Obama: The End of “Affirmative Action”?

The 2008 and 2012 election and reelection of Barak Obama may be considered the triumph of affirmative action – something that would have been impossible in the 1960s or 70s, but possible now because the great majority of whites had put aside those old prejudices that had given rise to affirmative action in the first place. Massive, almost orchestrated, cooperation of the mainstream media downplayed Obama’s Marxist leanings, anti-American church membership, support of infanticide while serving as an Illinois state senator, and – certainly an important consideration – almost complete lack of relevant administrative experience.

Not just the mainstream media, but Christians, considering themselves at the forefront of civil rights, after the pattern of Martin Luther King, staunchly supported the drive of candidate Obama – not to mention “Catholics for Obama,” inspired to spread the gospel of “inclusiveness” and “social justice,” according to the widespread interpretation of the “Spirit of Vatican II.” Some Christians were no doubt intent on making reparations for past injustices/crimes/sins.

But this unquestionable triumph also led to extremes – not only were minorities and females plentifully included in key cabinet and administrative posts, but affirmative action under the rubric of rainbow “diversity” was extended to “minorities” crossing the southern border, to homosexuals in the military, and to gays in general (who would just happen to be reliable Democrats in their voting habits). And an extreme-feminist, across-the-board “litmus test” was applied for membership in the administration and for judgeships and other positions subject to administration appointments – namely, the unwritten requirement of being pro-abortion.

It is not only Republicans who have suggested incompetence in the Obama administration – including, for example, the half-billion dollar contribution to the failed solar-panel firm Solyndra; the 400-million dollar investment in producing a madhouse Obamacare website; the invasion of Libya without Congressional or Cabinet approval; the criminal indifference to the pleas of Ambassador Christopher Stevens for protection at the Benghazi embassy; the unlawful and disorganized Operation Fast and Furious, placing massive amounts of weaponry in the hands of drug smugglers; the indifference to reports of negligence in the Veterans Administration; the “Keystone Cops” lifestyle of Secret Service Agents; the “red line” threats and subsequent backtracking on Syria; the rush to pull troops out of Iraq in spite of cautions from military advisors.

But the main problem with the Obama administration has been in the area of his acknowledged competence. As an untenured lecturer in constitutional law at the University of Chicago, he might have been expected to show unusual competency in understanding and defending the Constitution. He boasted of this at a March 30, 2007, fund-raiser: “I was a constitutional law professor, which means unlike the current president I actually respect the Constitution.”

President Obama speaks to students at Dartmouth College
President Obama speaks to students at Dartmouth College

Nevertheless, fidelity to this oath has been Obama’s Achilles heel – especially when it comes to what is said to be one of the most important characteristics of the American Constitution – the “separation of powers” between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches.

President Obama personally disagreed with the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) passed by Congress in 1996 and signed into law by President Clinton, and thus ordered non-enforcement of DOMA, and paved the way for recognition of same-sex marriages.

  • With regard to Obamacare, the President promised in 2009 to maintain the Hyde Amendment prohibiting federal funding for abortion, passed by Congress in 1976 and revised in 1993 to include exceptions for rape and incest. But about half of the presently available Obamacare plans pay for abortion on demand.
  • The recent HHS mandate requiring private insurance coverage of abortifacient drugs, even by those with religious objections, also involves rejection of the Hyde Amendment, and as former pro-life Democratic Congressman Bart Stupak objected, it even violates statutory law.
  • Congress has the final authority over immigration law according to Article 1, Section 8, of the Constitution. In 2009 Congress defeated the DREAM Act (legislation for the Development, Relief and Education or Alien Minors), which Obama had proposed, and which would have nullified the illegal status of certain immigrants who had come to America as children. But Obama, through a 2012 memo from Janet Napolitano’s Department of Homeland Security, offered legal status to many illegal immigrants under 30.

Thus Obama’s admitted competency in constitutional law offered no guarantee he would respect the Constitution’s “separation of powers.”

President Obama Meets With Cabinet Members On Ebola Crisis

Affirmative action has accomplished its initial purposes, ending many injustices caused by prejudice, and achieving victory by bringing into the Oval Office someone who (unfairly) would never have had the slightest chance in previous decades. But should it be continued?

Some states have lately come to the conclusion that affirmative action in college admissions has accomplished its purposes, and can be deemphasized or dismantled. This trend was indicated in the April 22 Supreme Court case Schuette v. BAMN and the 6-2 decision (Justice Kagan recused herself) upholding Michigan’s ballot initiative against racial preferences in college admissions. The Court ruled that “there is no authority. . .for the judiciary to set aside Michigan laws that commit to the voters the determination whether racial preferences may be considered in governmental decisions, in particular with respect to school decisions.”

One should also take into account the unavoidable and often unfair stigma attached to minorities or females who have risen to positions of success with the help of affirmative action – or the unfair presupposition that those who succeeded on their own, in spite of obstacles, “must have been helped” by affirmative action.

Justice Sotomayor in her dissent to the Schuette decision brought up the widespread “doubt” by minorities about “belonging” to mainstream society. Chief Justice Roberts responded to that objection: “[I]t is not ‘out of touch with reality’ to conclude that racial preferences may themselves have the debilitating effect of reinforcing precisely that doubt, and – if so – that the preferences do more harm than good.”

It’s probably time for a new conversation about what constitutes racial justice in our day.

Howard Kainz, Emeritus Professor at Marquette University, is the author of twenty-five books on German philosophy, ethics, political philosophy, and religion, and over a hundred articles in scholarly journals, print magazines, online magazines, and op-eds. He was a recipient of an NEH fellowship for 1977-8, and Fulbright fellowships in Germany for 1980-1 and 1987-8. His website is at Marquette University.