Past, Present, Future
WHAT DOES THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY hold for classical liberalism? Classical liberals can no longer rely on the support of either the Democratic or Republican parties. The Democrats remain committed to racial preferences forever, if we take their “diversity” premise at face value: why end something that is good for everyone? Meanwhile, the Republicans are embarrassed by questions of race and wish they would go away. In 2000, candidate George W. Bush fled from issues of race like a vampire escaping dawn’s early light. When asked where he stood on affirmative action, the first president of the twenty-first century stated that he opposed quotas but favored “affirmative access,” whatever that meant. Yet the Bush administration defended minority contracting quotas before the U.S. Supreme Court (Adarand, 2001) and accepted the use of diversity goals to achieve race-proportional results in college admissions (Grutter and Gratz, 2003). As Bruce Bartlett notes in two provocative books, George W. Bush betrayed the Reagan Revolution and allowed the Democrats to position themselves as the party of civil rights, when the Democrats were “wrong on race” for a very long time.1 From a classical liberal perspective, both parties are “wrong on race.”
U.S. Supreme Court decisions have further muddled the direction of civil rights jurisprudence. In two landmark cases, Grutter and Gratz, the Court rendered a split decision. The justices ruled that racial discrimination by the government was unconstitutional if it was too numbers-based but acceptable if dressed in “diversity.” Furthermore, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote that she expected an end to racial preferences within twenty-five years. This is scarcely firm guidance for citizens navigating the contradictory rules set forth by the Court.