Sunday, September 20, 2020

Affirmative action initiative poses problems for politicians

In response to the Supreme Court's opinion that upheld affirmative action but not the University of Michigan's point system - preferring instead a wink and a nod that pretends we live in a color-blind society rather than making admissions race free - civil rights activist Ward Connerly has started a ballot initiative to end racial preference in college admissions in Michigan.

If he gathers over 300,000 signatures in the time allotted, Connerly's proposal would go before voters in November 2004. Responses have been mixed.

The most vocal supporters of continued affirmative action policies are as vocal as ever - a boycott has been announced against Connerly and those who support his initiative - and Democrats like Governor Jennifer Granholm and key legislators have opposed the proposal as expected.

The unique twist that has generated news coverage was a press release from Michigan Republican Party chairman Betsy DeVos enumerating her opposition to the proposal. Devos said that the proposal would be divisive. That is not necessarily the case.

So what moves DeVos to oppose the ballot proposal being called the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative? Devos was the chief sponsor of the failed Kids First! Yes!school voucher campaign in 2000. The rift between her and former Gov. John Engler on the matter caused her to resign the chairmanship of the state party, though she regained the position without opposition in January 2003.

The voucher campaign reportedly hurt former Sen. Spencer Abraham and President George W. Bush's attempt to win the state. One of the theories that ties into the present matter is that it wasn't that voters came out and were pissed at a Republican for putting vouchers on the ballot - on the contrary.

The theory goes that the chance for choice brought out inner city parents who normally didn't care about our corrupt elections. These predominately poor urban voters came out to vote for an initiative sponsored by a group of Republicans and while there, cast their votes against actual Republican Party candidates.

So an affirmative action ballot question would inspire higher turnout among black voters and sink Bush's chance of winning Michigan. The call to oppose the initiative on this ground comes from the highest level in Washington D.C. Rumor has it that Ed Gillespie, the new chair of the Republican National Committee, personally asked Michigan GOP leaders to oppose the proposal.

Thus comes the problem of principles and the fundamental question of modern American politics. How much can you sacrifice to gain power? The pragmatists warn that if we lose the election, we will fail to implement our ideas.

In the case of affirmative action, the advice goes that keeping Bush in office will allow him to appoint anti-affirmative action U.S. Supreme Court justices and change the face of the nation. Give up short term goals for long term gain.

But there's a problem with that. What if Democrats in the U.S. Senate continue to block Bush's judicial nominations and he's only able to make "compromise" nominations that disagree with the conservative position on affirmative action and other issues? The situation brings up a bigger issue that affects both parties.

Republicans have fought hard to "take issues away" from Democrats in the last few years. That's why the GOP passed a bloated, budget-busting prescription drug program that takes money from young taxpayers and gives it to senior citizens, even if the seniors are wealthy. Bush is pushing for dramatically increased AIDS funding to Africa, even though there are serious problems with the program, as a way to reach out to the black community in the United States.

When you start passing legislation to stop your opponents from talking about an issue, you are actually implementing your opponents platform. Why vote for your preferred party if it implements the platform of your enemies?

Howard Dean is attempting to tap into those Democrats who oppose their parties identical tactics. In a speech at a recent fundraiser in Ypsilanti, Dean told his supporters "You can't beat Bush by being like Bush." Dean is going after the leadership in his party that stood with Bush on two substantial tax cuts and the war to liberate Iraq.

Some Democrats like Sen. Joe Lieberman really did agree with Bush on those issues, others seemed to betray their personal principles to support the popular ideas of a popular Republican president.

Third Party advocates on the left and the right criticize the Democrats and Republicans as being identical parties without a dimes worth of difference. They blame voter apathy on the lack of choice from the single party system - the Republocrats.

There's certainly much more to our nation's problems than that. Even so, our democracy would be more vibrant and more interesting if parties and politicians would stick to their principles.

A serious, honest debate on public policy is much better than the status quo with every politician trying to show themselves to be more in line with the mushy middle than any serious idea. In the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and continued fears about terrorism, even on domestic issues Americans don't want politicians who will do what they're told.

Jason Miller is the chair of the Michigan Federation of College Republicans. He can be reached at mill1082@msu.edu.

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