Ten days ago I criticized several examples (among many possible) of press coverage of the administration’s position in the Michigan cases that assumed “mixed signals” or inconsistency between President Bush’s often stated desire to reach out to minorities and his opposition, attenuated though it was, to racial preferences. As I wrote then (sorry for the self-quote, but …):
The criticism assumes that there is a conflict between Republicans wanting to be “inclusive,” to “reach out” to minorities, and their opposition to discrimination based on race.
I’ve just run across another glaring example that I believe worth sharing, even though, according to the blogospheric calendar, it’s now ancient history. (Actually, it’s from January 15, the same date as my previous post.) Writing in his “Talking Points” column in the Washington Post, Terry Neal criticized Bush for his “willingness to set aside principles for political expediency,” referring to indications that the administration was about to announce intervention
in support of white students opposing the University of Michigan’s affirmative action plan, even as he tries to emphasize his commitment to providing opportunity to all.
Opposing racial preferences, in other words, means opposing equal opportunity!
Where is George Orwell when we need him?
Honest and thoughtful preferentialists, like Jack Balkin, recognize that our common understanding of “equal opportunity” makes assertions like this non-sensical. Thus he is perfectly frank about his rejection of what he calls “symmetry.” Because the social condition of the various races and ethnic groups is not equal, he believes the obligation to treat them equally simply preserves the existing inequalities.
That’s a legitimate position, powerfully argued. I suspect, however, that the frequency of expressions like Neal’s reveals a residual but persistent commitment to the principle of neutral non-discrimination.
The question of the moment is whether a generation of trespassing on that principle has resulted in the preferentialists taking adverse possession of it.