View Full Version : The Downsides of Diversity

09-28-2008, 11:46 PM
When it comes to the perils of affirmative action, there's nobody as eloquent as Justice Clarence Thomas. In a speech given earlier this month to leaders of historically black colleges, Thomas went so far as to suggest the Constitution likely prohibits it (http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5gYR2koJhR_WWhaqDnitxxCIljc7gD933CKDG1): "I think we're going to run into problems if we say the Constitution says we can consider race sometimes." In both his legal writing and his autobiography, Thomas has railed against affirmative action, not simply because it constitutes "reverse discrimination" against white males, but because of the crushing lifelong stigma it affixes to the "beneficiaries" (a word Thomas puts in quotation marks.)

Critics have scoffed at Thomas' tendency to view affirmative action exclusively through the narrow lens of his own life, but it's clear the "badge of inferiority" has tainted a lifetime of enormous achievement. He will never forgive America for the chances he was given, or for how small it has made him feel. I can't help but wonder what Thomas would say to vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin, who is now suffering the same stigma of affirmative action, and who shows signs of the same blend of defensiveness and outrage that have so shaped Thomas' career.

Like Thomas, Palin has been blasted for inexperience, and she has fought back with claims that she is not being judged on her merits, but on her gender, just as he felt he was inevitably judged on his race. While it's possible to assert that Sarah Palin is the most qualified person in America for the vice presidency, only approximately nine people have done so with a straight face. That's because Palin was not chosen because she was the second-best person to run America but to promote diversity on the ticket, even the political playing field, and to shatter (in her words) some glass ceilings. When she was selected, the Weekly Standard's editor, Fred Barnes, enthused: "As a 44-year-old woman Mrs. Palin brings desperately needed diversity to the Republican ticket." That's certainly a noble goal, but it's one most conservatives have disparaged for decades. The most savage bits of Thomas' Michigan law school dissent warn against fetishizing "diversity" as an "aesthetic" concern of "elites." Thomas hates the notion of flinging the first minority you can lay hold of at a glass ceiling. The McCain campaign just elevated it to priority No. 1.