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The Audacity of Affirmative Action: Obama and the Libertarian V.P. Challenge

By September 8, 2008No Comments
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It's time to open up a dialogue and debate with America (and between Americans of different races) about a controversial, but important issue. This issue is affirmative action. Since the issue is centered around race, most white politicians are afraid to discuss it for fear of being labeled a racist. I am not most white politicians. Fear is not a word that affects my life.

As a person of color, Barack Obama can and has brought it up, largely unchallenged. I will challenge it. There is a second side to affirmative action – the white male perspective – that everyone is afraid to discuss for fear of being crucified by the bleeding-heart, guilt-ridden, liberal media types.

It's a natural debate to have, so let's have it. Barack and I are on opposite ends of the spectrum; we've lived lives inside different colored skin; had different experiences; faced different challenges, yet graduated from the same college (Columbia University Class of '83) on the same day, with the same major exactly 25 years ago. We now make history together- as the first college classmates to run on opposing Presidential tickets. And every step of the way, whether it's spoken or not, race has played a part in our lives, our experiences, and the way we formed our political opinions on issues of importance to the American people.

To me, affirmative action is a civil rights issue. But, I'm sure, not in the way Barack thinks of “civil rights.� You see the pendulum has swung past the midpoint where today my civil rights- as a white American- are being violated daily. I know, some of you are saying “Oh, poor, poor you.�
But, let's look at the facts. Many of the most important opportunities are affected by decisions based on race- who gets into colleges, law schools, business schools, medical schools; who is hired at the biggest corporations in America; who is hired for state and federal government civil service jobs (that come with incredible pensions and benefits); who is promoted at the workplace; who is awarded government contracts in the name of quotas, affirmative action, or that famous buzzword “diversity.� And in each case, if the decision or access to opportunity is based on reverse racism, it's wrong and a violation of our civil rights!

Reverse racism- no matter if the intent is to remedy some past wrong- is still racism. In each case it is a violation of everything for which America stands. To choose to exclude applicants who might be more talented, smarter, harder working, more worthy, but just happen to be white, in favor of those who happen to be black, is quite simply a travesty. It creates, not promotes racial disharmony. Ironically, affirmative action encourages this idea of “two Americas� that liberals talk about nonstop.

My parents taught me that two wrongs do not make a right. I was also taught that race should not and does not matter. Yet, the government says that it does- when they violate my civil rights calling it “just.� I call it what it is, reverse racism. How can you call it anything else when having a certain skin color gets you a job, salary or college admission? How can you call it anything else when the color of your skin gives you advantages, mandated by government? How can you call it anything else when decisions that affect the rest of our lives (for better or worse) are determined by race? In the 50´s and 60´s when this debate began, and it was people of color being discriminated against, it was called what it is- racism. Today, when it is a different color of people being discriminated against, how can it be called anything else! In my opinion, any form of discrimination is just plain wrong- whether the person on the receiving end is white, brown, black or yellow.

Talent, and a willingness to work, should determine every American's level of success. Achievement should be based on what's in our heads, the decisions we make, how hard we are willing to work- never on the color of our skin. No one deserves to be hired, fired, qualified, or disqualified based on their skin color. The only color that matters should be gray- the gray matter in our brains.

The liberal media will tell you that racism, as I've just outlined it, doesn't exist, or is somehow “just.� Let me tell you through my own experience and that of my college classmate, Barack Obama, just how WRONG they are. As I've already pointed out, Barack and I graduated from the same college, on the same day, with the same major, both from lower middle class families. Except for the color of our skin we couldn't have been more alike. I had good grades at Columbia, (B+ or higher) and good LSAT (Law School admission exam) scores. Good enough, I was told by my Columbia University guidance counselor, that I could gain acceptance into virtually any law school in America, with the exception of the Ivy Leagues (Harvard, Yale, Columbia). “Don't even bother to apply to your favorite choice Harvard- you just don't have the grades,� I was told. And, you know something, I accepted the fact that my grades weren't good enough, and that more qualified applicants should attend those schools.

Yet, Barack was accepted to Harvard Law School. Was it because of his grades, test scores, and college record? Or, was it because of the color of his skin? I think inquiring minds (and voters) have a right to know. My life (and grades) at Columbia are an open book. They are available for everyone to see. But, newspaper after newspaper has told me that Obama's campaign refuses to release his college transcripts. Why? What has he got to hide? That same Obama campaign never hesitates to mention in every media story that Barack graduated Harvard Law School with Law Review honors. But never even a mention of his Columbia undergraduate record. Why?

Now don't misunderstand me. I don't think any of this really matters 25 years later…nor should it. We all know Barack is smart and gifted. We all know he is the best orator since Reagan or Clinton (at least with a teleprompter). However, his grades of twenty-five years ago are very meaningful in the context of this argument.

With two classmates running on competing Presidential tickets, this is the perfect opportunity to openly discuss affirmative action- and why, in my opinion, it must now end. Barack supports affirmative action, I do not. Why? Because affirmative action has dramatically altered both our lives. What could be a more ideal forum for discussion and debate than comparing how it affected the lives of two high-profile college classmates running on opposing Presidential tickets?

People of color will tell you they are angry about being denied opportunities based solely upon the color of their skin. If so, don't I have a right to be just as angry if I had a better college record than Barack, but he was admitted to Harvard Law School, and I was not even considered good enough to apply? Did he have a right to jump over me, without regard to merit?

