Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Sen. Jim Webb

If you thought that Sen. James Webb (D, VA) had a chance to be Obama’s running mate, this short interview on affirmative action (while he’s pushing his new book) will prove you wrong. Unless, of course, he’s really calling for an affirmative action program for poor whites. You can also click on the video and see it.

Discussions - 6 Comments

Webb has sold out to the Democratic party. Democrats are very good at minimizing heresy in their ranks, even among those who might halfway believe a heresy or two. The lefties will accept Webb as veep. If he strays a time or two, things will be resolved behind closed doors. If they're not, it doesn't much matter, because the veep has almost no power anyway. And the heresy will have served the purpose of scooping up some extra votes in key states -- or more likely, holding votes that might have drifted away. Fear a Webb candidacy.

I don't agree that Democrats are irretrievably committed to the most offensive forms of affirmative action. Nor are many African Americans, who are quite conservative on this issue, as we all know. Class, not race, obviously has much to recommend it. So I think a Webb selection is not on this score at all ruled out. There may be, however, other problems with it.

"Irretrievably" and "the most offensive forms" are unclear terms. By and large, the Democratic party is firm (wrongly so) in its support of racial affirmative action. Which I insist on calling reverse discrimination (affirmative outreach aside). African-Americans are "quite conservative" on the issue, "as we all know"? Huh? Again, "many" is an unclear term. Surely you cannot mean "most." Class-based discrimination (again, aside from outreach) is more ethically questionable than it seems at first glance. Like racial preference, it discriminates against people, not only for them. As for Webb, I was clear that I think he's a possible veep. Not because the Democratic party would like a veep who (perhaps) opposes reverse discrimination, but because he has essentially lined up with the Democratic world view and because the vice presidency's importance in office depends almost wholly on what a president permits. While Webb would gain leverage as a future presidential candidate even if Obama didn't give him much clout, the Democratic party is unlikely to nominate any genuine cultural conservative or even any genuine opponent of reverse discrimination, in the foreseeable future.

David Frisk - You are of course right to note that I am being a bit fuzzy. Changing affirmative action in a way that might be implicit in Webb's remarks (as I did) will require fuzziness. As for African American opinion, I do not have numbers at hand, so I do not know whether it is better to say some or many. I too would be surprised if it were most. I did not say "class-based discrimination." But yes, there are ethical issues here - as there are, for example, in need-based scholarships, or in moving away from "legacy" admissions toward favoring "first generation" applicants, ceteris paribus.

Just one quibble on your latest: need-based scholarships present no ethical problem in theory, because the non-needy, by definition, don't need them. In any case, they don't need them as much. When it comes to admissions, the issue is quite different because, in pol-sci speak, it's a dichotomous variable. You're either admitted or not. The rich need to be admitted if they are to attend the college in question, just as the relatively poor do.

Dichotomous is statistics (not pol-sci), but no matter. We seem to agree that needy-not needy is NOT dichotomous. (Need is a notoriously subjective term: social workers love it.) I don't know whether we agree or not about admissions, but we certainly agree that criteria are needed for allocating a limited supply. My thought is that, given an excess of highly qualified candidates (but not everybody), it is defensible for colleges and universities to try to stop or mitigate the transmission of privilege across generations. In a sense, redistribution!

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