Affirmative action change under Obama?
Among the California voters suffused with hope at the prospect of the election of Barack Obama is one Ward Connerly.
He supports Senator John McCain out of small-government principle, but on the cause for which Connerly is best known—the drive to end the programs referred to by most as “affirmative action” and by him as “race preferences”—he says of a potential Obama administration: “I’m hopeful.”
“[Obama] is a very, very bright man who thinks through the nuances of issues and I cannot help believe he realizes the inherent flaw in race preferences,” Connerly, 69, said in a telephone interview last week. “If you listen to him carefully, you cannot help but think he is really torn by this issue, and that he is leaning in the direction of socio-economic affirmative action instead of race preferences.”
The election of the first black president would inevitably alter views of race in America. The campaign itself, in which Obama has played better in lily-white Montana than in diverse South Carolina, has revealed a complex picture. Should Obama move into the White House, it would further change the country’s conversation about race, though not necessarily in predictable ways.
A black president from a troubled big city could turn new attention to the problem of race or make the political choice to take his black support for granted; his own race may convince some of the benefits of diversity while others would take it as proof that racism is so far in the past as to no longer needs remedies.
Affirmative action has not been on the agenda of either presidential campaign, and while it’s been a hot issue at times on the national stage, it’s not a necessary feature of the White House agenda.
Educational policy is conducted largely at the state and local level, and broader economic woes have pushed the battle, and most other socially charged issues, into the background.
But experts say that President Bush’s additions to the Supreme Court could come down harder against race-based affirmative action then previous courts had, and a conservative group’s recent lawsuit against the University of Texas could force that question during the next president’s term.
And Connerly is one of several opponents of race-based affirmative action who say they think Obama is far more likely than Senator John McCain to abolish, or profoundly alter, that system. Their hopes are founded on Obama’s remarks that well-off black children don’t need the program—something that he, unlike most Democrats with a national profile, could say without rebuke, because he was referring to his own daughters.
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