Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Grothman's Uncomfortable Questions

What created all the heat at Monday's meeting of the Special Committee on Affirmative Action?
Fred Mohs apparently asked Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) to "shut up" after Taylor yelled at committee chair Sen. Glen Grothman (R-West Bend), accusing him of doing something that was "a disgrace to this committee ...." Taylor accused Grothman of trying to abolish or scale back affirmative action.

What could Sen. Grothman's offense have been? Certainly it was nothing that the committee approved. It only recommends phasing out race-based preferences for minority businesses with a net worth in excess of one million dollars and requiring beneficiaries of racial preferences to be U.S. citizens. Kind of weak lager.

Maybe it was a proposal to require those seeking to be preferred over others on the basis of their race or ethnicity to prove that at least one quarter of their lineage actually comes from that race or ethnicity. Local blogger Michael Mathias dislikes that one, invoking the other "N-word" and observing that there was a once a country in Europe that obsessed over who your parents were.

On that, Mike's point proves too much. If we are going to prefer people of a particular race or ethnic identity, don't we have to ensure that they actually possess the characteristics that we seek? Would it be o.k. for my son (you can see his picture below) to claim that he's black when he applies to professional or graduate school? If not, then aren't we admitting that its o.k. to inquire as to a candidates' "real" bloodline? If we think it's all right to treat people differently based upon nothing other than their race, then why should we be uncomfortable with the notion that they prove that they are who they say they are?

The objection might be made that this proposal is designed to make a point rather than to solve a problem. There may not be (at least not that I know) a problem with people claiming some racial or ethnic status other than their own. But what's wrong with making a point?

If you believe that we can treat people differently on the basis of their race "just a little" and only for "good" without perpetuating our tendency to see race before all else, then shouldn't you also be able to believe that we can verify the race of proposed beneficiaries without bringing about Kristallnacht?

Doesn't the requirement of proof flow inexorably from the endorsement of preference? If the former makes you uncomfortable and conjures up visions of a racial state, then you probably ought to ask yourself if there is an unexamined problem with the latter.

Of course, I am not saying that there is anything like an equivalence between affirmative action (in the sense of preferences) and Nazi doctrines of racial superiority. But I do believe that systematic racial preference is a potentially dangerous and morally problematic remedy that ought to be avoided if it can be. Maybe the offending proposal at least hints at the reason for this.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

You know, I was first attracted to this blog because I saw it as aimed at more substantial and meaningul debate than most, right or left.

What I have found over the months is that with some regularity the posts are more subtle or meaningful, they just use bigger words.

The affirmative action business. The standard conservative move is to suddenly develop a profound interest in equality and feign an inability to understand how "racial preferences" can exist in an egalitarian socety. This is simplistic tripe.

For many generations, profound inequality was the reality in every sphere of public life, indeed it was the official reality, (de jure, no?). To state the obvious, the fact that our society has repudiated this official caste system does not begin to create equality or equal opportunity.

Having denied certain groups educational, economic, political, etc., opportunity for so long, simply resolving (more or less) not to do it anymore, hardly creates equal opportunity. Many of the effects of the past remain.

To tell two sprinters they are permitted to run as fast as they can doesnt mean much when one starts 50 yards ahead of the other.

The only question is whether we will simply pat ourselves on the back and declare racism, etc., dead and gone or whether we are prepared to deliberately attempt to compensate for its ongoing effects. This is, of course, what affirmative action seeks to do.

Like any other public policy issue, it is something that requires care and will lead to failed experiments etc. So what? Fit and starts in carrying out a policy does not suggest that the policy's goal is a bad one.

Its no secret that Grothman is ideologically opposed to all affirmative action. And, frankly, its no real secret that his proposals are efforts to chip away at it where he can. No one should be surprised at the push-back. 1/8? 1/4? Who the hell knows what the right fraction is. But, like anything else, there needs to be a balance between pursuing the larger goal and nitpicking it to death, which is the poijnt, of course. Theoretically, we could require that every recipient of AA consideration be the subject of a geneological work-up and socio-economic-historical analysis. of course this is silly, but only in quantity and not kind vis a vis Grothman's sudden commitment to equality.

As an aside, I marvel at the consistency of self-described conservatives who are far more interested in finding problems than solutions, in arguing that nothing can or should be done to address policy problems we face.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:51 - it doesn't appear to me that Grothman is trying to get rid of Affirmative Action but is trying to stop it from being used by people it wasn't meant for.

I'm not sure but it doesn't seem reasonable to me that there is an unlimited pool of money to draw from but that the funds designated should be used by only the people they are intended for.

Are you advocating that anyone should be able to use them?

Anonymous said...

I'm a bleeding heart liberal, but I do see the conservative side on this.

I just don't want to see goofy Senator Grothman deciding how to fix it -- and dragging in ex-UW Regent Fred Mohs, only making it worse with an attack on a legislator from the sidelines.

I can't imagine anyone worse to be in charge of this in our state legislature. And there is some good competition there for goofiness.

