Allan C. Brownfeld is a syndicated columnist and associate editor of the Lincoln Review, a journal published by the Lincoln Institute of Research and Education, and editor of Issues, the quarterly journal of the American Council for Judaism.
It Was Not Conservatism Which Was Defeated in the November Election
[Editor's note: This article forms the substance of the speech Allan Brownfeld gave at the St. Croix Review's annual dinner meeting in November 2008.]
On one level, the election of Senator Barack Obama as President is symbolically a major step forward in moving our country into a post-racial era. In America, every individual should be judged on the basis of his or her own individual merit, not on the basis of race. It is now clear to all, that this standard is becoming reality.
Indeed, noted Ed Feulner, president of the Heritage Foundation:
President-elect Barack Obama's acceptance speech concluded with words that should warm the heart of conservatives everywhere: "This is our time," he said, "to reaffirm the fundamental truth that, out of many, we are one. That while we breathe, we hope. And where we are met with cynicism and doubts and those who tell us that we can't, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes, we can." An abiding belief in our country's greatness, tinged with optimism, has long been a cornerstone of conservatism. And Mr. Obama's been tacitly leaning toward conservative ideas since he became the Democratic nominee.
We are told by many observers that the loser in this year's presidential election was conservatism. This, however, is not the case. Conservatism could not have been defeated because, during eight years of the Bush administration, it has never been tried.
Even Republican candidate John McCain pointed to this reality. Speaking to the Washington Times, he declared that:
We just let things get completely out of hand. Spending; the conduct of the war in Iraq for years; growth in the size of government, larger than any time since the Great Society, laying a $10 trillion debt on future generations of Americans; owing $500 billion to China; obviously failure to both enforce and modernize the financial regulatory agencies that were designed for the 1930s, and certainly not for the 21st century; failure to address the issue of climate change seriously. Those are just a few of them.
Senator McCain emphatically rejected Mr. Bush's claims of executive privilege, often used to shield the White House from scrutiny. He said Republicans in Congress got drunk with power and lacked the resolve of President Reagan:
I think, frankly, the problem was with a Republican Congress that the president was told by the speaker and majority leaders and others, "Don't veto these bills, we need this pork, we need this excess spending, we need to grow these bureaucracies." They all sponsor certain ones. And he didn't do what Ronald Reagan used to do: say, "No"; say "No. We're not going to do this."
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said that the American people already have seen "the failure of big government" during the Bush years:
It is big government that tried to put people in houses they couldn't afford, that gave Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac the ability to borrow and lend on a scale they couldn't sustain.
He also took aim at the interest-rate cutting of former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan:
It was big government that was giving away money at one percent for two years and created an environment in which there was too much money in the system. So before I assume that our 200-year experiment with limited government is over, I would suggest we have no reason to believe the government is going to become more competent.
George W. Bush came to Washington almost eight years ago urging smaller government. He will leave it having overseen the biggest federal government expansion since FDR seven decades ago. Not since World War II, when the nation mobilized to fight a global war and recover from the Great Depression, has government spending played as large a role in the economy as it does today.
Now, we have embarked upon a program to use $700 billion in taxpayer money to buy up financial assets, and take an ownership stake in the nation's largest banks, and could be followed by a stimulus program of up to $300 billion. Mr. Bush is the first president in history to implement budgets that crossed the $2 trillion a year and $3 trillion a year marks. His final budget could near $4 trillion.
"Basically, we have had in the past eight years an unending growth in government and even higher increases in the level of spending," said Phil Gramm, a former Republican senator from Texas and chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs from 1995 to 2000.
President Bush, during his first term, aggressively sought to loosen mortgage loan qualification standards for first-time homeowners, seeking to reduce or even eliminate down payments for those who might otherwise have trouble affording their loans. The White House pushed back hard against charges that Bush policies led to the financial crisis, pointing the finger squarely at congressional Democrats for refusing to rein in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Needless to say, the Democrats bear a good deal of blame for their role. But Bush's own efforts to increase homeownership among those who could least afford it -- an initiative ardently backed by many Democrats -- added risk into the system that contributed to the current problems.
