Why is Affirmative Action Absent From the Presidential Campaign?
7 months ago
Both Obama and Romney shy from discussion of a policy steeped in race
Are this week’s arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of a white girl against affirmative action just another example of things done “in the name of drying up white women’s tears,” as Feministing.com's Chloe Angyal, a Caucasian woman, phrased it during an appearance on MSNBC’s "Melissa Harris Perry" Sunday?
The question considered Wednesday by court justices – whether it's constitutional for a qualified white teenage girl to be rejected by a public university in Texas, seemingly because she was not a black or Latino applicant of equal merit – has little chance of appearing in either campaign's rhetoric. Romney’s “47 percent” controversy notwithstanding, both candidates have cast themselves as men in favor of success for all citizens. A support of preferential treatment for disadvantaged blacks, Latinos, Asian Americans and indigenous peoples might betray that appeal.
While Americans have increasingly supported a form of the policy that favors socio-economic diversity, but are beginning to waver on the use of race as a factor, according to relatively recent polling, the Democratic Party doesn’t need to take up affirmative action to win the minority vote and Republicans likely believe their small proportion of minority supporters don’t favor the effort. Still, some voters would like to see the issue of affirmative action integrated into the policy debate.
“The biggest hot button issue of this election is job creation,” said Alvin Grimes, a 27-year-old black law school graduate and communications professional, who attended Wilberforce University for his undergraduate studies. He does not think he was admitted because of his race, though he favors affirmative action as a policy.
“There is empirical evidence to show the positive benefit of affirmative action, not just for blacks but for all minorities,” said Grimes, of New York City. “I would like to see both candidates address affirmative action as an aspect of job creation.”
That’s unlikely, given the candidates’ record. Obama has expressed support for the policy. In 2008, the president told ABC’s George Stephanoplous that he agreed with retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, that affirmative action had a shelf life of less than three decades, and said he didn’t see his daughters, Malia and Sasha, needing to benefit from the policy. In 2003, Romney quietly invalidated Massachusetts’ affirmative action law and replaced it with broader guidelines, angering many civil rights activists, the Associated Press reported. Romney does favor tracking progress in women and minority enrollment and hiring, but not imposed quotas, according to The Wall Street Journal.