One Cheer for Affirmative Action
Jude Wanniski
November 20, 1997


Memo To: Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: The President's Race Commission

You may have read in this morning's New York Times about the commission which President Clinton named earlier this year to study the continuing problems of the racial divide in America. The latest "hearing" of the five-member commission took testimony from witnesses who support the concept of affirmative action while excluding those, like California's Ward Connerly, who oppose it. Chairman John Hope Franklin, the distinguished black historian now in his 80s, explained that they knew the views of the opponents and wished to hear from those who support the concept of giving raced-based preferences to those who may remain disadvantaged because of the centuries of government-sponsored raced-based preferences enjoyed by white Americans.

First of all, I accept the explanation of the chairman as to why they have received testimony from only those who still support affirmative action in some manner or form. After all, affirmative action is on the defensive, as opponents such as Mr. Connerly have been effective in making their arguments to the point that Californians last year voted by referendum in Proposition 209 to end race-based preferences. We know his arguments and I largely agree with them, as I know you do. My own position is that all government action is in one way or another an affirmative action, which is what Congress does routinely when it passes laws that favor one group at the expense of another. This is the nature of civilized behavior, as opposed to the law of the jungle. We all agree that government should help those who cannot help themselves and that it is wrong for government to do for people what they can do for themselves. This is another way of stating the case for "affirmative action."

There is a law of diminishing returns, though, and this is where we are today, as Ward Connerly correctly will tell us that government is doing too much for black Americans in areas where they should be relying on their own energies. The case is not clear cut, though. Whereas Connerly takes the purist position of eliminating all raced-based preferences, the American people seem to understand that there is some level that government must continue to sponsor. In the recent Houston vote on contract set-asides, which directs 20% of the city's annual budget of $1 billion for outside work to minorities, the law of diminishing returns was demonstrated perfectly. The supporters of the set-asides polled the citizens and found they would not support more than 20%, in a population where 60% are black or Hispanic. In other words, when the issue is left to local decision, it can be made in more calibrated fashion, which then is accepted by the body politic as right and just. When the federal government rules for the whole country, we know the preference system becomes corrupt and unjust. Whites set up black "front" corporations, paying a black a fee to be "president and ceo," while the profits are divided by the "workers" who are white. This kind of thing has become rampant and must stop.

On the matter of the race commission itself, Trent, I've looked into it and discover that it is kind of a "front" itself, with a black man as chairman, but with whites manipulating it for their own purposes. You may have seen stories about the commission members themselves complaining about the direction or lack of it from the White House. I'm told the White House actually directed the commission not to become controversial, with specific instructions not to become embroiled in arguments with witnesses. The five members are not allowed to meet privately to discuss these sensitive issues, but can only assemble when in a private setting. This means only two of the five at any time can meet, as three would constitute a quorum. The commission will not be permitted to write a report, as the White House does not want any findings on paper. After it collects its information in the narrow manner prescribed, it will only be permitted to discuss its findings with the President. As a result, the black leadership of America views the work of the commission as being of no significance. The White House and the Democratic Party will use the "findings" of the commission for their own political ends, which is why I direct this memo to you, and not the President. If you have the opportunity to discuss it with him, I hope you know in advance what it is you are confronting.