"Politicians in general and Bush in particular all grossly overestimated the benefit of encouraging homeownership by younger and low-income people," said Joseph Gyourko, chairman of the Wharton Real Estate Department and director of the Samuel Zell and Robert Lurie Real Estate Center. "I think it did lead to some unwise decisions. Equity at the end of the day is the only thing that disciplines any investment."
Clearly, the inability of millions of homebuyers to afford their loans is at the center of the current financial and economic crisis.
The Bush White House "didn't focus on spending," said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform. "They didn't make it a priority. And this predates September 11. It just wasn't on the list of things they were going to do."
President Bush's third budget director, Rob Portman, admitted that the Bush administration and Republicans "took our eye off the ball, and it was a mistake. . . . We also allowed earmarks to get out of control." Two years after Republicans took control of Congress in 1996, there were 3,055 earmarks -- special spending programs for members of Congress -- in federal spending bills, according to the Congressional Research Service. By 2004, the number of earmarks had ballooned to 14,211.
Linda Chavez, Chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity, and a former member of the Reagan administration, declares that:
The Republican brand has traditionally been identified with competence and fiscal responsibility. But the mishandling of the war in Iraq, the bungled federal response to Hurricane Katrina, and the failure to recognize and avert the housing and credit crisis have undermined that association. Neither President Bush nor the Republican-controlled Congress behave as fiscal conservatives, weakening the argument that Republicans can be trusted to managed the people's money better than Democrats.
Dov S. Zackheim, senior foreign policy adviser to George W. Bush during the 2000 presidential campaign, who served as undersecretary of defense and chief financial officer of the Pentagon from 2001-2004, recalls that in his campaign of 2000, Mr. Bush promised "modesty in international affairs, we would no longer preen as the world's 'indispensable nation,' as the Clinton administration had boastfully put it." Instead, notes Zackheim:
We forgot about humility in international affairs, succumbing to the pipe dreams of neo-conservatives who pinned our global reputation and power on remaking a Middle Eastern society about whose values and priorities we knew next to nothing.
In his recent book, Heroic Conservatism, Michael Gerson, President Bush's former speechwriter, declared that, "Republicans who feel that the ideology of Barry Goldwater -- the ideology of minimal government -- has been assaulted are correct."
On election day, voters rejected not conservatism -- but the Bush administration's policies of expanding executive power, deficit spending, a far less than prudent foreign policy, and a general lack of competence. Of the financial bailout package, Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel-winning economist, said, "If this isn't socialism, then I don't know what it is." Conservatism, indeed, was not tried and found wanting -- it was not tried.
Ending Racial Preferences: The Michigan Story
In November 2006, the people of Michigan overwhelmingly passed a voter ballot initiative amending the state constitution to prohibit pubic institutions from discriminating against or giving preferential treatment to groups or individuals based on race, gender, color, ethnicity, or national origin for public employment.
In an important new book, Ending Racial Preferences: The Michigan Story, (Lexington Books), Carol M. Allen, a research specialist in the Department of Political Science at Michigan State University, and program director for Toward A Fair Michigan (TAFM), the organization which advanced Proposition 2, the ballot initiative which ended racial preferences in Michigan, tells the story of how a determined group of civic-minded men and women defeated the entire establishment of the state of Michigan -- business, labor, the education establishment, and both Republican and Democratic leaders -- to move that state toward a genuinely color-blind society.
