Affirmative Action—Left or Right?

Governor Mitt Romney made a remarkably pro-affirmative action statement during his October 16th debate: “I went to a number of women's groups and said, ‘Can you help us find folks,’ and they brought us whole binders full of women.”

Should we be surprised that a Republican bragged about his affirmative action policies? Despite the fact that Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson introduced the term “affirmative action,” they said nothing about quotas. It was President Richard M. Nixon who introduced Executive Order 11246 in the Revised Philadelphia Plan of 1969, which required federal contractors to meet certain goals for the hiring of African American employees by certain dates.

Since the introduction of affirmative action three decades ago, there has been an ever-widening gap between rich and poor. Affirmative action has made this unfortunate situation even worse by accepting the legitimacy of society's prejudices against hard, honest work. Unskilled jobs have always been necessary for human survival, yet laborers receive little money and less respect. A society that doesn’t value hard jobs will not reward them. We pay the poor less and less because affirmative action has perpetuated and reinforced our scorn for those who do physical work.

Will affirmative action improve health care, fight unemployment, reduce poverty or curtail crime? No. It was not designed to deal with these problems.

Should we be surprised that a candidate who opposes higher taxes for the topmost income earners supports affirmative action? Of course not. It makes perfect sense.

An ancestor of affirmative action is the process of college admissions introduced by the Ivy League in the 1920s. The president of Harvard at that time, A. Lawrence Lowell, made a strange statement in support of his new policy of restricting the number of Jewish students: “The summer hotel that is ruined by admitting Jews meets its fate . . . because they drive away the Gentiles, and then after the Gentiles have left, they leave also,” Malcolm Gladwell writes in a New Yorker article.

The Ivy League in those days was Republican and conservative. Jews were kept out because they were poor and undignified. Today, although there are no longer specific rules to keep out Jews, various geographical and affirmative action criteria restrict the Jews because they are rich and successful. The excuse has changed; the political identification of the Ivy League has changed; the policies remain the same.

Did a rightist or a leftist refer to “peddler Jews, their lice and their dirt”? It was Friedrich Engels, the buddy and co-author of Karl Marx.

Extremes meet. Romney, who is not an extremist, should have nothing to do with affirmative action—a policy that is anti-democratic and that is particularly harmful to Jews.

This article first appeared on Perry Greenbaum's blog on October 23, 2012.