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").
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
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:
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?
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.
"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.
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.
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