“Affirmative action was never meant to be permanent, and now is truly the time to move on to some other approach.”
— Susan Estrich, author, feminist
Sure to be accused of flip-flopping, John McCain says he now favors a proposed referendum in Arizona that would ban affirmative action. This reverses a position he took ten years ago.
Critics will say it is politically motivated to shore up his conservative base. But it’s also a risk. Such a position may alienate him from whatever minority support he hopes to garner.
Truth is, times change, and McCain has changed with it.
Every time a political candidate changes a position, the press has a field day while opposing candidates seize the opportunity for finger-pointing. Mitt Romney had a rough time explaining his former pro-choice views, claiming he was persuaded over the years to alter his position on pro-life. Everyone who has been a major candidate for president, including John Kerry, Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama, has been accused of “flip-flopping,” as though it’s a sign of unstable leadership. That’s not always the case.
Some candidates sway with the prevailing winds and change their positions for no other reason than to pander for block votes. Sometimes, candidates alter a position held years before, because they were enlightened.
Anyone can change an opinion. As a career cop, I once favored capital punishment. As time passed, I decided I was wrong, because the chances of executing an innocent person — though remote — is too much of a risk. Does that make me a weak person?
A change of mind can also be a sign of flexibility. Not all conditions remain static.
Affirmative action rose from the civil rights movement in a time when minorities were categorically excluded from jobs, promotions and high level positions. Blacks and other minorities also took a back seat to whites in bidding for government contracts and in being accepted as students on college campuses. I watched the entire evolution from within the bowels of a major police agency, from 1960 to 1990. Police departments were like a microcosm of the marketplace for jobs around the nation.
When I entered law enforcement, academy classes comprised only of white males. Management positions were exclusive to whites in nearly all government positions. That was wrong. Eventually, minority uprisings led to change. Government leaders responded. That’s how “affirmative action” came about.
For thirty years, affirmative action served as the vehicle for doing away with discriminatory practices in hiring and promoting. In order to do that, government had to practice… discrimination. It certainly was not an ideal solution, but it was the only solution. Society found it no longer acceptable that the rank and file of police, and other government agencies, were exclusively white.
So, the practice of reverse discrimination went into effect. Special points were awarded to minorities in hiring and promotion practices, based exclusively on race and ethnicity, passing over whites solely because they were white. Many a white person who scored high, were not given a job in deference to minorities who scored lower. Hispanics, blacks and women were catapulted over white males for promotions in a civil service system that was supposed to be based on merit.
Bottom line: The system worked. Blacks, Hispanics and women are now widely represented in government jobs everywhere, including management and top level administrators. That’s here to stay. In my own agency, the department is now headed by a black, and his boss, the mayor, is Hispanic.
As it continues, the problem is as unfair to blacks and Hispanics as it is to whites. It sends the wrong message; base progress on color and ethnicity, not achievement and competition. It implies that minorities are unable to get ahead without special consideration.
Former presidential aspirant, Alan Keyes, an African-American, said it well. “Preferential affirmative action patronizes American blacks, women, and others by presuming that they cannot succeed on their own. Preferential affirmative action does not advance civil rights in this country.”
John McCain is right. He took a courageous position, one that will be unpopular with millions of minorities. Ten and twenty years ago, America still had use for affirmative action. That was then, this is now. Assimilation has been achieved. It’s time to relegate affirmative action to the history books, across the nation, not just in Arizona. Setting quotas based on skin color and ethnicity, is wrong, no matter which direction it favors.
Retaining the policy only perpetuates the very wrong we are trying to right: Discrimination.
“Affirmative action is the attempt to deal with malignant racism by instituting benign racism”
— Elliott Larsen, actor