In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it would take up two Michigan cases: Gratz vs. Bollinger and Grutter vs. Bollinger. Both cases began in 1997. In October of that year, Jennifer Gratz and Patrick Hamacher filed a class action suit against the University of Michigan's College of Literature, Science and the Arts (which automatically added, for applications from black, Hispanic and Native American students, 20 points to the needed undergraduate admissions evaluation score of 100) for violating both the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when it denied them admission. A study later released by the Center for Equal Opportunity on admissions to the University of Michigan undergraduate, law, and medical programs for 1990, 2003, 2004, and 2005 found that in terms of probability of admissions in 2005, black and Hispanic students with a 1240 SAT score and a 3.2 high school GPA, had a 9 out of 10 chance of admission, while whites and Asians in this group had only a 1 out of 10 chance. These disparities are reflected in subsequent academic performance, where blacks and Hispanics earned lower grades, and were less likely to be in the honors program, and more likely to be on academic probation, than whites or Asians.
In December 1998, Barbara J. Grutter brought a suit against the University of Michigan Law School based on similar violations of her constitutional rights. On December 13, 2000, Judge Patrick Duggan ruled against Gratz and Hamacher. He upheld the constitutionality of the then-current undergraduate admissions policy, even though he determined unconstitutional the policy that had been used from 1995 to 1998. On March 27, 2001, Judge Bernard A. Friedman ruled in favor of Grutter, and judged the admissions policy of the law school to be unconstitutional. Both decisions were appealed.
At the Supreme Court, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's vote was the decisive one in the 5-4 ruling upholding the constitutionality of the law school's admission policies in Grutter. The opinion was heralded by supporters of preferences for sanctioning the consideration of race as a "plus" factor in college and university admissions, for the purpose of achieving a diverse student body. Justice O'Connor's vote was also decisive in the 6-3 decision against the University of Michigan in Gratz, which reversed the decision of the lower court. Although that decision went against the heavy-handed "20-point" plan used by the university when Gratz and Hamacher were denied admission, the decision in Grutter left open the possibility that a more subtle consideration of race in undergraduate admissions would be permissible.
Those in Michigan -- such as Carol Allen, her husband William B. Allen, professor of political science at Michigan State University and former Chairman of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, and Carl Cohen, professor of philosophy at the University of Michigan, who opposed the University's race-based admissions policy -- sought to reverse what they perceived as a form of "reverse racism." They observed the example of California, where in 1996, by a vote of 54 to 46 percent, the citizens of that state approved the California Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI, also called Proposition 209). This was the first successful effort within the U.S. to outlaw affirmative action preferences in the public sector through a constitutional amendment enacted directly by the people. The key clause in Proposition 209 was:
The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.
"This book," writes Allen:
. . . tells the story of what happened in Michigan between the beginning of 2004 and the end of 2006. It focuses on the work carried out by Toward A Fair Michigan (TAFM) to elevate the discussion about racial preferences, and even to enable there to be any meaningful discussion at all in the politically charged context of the campaigns for and against the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (MCRI). . . . TAFM sought to provide a civic forum for the discussion of affirmative action preferences during the 18 months preceding the November 2006 vote.
Few Americans understand the origin of the term "affirmative action," and the changes in the meaning of this term that have taken place. "Most historical accounts situate the birth of affirmative action in the Johnson administration," Allen notes.
Some perceive the seeds of its conceptions in the Civil Rights Act, signed into law by President Johnson on July 2, 1964. . . . Congress' intent . . . becomes clear if one reviews the long and contentious debate about the Act and its amendments. Its backers assured fellow legislators (and the nation at large) that it neither required nor permitted quotas or other preference schemes. Senator Hubert H. Humphrey's quip is often quoted as evidence: "If the Senator can find in Title VII any language which provides that an employer will have to hire on the basis of percentage or quota related to color, race, religion, or national origin, I will start eating the pages one after another, because it is not in there."
Allen points out that, "Even more enlightening is what Humphrey later wrote about the notion of group rights." Humphrey declared that:
Our standard of judgment . . . is not some group's power . . . but an equal opportunity for persons. Do you want a society that is nothing but an endless power struggle among organized groups? Do you want a society where there is no place for the independent individual? I don't. . . . Equal justice under the law and equal opportunity for all persons to develop themselves -- that is what we seek.
As the campaign of MCRI began, its director, Jennifer Gratz, appealed to the average citizen's commitment to fairness and justice. "We cannot remedy past discrimination with equally discriminatory policies," she said. "Trying to right a wrong with another wrong will create a vicious cycle of injustice." State Representive Jack Brandeburg acknowledged that the MCRI had limited financial resources and few institutional allies, but declared that "we have miles and miles of heart."
Opposition groups did everything to prevent the initiative from reaching the ballot. Meetings were disturbed, petition signatures were challenged, even the wording of the proposition itself came under legal challenge as "deceptive." Supporters of the initiative who were black, such as Professor William B. Allen, came under particularly harsh attack.
Discussing the disruptive tactics of a group that called itself By Any Means Necessary (BAMN), Professor Allen wrote a letter to the Michigan State University newspaper:
The actions of trained guerrillas aims at nothing less than to intimidate innocent bystanders. It is the kind of practice honed to an art form by Stalinists long ago. As a member of a university articulately dedicated to civil discourse and the elimination of every form of verbal harassment and violence, I have an obligation to condemn such conduct. . . . Anyone, in any station, who maintains silence in the face of such intimidation will be complicit in the terrorism.
MCRI turned in 508,202 signatures -- nearly 200,000 more than the 317,757 required, and the largest number of signatures ever collected for a Michigan constitutional amendment.
Debates took place across Michigan. Making the case against race-based programs, Professor Carl Cohen stated that:
The MCRI says simply that our state, Michigan, "shall not discriminate against or grant preferential treatment to any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting." That's all. That is essentially the substance of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which we all support. The two are identical, by design.
Racial preferences, Professor Cohen argued, have a negative impact upon minority students:
Every fine black scholar is sabotaged by race preference. All the achievements of black students are put under a cloud, undone by skepticism. . . . A fine student of mine in logic, Kim Mazrui, went on to law school, and was quickly appointed to the Michigan Law Review. Then he came to my office and told me that the senior editors of the Law Review had decided to give preference to blacks in appointing junior editors -- and with that, he said, I will be sabotaged. Everyone will know how I got to be an editor of Law Review -- but it isn't so. He wrote a long and beautiful letter arguing his case to the editors -- but they did it anyway.
Among the kinds of damage done to our society by preferences, declared Cohen, are these:
* Preference divides the society in which it is awarded; it separates rather than heals.
* Preference excuses admitted racial discrimination for the sake of achieving some political advantages.
* Preference corrupts the universities in which it is practiced, sacrificing intellectual values and creating pressures to discriminate by race even in grading, in appointments to law reviews, and the like; preference reduces incentives for academic excellence and encourages separatism among racial and ethnic minorities.
Despite the fact that Michigan's entire political and business establishment opposed Proposition 2, on November 7, 2006, the citizens of Michigan gave resounding support to the proposition, with 58 percent voting "yes."
At the MCRI victory party, Ward Connerly, who has led the campaign against affirmative action nationwide, declared that, "Nobody lost tonight." He told celebrants that no one loses when citizens stand up for principle, and reminded the small gathering of the faithful that there is nothing "as powerful as an idea whose time had come." Jennifer Gratz proclaimed the people of Michigan the winners:
The people of Michigan are the ones who have won today. They stood up to big business, big labor, to the entire establishment and said, "We want to be treated equally."
Carol Allen writes that:
It turned out that William Allen's and Barbara Grutter's faith that sustained open dialogue would reveal the fundamental injustices of affirmative action preferences was, indeed, justified.
This book is a testimonial to the fact that committed citizens can make a difference. Carol Allen shows us that dedication to principle -- and hard work -- can defeat an entrenched establishment and move our society in the direction of genuine color-blindness, in which men and women will be judged on the basis of their own individual merits -- not on the basis of race, ethnic origin, or gender. The victory of this philosophy will be a victory for all of us. *
"Fallacies do not cease to be fallacies because they become fashions." --G. K. Chesterton
Some of the quotes following each article have been gathered by The Federalist Patriot at: http://FederalistPatriot.US/services.asp.