Originally published in
A few reactions to your feedback on recent columns:
-My criticism of affirmative action in college admissions drew predictable criticisms from the left—which generally views any retreat from racial classifications as a reverse of civil rights gains—and from the right—which would go further than I would and end all racial preferences. Several readers picked up on my concession that the ranks of black students would be thinned out if there were no preferences and wondered why I was so sanguine about the prospect. While I certainly don’t relish a reduction in black students, I would urge more examination on what diversity means in a complex society like ours. Which is the more likely problem on college campuses, a paucity of African American viewpoints, or an absence in the perspectives of, say, Arab Muslims, or East Asian Indians? That’s the trick with the diversity based arguments that drive affirmative action—they are usually a pre-text for one race (blacks), and are crafted for America circa 1975, before the ascension of globalization and before the multi-cultural surge in our demographics.
Having said that, a solid, pragmatic case can be made that we do need instruments like the Voting Rights Act (although not the partisan super-majority gerrymandering that contributes to the racial polarization of southern politics); and that secondary school districts need tools to keep our public schools from re-segregating. Unlike my friend Quin Hilyer, who makes a thoughtful case against ever taking race into account, I see the question as one of weighing the pluses and minuses.
-Some of you ask if I have revised my early assessment in the National Review of Rick Santorum’s electability based on his string of impolitic comments. In reality, my views of whether Santorum can win a general have always been nuanced. At his best, he delivers an economic fairness message that eludes many Republicans; at the same time, I have always included a caveat that he could push independents away with the forcefulness of his social views. I certainly miss the tactical wisdom in telling blue-collar Catholics over 60—an important swing voter bloc-that Jack Kennedy’s views on religion make you want to throw up. Color me skeptical of a candidate having an axe to grind with the merits of getting a college degree. And yes, the “Obama theology” meme gets tiresome when there is a genuine case about religious liberty and autonomy that needs to be made, but will get lost if it sounds extreme or coded.
My guess is that what’s going on with Santorum is partly an inexperienced candidate’s tendency to over-play to the room. Some of it is quite deliberate, and reflects a laser focus on winning the nomination and conveying his conviction to his base. The problem is that I‘ve seen that strategy up close: it usually fails in November and damages a party badly.
-Finally, several perceptive readers have wondered why in my essay on Obama and the rhetoric of community, I let conservatives off so easily. That’s a fair point that deserves more than an observation about the limits of space. The fact is that much of the Right is uncomfortable with the assertion of a national community: they fear it’s a cover for imposing an elite set of values over theirs, and for redistributionist tax and spend policies. It’s a subject worth addressing in a separate essay and I will do so soon.