Affirmative Action: Conservatives Cloud the Issue

By Karabel, Jerome | The Christian Science Monitor, February 9, 1998 | Go to article overview

Affirmative Action: Conservatives Cloud the Issue


Karabel, Jerome, The Christian Science Monitor


The cherished left-wing notion that class privilege is a central problem in American life and that government has an obligation to do something about it has been given a new lease on life by the most unlikely of sources - conservatives such as Newt Gingrich, Dinesh D'Souza, Linda Chavez, and Clint Bolick.

Triggering this uncharacteristic outburst of class consciousness is the escalating debate over affirmative action, which these born-again Marxists tell us is morally and legally permissible only if it is based on class rather than race or gender.

Mr. D'Souza, who has made the case for taxi drivers who refuse to pick up blacks, asks why the child of an Appalachian coal miner - sturdy symbol of proletarian virtue - shouldn't receive special consideration in college admissions. Even Mr. Gingrich has argued for giving preferences to the economically excluded. The new conservative party line on affirmative action isn't a principled stand in favor of "individual merit" and against "group preference." Preferences are now deemed fine as long as they are given to the "disadvantaged." At a recent White House summit meeting between President Clinton and right-wing critics of affirmative action, advocacy of class-based preferences was a recurrent theme. Linda Chavez, chairwoman of the Civil Rights Commission during the Reagan era and a foe of "racial and gender preferences," promoted preferences for the "socially, economically, and educationally disadvantaged." Even Clint Bolick, author of "The Affirmative Action Fraud," has joined the chorus. Mr. Bolick, aptly described in a recent newspaper article as "the maestro of the political right on race," announced in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece that he supported preferences, as long as they were targeted to the economically disadvantaged. According to Bolick, Republicans in Congress are busy retooling the anti-affirmative action Canady-McConnell bill, blocked last fall in committee, to include class-based preferences. The bill's passage, Bolick assured his readers, would not mean the end of affirmative action but its true beginning. Why would affirmative action's most ferocious public enemies claim that they actually favor a policy they've dedicated years to discrediting? The answer resides in the simple truth, confirmed in polls, that "affirmative action" programs for women and minorities still enjoy considerable public support, with fewer than one-third of Americans favoring outright elimination. …

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