirmative action has been demonized. Instead of rectifying a past wrong, it has somehow come to mean giving an unfair advantage or “privilege” to one group, namely African Americans, over white people, especially in the area of jobs and education. Affirmative action has become synonymous with the term “quota,” specifically, setting aside a number of educational of employment spots for minorities.

It did not start off that way. Affirmative Action finds its roots in the 1960’s Burger Court, in cases such as Green v. County Board, 391 US 430 (1968). This and related cases placed upon schools an “affirmative duty” to desegregate. This “affirmative duty,” was solidified by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the so called “sweeping Johnson legislation,” a part of the Johnson “Great Society.”
The Beginning of the End

However, since the early 1980s when Republicans have been in control of the White House with President Reagan, and in control of Congress, and more acutely in the Bush Administration, the hue and cry has come to derail this legislation.

It began with the ground breaking anti-affirmative action case, Baake. Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265, a 1978 Supreme Court case, where Mr. Baake objected to his denial of admission to medical school. Baake claimed the denial was a result of “affirmative action,” which set aside spots for minorities, thereby denying whites admission to the University of California at Davis medical school. By a slim margin, the Supreme Court determined the set asides were improper and that Mr. Baake should be admitted to the medical school.

Though the Baake decision did not kill “affirmative action,” it was the first major nail in the coffin. Those who wanted to end affirmative action, such as Mr. Baake, focused on the so called “set asides,” provisions of the policy, or what are now termed “quotas.” They ignored the fact that quotas were implemented merely as a tool to enforce affirmative action, and as a preventative measure. Prior to the set asides, the only remedy for anti-discrimination was a court battle after the discrimination occurred. Such court action is extremely expensive and can take years to complete. For example, Brown v. the Board of Education, though a momentous decision, took years to come to fruition, and more resources than could be gathered by the ordinary citizen. Moreover Brown v. Board was a spectacular case, in the midst of the Civil Rights movement.

The second problem with Brown and with other anti discrimination legislation, enacted prior to affirmative action, is that just because the courts and congress mandate racial equality, does guarantee an individual employer, town, or educational organization will implement racially equal programs. And in fact, they did not.

To remedy the problem of enforcement the Courts permitted and sometimes ordered so called “set asides.” That is an employer or educational institution could be or was ordered to set- aside a certain number of slots for minorities. And millions of Americans benefited from these set asides. For instance, from 1960 to 1975, the number of black students in higher education rose from 150,000 students to approximately 1 million.

Destroying the Goose to Get to the Gander/Set Asides

The election of President Reagan and the rise of George W. Bush and the NeoCons, have legitimized the Baake attack on affirmative action. In 2003, President Bush said this about a University of Michigan case taken to the Supreme Court on the issue of affirmative action. “At their core, the Michigan policies amount to a quota system that unfairly rewards or penalizes perspective students, based solely on their race.” Bush stated before the Supreme Court hearing, “…tomorrow my administration will file a brief with the court arguing that the University of Michigan’s admissions policies, which award students a significant number of extra points based solely on their race, and establishes numerical targets for incoming minority students, are unconstitutional.” White House Press release January 15, 2003

The election Senator John McCain and Governor Sarah Palin will likely be the final proverbial nail in the coffin to affirmative action. First, there is no indication that Governor Palin will have the critical analysis needed to see that the goal of racial justice has not been achieved in America. Secondly, Senator John McCain was reported to have said the following with regard to affirmative action in July. “Republican presidential candidate John McCain said Sunday that he favors a proposed referendum in Arizona that would ban affirmative action, reversing a position he took a decade ago.”

So how will Senator Obama be different? In an interview with the ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, Senator Obama stated: ” I still believe in affirmative action as a means of overcoming both historic and potentially current discrimination, but I think that it can’t be a quota system and it can’t be something that is simply applied without looking at the whole person, whether that person is black, or white, or Hispanic, male or female. What we want to do is make sure that people who’ve been locked out of opportunity are going to be able to walk through those doors of opportunity in the future.”

While Obama has not embraced quotas or set asides, it is pretty certain that Senator Obama will not be hostile to other remedies for discrimination, and that the nature and the tenure of the courts will return to fairness and not ideologically based decisions.

We cannot afford to un-ring the bell of affirmative action. We need leadership that will recognize that utopia has not been reached in discrimination. The risk is just too great.

