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On January 15, 2003, President Bush stopped by the University of Michigan while campaigning for re-election. UMich had recently implemented new state restrictions on the use of race when deciding just who they’d admit enrollment to, and he condemned Affirmative Action measures as “a quota system”. Democratic presidential frontrunner Howard Dean later condemned President Bush’s remarks for injecting race into the campaign. And while Dean made the case for Affirmative Action himself (weakly), his Democratic rivals pounced on the front-runner, pointing to a 1995 comment of his suggesting affirmative action should be based “not on race, but on class.” Dean went on to defend his 1995 remark by suggesting it’s time to consider economic based Affirmative Action where poor students who excel despite difficult circumstances, be they black or white, receive preference over wealthier students that grew up with all the advantages of being rich, be they black or white. And it does make sense that a wealthy minority probably doesn’t need a leg up as much as a poor white student. Dean was wrong of course a decade ago, but considering the recent Supreme Court ruling upholding Michigan’s anti-Affirmative Action law, might it not be a good idea today now that there is the very real danger of “race-based” Affirmative Action being abolished across the country?

President Bush went on to add in that 2003 speech that, “Our Constitution makes it clear that people of all races must be treated equally under the law.” Of course, if I may state the obvious, a university is not a court of law, and despite what the Constitution says now (because for 150+ years, “3/5ths” was the measure of a black man), it rarely works out that way. Minorities just aren’t treated equally in our society. That’s a fact. Whether “Affirmative Action” helps level the playing field may be up for debate, but there is no question that simply being a minority is an instant disadvantage in our society.

Last week, this fact was made startlingly clear, first with the racist remarks by Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy questioning whether “the nig’ras” were better off as slaves than they are “dependent on the government” (said the man dependent on government land to feed his cattle rather than pay for it himself). Then again, less than a week later with the comments of LA Clippers owner Don Sterling, who chastised his young girlfriend (?) for posting photos of herself posing with black athletes on her Facebook page, demanding she not bring “black people” with her to basketball games, and patting himself on the back for being the benefactor of so many black men. (Though to be fair, the 80 year old Sterling was not openly hostile towards “blacks”, blaming societal norms for his discomfort, whereas Bundy was just plain ol’ Deep South shit-for-brains ignorant.)

So in the same week that we have Bundy and Sterling demonstrating that race is still very much an issue in this country, our Conservative-leaning Supreme Court brands racism a thing of the past, and that any effort to counter that racism is, in itself, “racist”. See how that works?

Two weeks ago on Fox “news” Sunday (yes, I watch it every week. The things I do for you people)… the same week token black Moderate Juan Williams was not there… quite by coincidence I’m sure… Brit Hume (or was it George Will?) decided to accuse President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder of “making everything about race” and in effect accusing them of reverse racism. Of course, neither Obama nor Holder “make every issue about race”… at least, not to the degree Conservatives on Fox do… but it casts a spotlight on the fact that we just can’t talk about race anymore without some Right Wing idiot accusing you of racism for doing so.

And that brings us back to Howard Dean. Ten years ago, GOP racism was still mostly underground, and being caught making racists remarks was cause for embarrassment and a public outcry for an apology. Today, GOPundits like Rush Limbaugh proudly wear their racism like a badge of honor, singing “Barack the Magic Negro” live on the air and then defending doing so, while the Supreme Court undoes wide swaths of the 1965 “Voting Rights Act” (which was created specifically to empower the 1964 Civil Rights Act). I dare say Deep South Republicans of 2014 haven’t been so comfortable being openly racist since they were Deep South Democrats in 1952.

With the Supreme Court last week declaring Michigan’s anti-Affirmative Action law to be “Constitutional”, the obvious next question is whether other states might follow suit? Could this be the beginning of the end for Affirmative Action?

An Affirmative Action based on income would still disproportionately benefit minorities without carrying the stigma of “skin color” being attached to a student’s achievements. It would also deny racists one more ignorant talking point of how they are the truly oppressed ones, and how “Mr. Black” only got where he is because of race (everyone remembers the deplorable Jesse Helms “Hands” ad that helped him win reelection in 1990). If the choice is between “Affirmative Action for the poor” vs no Affirmative Action at all, I think a lot of people might suddenly become very comfortable with Dean’s idea. Howard Dean was right, just a little ahead of his time (again.)
 


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