Barack and his wife (also a Harvard Law graduate) have made several controversial statements about race in America. Barack's pastor- a chosen “father figure�- has made racist and anti-Semitic remarks. Michelle Obama has commented that she has never until this moment (of Barack's nomination) been proud of America. Wouldn't it be significant to open a national dialogue on the topic of race and affirmative action? To find out if, in fact, America was truly “unfair� to the Obama family…or if in fact, this country has been extremely fair to the Obamas- perhaps even treating Obama and Michelle in a superior fashion to others- simply because of their skin color.

What if it turns out that I was the one treated badly by a system that bases decisions on the color of a person's skin? Is America comfortable with this double standard? After all, my family owes no debt to people of color. My family arrived in America at the turn of the 20th century. We were not here when blacks were sold into slavery. To the contrary, my relatives (of Jewish ancestry) were enslaved and murdered in many different countries because of their religion and race. Yet I've never complained once, never asked for reparations, never used past transgressions as an excuse to demand superior treatment today.

Interestingly, not only did my ancestors not participate in persecution, racism or slavery, we were victims of it ourselves. Worse, Obama's ancestors were never enslaved in America. His father came straight from Kenya to attend Harvard. Not exactly persecution in my book. My father was a butcher who barely graduated high school. Yet simply because of the color of his skin, Barack may have been treated better than me by Harvard Law School. Perhaps America was not only not so terrible to Barack, perhaps it bent over backwards to help someone that deserved no such special treatment.

Isn't this an issue that Barack demanded come out? In light of his pastor's racist comments, didn't Barack say it's time for an open and honest discussion of race? Shouldn't a white American be able to discuss this topic openly and honestly- just like a person of color?

Well here it is…and here I am. I'm putting it on the table once and for all. The time has come…the discussion is now open. I am not a racist. To the contrary, I've never judged anyone in my life because of the color of their skin. That's my point. Race should not matter. But it certainly cannot matter to only one group- while everyone else is forced to accept discrimination; accept a violation of their civil rights in the name of “equality�; and walk on eggshells about the topic for fear of being called a racist. It is time for good Americans to speak up.

The time (and need) for affirmative action is now over. Ironically the proof is that a black man stands a great chance of being elected President of the United States. Barack is living proof that being a minority in America no longer limits opportunity. Talent is all that should be used to determine what jobs we get; what promotions; what loans; what colleges we are admitted to; what government contracts are awarded. And someone who is bold enough and honest enough to point that out should be congratulated, not attacked, not shouted down, not called names. That person should not be called a racist, anymore than a person of color should (like Barack), if he brings up the same topic.

The NBA should serve as a great example of the folly and fallacy of affirmative action. If affirmative action is truly good for the goose, then it must be good for the gander too. Let's apply it fairly- to every area of inequality. Let's for example apply it to the NBA. Would any of us want government to mandate that the NBA be more representative of race in our society? Should the NBA be a certain percentage white, black, Hispanic, American Indian, and Asian? But of course that would be absurd. It would also be offensive and unfair to fans who pay top dollar to watch the best talent available in the world on the court. I would never want to mandate affirmative action in the NBA. The NBA should not be mandated 80% white. Nor should it be mandated 80% black. The color of the skin of the players should not matter. I simply want the best talent on the court- whatever the color of their skin. The same applies to boxing, football, hockey, golf, tennis, football, lacrosse, etc. Let only those with the most talent reap the rewards. Race should never again be a factor.

Well if you agree, why should lawyers, doctors, corporate executives, or government contractors be treated any differently? Why should college admissions be treated any differently? Why should the office of the President of the United States be treated any differently? The man or woman who occupies the oval office should get the job because of their talent, not the color of their skin. Affirmative action should not determine the Presidency- anymore than admissions to Harvard Law School.

That is why I think this is a perfect time, place and opportunity for an open honest national discussion and debate on affirmative action. That is why I've made this public challenge to my classmate Barack Obama- to prove that his grades were better than mine, and to thereby prove that he deserved to gain admission to Harvard Law School. I think Barack owes us all the opportunity to see his Columbia college transcripts. I seem to remember liberal critics of George W. Bush denigrating his Yale grades- until we found out that W's grades were better than either Al “I invented the Internet� Gore or John Kerry. Why was it important for the media to know W's grades? Why is no one in the media demanding that Obama release his college transcripts?

Well now we have a more valid and timely comparison to make. Two classmates from the same college class, same major, same graduation day, of different races, both desiring entrance to Harvard Law. One got in. One did not. Why? Did one benefit unfairly from admission criteria based on the color of his skin? And, if so, how can it be called anything but racism, regardless of the color of the skin of the one discriminated against.

One of my heroes Ronald Reagan once changed the world by forcefully demanding, “Mr. Gorbachov, Tear down this wall.� I now throw down the gauntlet to my college classmate. “Barack, take up my challenge. Show us your grades.�

Then, let's have a debate about race and affirmative action. Quite frankly, I believe Barack and I have the same goal- the elimination of racism. Who better than the two of us to face the topic head-on.

Wayne Root is the Libertarian Vice Presidential nominee on the Libertarian Presidential ticket of Bob Barr/Wayne Root. His web site is: