Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
February 28, 2003
POLITICS/LAW: Dahlia Lithwick on Affirmative Action Jujitsu

Slate's Dahlia Lithwick, a supporter of affirmative action, on why the debate over the Miguel Estrada nomination, particularly the debate among Latino groups, is yet another example of Bush destroying his political adversaries by doing exactly what they ask for:

This, then, is what the discussion has come to: a battle about who is Hispanic enough to warrant the racial preferences that most Americans oppose in the first place. What the Hispanic groups on both sides don't seem to understand is that, with all this infighting, they are managing to dismantle every single argument for affirmative action and making the case that race should play no role at all in public life.

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[The attitude of Estrada's supporters who argue for him on the basis of his race regardless of his views] reflects several justifications for affirmative action: Break down racial barriers, remedy past discrimination, and create minority role models. All these arguments decline to look past skin color in the interest of getting the bodies onto the bench. But this argument has boomeranged badly in the past, not only because the Clarence Thomases have simply not been better for blacks than the David Souters, but because this kind of single-minded race-consciousness can only denigrate the minority in question. By ending the discussion at skin color, it sets up the implication that minorities succeed only because of preferences, that they couldn't have achieved such successes on their own merits. Could Miguel Estrada or any other minority candidate really sleep at night knowing that half his supporters would support a Honduran Hannibal Lecter as readily as they support him?

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[The argument of opponents who say that Estrada is not a 'real' Hispanic because he is a conservative] decimates the only other justification for affirmative action (and the only one that now counts as a matter of law)—the argument that racial preferences automatically generate "diversity" of experience. To his detractors, Estrada's principal failing is that his privileged upbringing in Honduras and beyond were too "white" somehow—too Columbia and Harvard Law and Gibson, Dunn, and Crutcher. He was not born in squalor, nor did he rise from the barrio. As a result, he does not represent the "Latino experience." By making this argument, Estrada's detractors are merely proving that race is indeed not a proxy for diversity—and that if you really want to guarantee diversity of experience, favoring minority candidates over poor or rural ones is the absolute wrong way to go.

Meanwhile, another racially charged issue that I continue to follow, the Washington Times points to some anecdotal evidence that Southern African-American voters may not be willing to embrace Joe Lieberman, because Lieberman is Jewish, has questioned affirmative action, is a longtime member of the DLC and has said nice things about Strom Thurmond. Quote from Al Sharpton: "They don't call themselves the Dixiecrats now; they call themselves the DLC." I've said all along that, contrary to the media's popular wisdom, the people most likely to hold Lieberman's Judaism against him are Sharpton and his African-American supporters, not conservative white Southern Protestants. The interesting question is whether Sharptonism and its fellow-traveler, anti-Semitism, will sell in the South as well as it sells in urban areas in the Northeast and the West Coast; the WaTimes points to bitterness over Cynthia McKinney's ouster, but remember that it was her own African-American constituents who dumped McKinney, and the same for Earl Hilliard. The counter-argument also focuses on the resovoir of good will for Lieberman having gone to Mississippi as a young 'Freedom Rider' in the Sixties, when it was legitimately dangerous to do so. I'm still not sure how it will all shake out, but without a real regional base, Lieberman will need to do well among African-American voters in the South if he wants the nomination.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:59 PM | Law 2002-04 • | Politics 2002-03 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
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