(3) "Where Does George W. Bush Stand on Preferences?" - 07/26/99 by John O'Sullivan Adversity.Net, Inc. for Victims of Reverse Discrimination
Where Does George W. Bush Stand on Preferences?  (07/26/99) (no link)
          Not a single vote has yet been cast to make George W. Bush the next Republican presidential nominee, but an aura of invincibility has settled benignly over his campaign nonetheless. Some have compared this to the momentum supposedly enjoyed by Ronald Reagan in 1980, but Bush currently seems even more unstoppable. The conventional wisdom both inside and outside the GOP is that Bush is a likely "winner" whereas in 1980-strange though it now seems-that same wisdom held that Reagan was almost the weakest candidate his party could field. A cartoon at the time had a Samaritan persuading a suicidal elephant not to do anything foolish-only to be defiantly told, "No! I'm going to choose Reagan."

          If Republicans then chose a potential loser out of political conviction, they now seek to convince themselves that a sure winner happens to share their principles. Abortion is the main issue on which the Right has been deciphering George W.'s delphic formulations for comfort-and they have found it! He will make a general statement of principle that pleases conservatives ("I am pro-life") while distancing himself from controversial political actions required to implement the principle ("no litmus tests for judges").

          As a campaign strategy, this works perfectly: The media report the general impression that the candidate has distanced himself from the Religious Right while conservatives scrutinize the fine print and conclude that he is sound underneath. This requires believing that Bush is the strong silent type of pro-lifer who will seek to move public opinion in an anti-abortion direction by never talking about it.

          Having been road-tested on abortion, this approach is now being applied to racial preferences. After the customary warm-up of ducking, weaving, and avoiding the topic, Bush has evolved the formula that he is against racial preferences and quotas but chary of Proposition 209-the California initiative to outlaw them. Will conservatives buy this one?

          One distinguished conservative has already done so. Writing in California News (Calnews.com), Thomas E. Wood argues that most conservatives-and, in particular, NR's own John Miller-have been too quick to conclude that Bush has been "evasive, if not downright dishonest" on the issue. And since Wood is not only a co-author of Proposition 209 but also the moderator of the Internet news service put out by Americans Against Discrimination and Preferences (www.aadap.org) - an indispensable guide to America's daily mishandling of race-his opinion must be taken very seriously indeed.

          Wood argues that the Bush stance is in fact principled. The governor has said plainly that he will "eliminate" racial and ethnic preferences, but he couples this statement of opposition with an equally strong commitment to something called "affirmative access" (i.e., non-preferential ways of providing opportunity to minorities and the disadvantaged). And that is not only a principled stand, it is also a shrewd one, since it enables Bush to attack preferences without opening himself to the charge that he is writing off minorities. Why should he be required, asks Wood with almost superhuman reasonableness, to state his views in the terms of Prop. 209, especially since 209 makes no mention of the affirmative access that is the other half of his anti-preference policy?

          In endorsing the Bush formula, Wood is on one side of a conservative divide.  He was joined there two weeks ago by Ward Connerly, currently campaigning for a Florida version of 209, who endorsed Bush and hosted a fundraising luncheon for him in Sacramento. (In reply, Bush said of Connerly: "I like him. I'm glad he's supporting me.") On the opposite side of the divide, however, is Glynn Custred, the other author of 209, who interpreted Bush's refusal to endorse the proposition as a cynical bid for Latino votes.

          Custred described Bush sourly as "a Gray Davis Republican" (a reference to the moderate Democrat who is governor of California).

          In terms of formal logic, there is no way of determining which side is right.  The point of verbal formulas such as "against preferences and also against 209" is to please everyone.  We discover which half of the equation is the steak and which the sizzle only when the candidate is in power.  Until then, we have to base our judgments on other considerations. Here are five questions that might guide us:

(1) What is Bush's record on preferences until now?  If Tom Wood were the candidate, I would accept the Bush formulation in a New York minute.  His actions have demonstrated that getting rid of race and gender preferences is a principle he cares about. But Gov. Bush has done little or nothing to eliminate preferences in Texas.  Indeed, he recently signed a bill that will preserve some of them.  What persuades us he will be better on the federal level?
(2) Where do his electoral calculations point?  Bush is known to be concentrating on winning the Latino vote. In itself that is common sense, especially when that vote is growing as a percentage of the total electorate.  But how does he propose to win it?  His brother, Gov. Jeb Bush, and the Florida GOP are desperately trying to prevent Ward Connerly from getting a local version of 209 on the state ballot.  They calculate that, by driving Hispanics into the Democratic column and increasing black-voter participation, such an initiative would damage the Bush presidential campaign in 2000.   As Glynn Custred points out, however, such calculations share the same balkanizing logic as preferences: "This suggests that Bush sees us as a country of two distinct nations-one Latino and the other Anglo-and that each of these nations needs its own quite distinct pitch based on different principles in order to garner votes."  If that logic should win Bush a first presidential election, however, he is unlikely to change it until he has won a second-and maybe never.
(3) What does "affirmative access" mean in practice?  Some forms of affirmative action - e.g., scholarships for low-income students - are compatible with the legal equality of all Americans.  But not many.  And since Proposition 209 and anti-preference decisions in the courts, the preference lobby has invented various devices to preserve quotas under another name:  Notoriously, the federal Education Department is seeking to prevent colleges from using test scores if members of minorities score relatively badly on them. Bush himself signed into law a bill that, by admitting the top 10 percent of every graduating class in the state, would effectively overturn the Hopwood decision outlawing preferential admissions in Texas state universities.  Although this sounds meritocratic, it would in fact mean that some students, if they attended schools with poor test records, would probably be admitted ahead of others with higher scores.  Would President Bush II consider such evasions to qualify under affirmative access?  If not, what would?  As the tabloids say: I think we should be told.
(4) How are our political opponents interpreting his stance? Dick Morris, no liberal, commented as follows: "Cynics could dismiss the Bush move as an act - until he showed real class and extraordinary courage by going to California and disavowing the last two ballot initiatives that passed with overwhelming Republican support - the ban on affirmative action and the elimination of public services like schools to illegal aliens.  W. had the guts to go to California and endorse the essentials of affirmative action-no quotas but increased minority recruitment-and to support public education for the children of illegal aliens.  Wow.  We have not seen that kind of stand-up politics in quite a while in America."  Even if this interpretation is mistaken today, Bush is likely to be charmed by it as it is increasingly repeated.  Class?  Guts?   Stand-up politics?  Wow!  All for taking the coward's way out and confusing a bunch of impotent conservatives.  If he could get such plaudits in opposition, just consider what praise he might earn in the White House.
(5) Does he have the right stuff?  Let us suppose that Tom Wood is entirely correct and that Bush really wants to eliminate racial preferences.  Is [Bush] aware of how hard that will be and how much bitter opposition it will provoke?  So far in his short career Bush has prospered by playing the Nice Guy.  As governor, he has been-like many others - a beneficiary of Ronald Reagan whose fiscal and economic policies kept him in surpluses and enabled him to play Santa Claus.  But a campaign against quotas would compel him to
confront the prejudices of the media, moderate Republicans, and of course the Democratic party head on.  It would be a bloody and protracted battle-the kind of battle you need a Teddy Roosevelt, an FDR, a Thatcher, a Reagan to fight.  Is Bush prepared to spend the political capital needed to win it?

          If [George W. Bush] satisfies conservatives on these points, then he can probably be relied upon to fulfill his promise to eliminate preferences. Incidentally, how did he do on your private tally? Just curious.   (National Review, 07/26/99, by John O'Sullivan)
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