Last week I got into a discussion with my older son and a neighbor (who is an economics professor) concerning the social positions of John McCain. My son, who tried to convince us that McCain would be a less dangerous president than his Democratic opponent, went through the supposedly conservative stances McCain had taken while in the Senate. He was judged to be sound on abortion, hate crimes, certain forms of federal spending, and, last but not least, affirmative action. I thereupon disputed the attribution of soundness to McCain in the matter of affirmative action, having vaguely recalled that the Senator had not backed initiatives to end that odious practice in education and state hiring in Washington (state) and in Michigan. I also remembered that Richard Spencer had brought up these stands in one of his blogs, but my memory of Richard’s negative observation had become somewhat blurred in the intervening time. Although McCain, unlike Obama has not come out for full-blown quotas for all Democratic minorities, during his campaign he has said nothing to challenge the government’s right to discriminate against white males. Since the Republican candidate still needs to convince the Republican base that he is on the right side of the spectrum, it would be a good idea, one might think, if he would try to differentiate himself from his opponent on this particular social issue.
Unfortunately there isn’t much difference between the two of them on AA, save for the fact that Obama has been more unequivocal in supporting it. In the bad old days, when McCain was still expressing doubts about the federally imposed worship of MLK, a sin he has now publicly asked to be shriven of, he also questioned the government’s attempt at anti-white, anti-male social engineering. As late as 1995, McCain voted against federal funding that would have been used for affirmative action programs. Then in 1998 he swerved leftward, not only refusing to back a referendum in Washington that would have banned minority preferences in education and state employment but also stressing the need for such preferences as a useful tool. McCain defended them as a “means of leveling the playing field in education.” In November 2006, when a referendum was taking place in Michigan to ban minority preferences in education, McCain stood noticeably on the sidelines.
It may be no exaggeration to say that of all the Republican presidential candidates in this year’s primaries, McCain has been the farthest left on affirmative action. One would have to be delusional or engaging in partisan lies to state the view that if he becomes president his appointments to federal judgeships would take into account the candidates’ opposition to minority quotas. There would be no reason for President McCain to apply this test in appointing federal judges. For the last ten years he has either waffled on affirmative action or openly supported it. As president he would likely turn to judges who inclined in the same direction in which he himself has moved, as a means of proving his outreach to black civil rights activists. This is the strategy of appealing to minorities that Republican strategist Karl Rove has been urging him to pursue, now that he has supposedly “mended his bridges with the Right.”
Note McCain turned in the direction of affirmative action even before he swerved left on other issues. As late as the Republican primaries of 2000 he was still insisting on the right of Southern states to feature the Stars and Bars on their state flags; and he was then describing the Confederate battle flag as a “symbol of heritage, not of hate.” His switch on this position, which Karl Rove on FOX news hailed as “an act of conscience” came years after McCain had moved to the left on affirmative action. It is therefore unreasonable to assume that McCain as president would be no worse than W in pushing set-asides and endorsing quotas. While Bush has been simply mealy-mouthed about such matters, while nominating federal judges who have leaned right here, McCain has a very different record. As president he would push this country farther left than his predecessor, a likelihood that his stand on affirmative action strongly suggests.