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by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, Matt Corley, Benjamin Armbruster, Ali Frick, and Ryan Powers



CIVIL RIGHTS

Caving To The Right On Affirmative Action

On ABC News’s This Week yesterday, host George Stephanopoulos asked Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) about how “opponents of affirmative action” in his home state of Arizona are pushing a ballot initiative “that would do away” with the equal opportunity program. “Do you support that?” asked Stephanopoulos. “Yes, I do,” replied McCain, adding that he had “not seen the details of some of these proposals,” but that he’s “always opposed quotas.” Asked again specifically about “the one here in Arizona,” McCain responded, “I support it, yes.” McCain’s support for the current anti-affirmative action initiative is a reversal of the stance he took in 1998 when Arizona previously considered a similar referendum. At the time, McCain said that “rather than engage in divisive ballot initiatives, we must have a dialogue and cooperation and mutual efforts together to provide every child in America to fulfill their expectations.” Caught off-guard by McCain’s reversal on equal opportunity, his own spokesman Tucker Bounds struggled to explain the contradictory stances to ABC News, saying, “I do not have a firm enough grasp on the historical and relevant context of McCain’s remark in 1998 to give you the pushback that this question deserves.” Later, the McCain campaign “refused to say whether it stands by the candidate’s announcement that he supports the ballot initiative,” instead saying in a statement that McCain “has always been opposed to government-mandated hiring quotas.”

WHAT MCCAIN IS BACKING: In his interview with Stephanopoulos, McCain justified his support for the Arizona initiative by saying, “I do not believe in quotas.” But the effort to dismantle equal opportunity in Arizona has nothing to do with quotas, which were declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court 30 years ago. The proposed amendment to the Arizona’s constitution, which is being pushed by the Arizona Civil Rights Initiative, seeks to “prohibit preferential treatment or discrimination” by Arizona governmental entities “based on race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education or public contracting.” “The initiative is part of a nationwide attempt by Ward Connerly to have governmental affirmative action policies eliminated.” Connerly’s anti-affirmative action initiatives are set to capitalize on the “tensions of race, class, and ethnicity” stirred up by anti-immigrant efforts. Connerly, who successfully outlawed affirmative action in California, is also supporting initiatives in Colorado and Nebraska. On CNN’s Late Edition yesterday, McCain declined to take a position on the Colorado initiative, saying, “I’m not familiar with the referendum.” The language of Connerly’s Colorado amendment is essentially the same as the Arizona amendment McCain endorsed on ABC.

MCCAIN’S RECORD ON AFFIRMATIVE ACTION: As many news outlets have pointed out, McCain’s embrace of Arizona’s anti-affirmative action ballot initiative stands in opposition to his record on equal opportunity. Not only has McCain previously resisted state-level efforts to dismantle affirmative action, as he did in 1998, but he has also defended such programs on the federal level. In 1998, McCain worked with Democrats to defeat an amendment that would have ended a program that sought “to give 10 percent of all Federally financed highway contracts to companies owned by minorities and women.” In 1999, while speaking at the Unity convention, McCain declared, “I’m in favor of affirmative action and I support it.” He reiterated this support as recently as April 2008, telling reporters in Ohio, “all of us are for affirmative action to try to give assistance to those who need it, whether it be African-American or other groups of Americans that need it.”

BENDING TO RIGHT-WING PRESSURE?: Throughout the election season, conservatives have been pressuring McCain to get behind their efforts to dismantle affirmative action. In June, after McCain’s campaign repeatedly refused to take a position on the initiatives, Connerly told ABC News that it would help McCain politically to support the initiatives. McCain should say, “I believe that our country is at its best when it treats everybody as an equal and I have read these initiatives and they do precisely that,” said Connerly. Other conservatives have been calling for McCain to back Connerly as well. In April, hardline right winger Pat Buchanan published a column wondering “where does McCain stand.” Writing on the National Review’s blog, Center for Equal Opportunity President Roger Clegg asked rhetorically of McCain, “[D]o you favor the ballot initiatives” and “Do you support the anti-preference plank in the 2004 Republican platform?” Reacting to McCain’s ABC interview, Politico’s Jonathan Martin wrote that McCain’s answers on affirmative action and gay adoption are indicative of the fact that he has a “lack of interest in cultural issues,” but that he knows there are positions he is “supposed to take” in order to please the conservative base. With his support of the Arizona referendum, McCain has now pleased one part of this base. Clegg responded by declaring, “Kudos to John McCain.”