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. …