If conservatives want to see progress on this, if there is any hope of a compromise -- get it into someone else's hands in some other committee. Get it to someone with credibility on any issue, which isn't Grothman -- especially on this one.

Anonymous said...

Unsubstantiated rips at Grothman's credibility does not constitute a good argument against his proposal. Then again, its hard to argue logically against what appears to be nothing more or less than simple common sense.

Anonymous said...

Fred Mohs would probably agree it is as useful to educate a woman as to educate a cat. He is worthless.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:02, Grothman's behavior for years now is substantiated enough for me, based on reading many reports. If you really have missed those and are seeking substantiation, see and search jsonline.com or madison.com, for starters (or just go google). Or even see his own website.

Anonymous said...

Just more of the same babble and vague inferences. What constitutes bad behavior on Grothman's part? I'm am so tired of hearing liberal arguments that merely attempt to demonize the conservative because he is conservative. It usually seesm to come from the same people who have no problem with the "behavior" of people like Teddy Kennedy.

Rick Esenberg said...

9:51- Can "substance and meaning" be found in positions with which you disagree?

I've heard the "race" metaphor. LBJ used it 42 years ago. That we are still hearing it may reflect the fact that a generation is not "enough" time (maybe we need Justice O'Connor's 25 years), but it ought to at least raise some questions.

Is affirmative action really having an impact on changing the ability of these groups to run in the race? Sice the race we are concerned with is an individual rather than a team competition, is it benefitting those that are truly unable to run? What about the morality of fixing the race against individuals who may not have benefitted much or at all from past unfairness? What does continuing to fix the race do to the way in which people view it? What does it do to the way in which they view those who are given a head start?

Dad29 said...

Or, in essence, Rick--is it the individual who runs the race, or the group?

Anony 9:51 argues that people have "inherited" inability by virtue of lengthy prior discrimination.

That is the "genetics" argument--and the mark of a real racist, although in the clothing of a "liberal."

Irony, thy name is Lefty/Anony.

Anonymous said...

Rick - you bet. I respect and enjoy debate with those I dis agree. But Rick you also know what intellectual dishonesty looks like. And the wild oversimplification of complex questions is a standard technique. Destroy subtlety and proclaim a simple, emotionally appealing answer that is deemed to be obvious.

Here, let's be slightly serious. Grothman is opposed to Affirmative Action and is trying to help it die of a thousand cuts which is a totally legi political move if one agrees with his bigger goal. But, let's not pretend that his techniques are substantive in themselves.

As I have noted before - we all agree that everything government does should be as efficient and effective as possible (balanced against the costs created and the potential for interfering with the larger policy goal).

As important, please mark as exhibit # 9571 yet another discussion where the right is concern exclusively with limiting/hobbling/criticizing what efforts are being made to address a problem without a single nod to the problem.

As with most other issues, the right argues largely why nothing should be done and is unconcerned about the policy issue in the first place.

On a related note, Dad, you willfully twist things. No one said anything is inherited. Certainly, no one said anything about genetics; ironically, that's where your rhetoric points.

I only pointed out what I think everyone would agree with if the spin dies down. The experience one generation has affects the next. And, no, its not magic. If one is raised by folks denied educational, economic, etc. opportunities - the stats weigh heavily against - the child making serious progress in terms of social/economic mobility. (True for all ethnic groups).

Does it happen sure; is it impossible in individual cases, of course not. But the stats show that your family's socioecon history is generally a major factor in yours.

Your knee-jerk response suggests a total unwillingness to consider whether social-economic (in the broadest sense) plays a role (just a role, calm down) in shaping opportunity and defining the likely development of individual's lives.

Dad, what's left if it ain't genetics? Certain groups just inherently flounder?

Dad29 said...

You made the argument, Anony. You'll have to defend it.

Your line of argument was that "many of the effects [remain from XX years of oppression]."

That places the blame, but not on the majority. Is that what you meant? It IS what you wrote.

The question should be along the lines of "What is the extent to which society as a whole should remediate injustice?"

The logical answer is that Society should remediate injustice done to those whom the injustice WAS done.

You argue that all their heirs and assigns are also in line for remediation, without regard for directly pertinent facts and circumstances.

That's not 'justice' in its common definition; it's "justice" in a far more broad, thus far less workable sense--and the argument can be made that it is not "justice" at all.

If it were, then you would be consistent if you stated that all German-ethnic residents of Germany should suffer for the crimes of the Third Reich.

Your argument removes the person in favor of a class, and that argument cannot be sustained unless you wish to define all people as members of one or another "class" without regard to any individual's actions.

So defend it.

Anonymous said...

Dad, you are being willfully dishonest. You are simply ignoring the largely universally accepted fact at the heart of my point. I don't say anything like most of what you claim to respond to. You just make it up.

And, as is the penchant of the hard right, instead of talking concrete realities and addressing them, you run for cover in meaningless, wildly overbroad abstractions.

Rich said...

"Of course, I am not saying that there is anything like an equivalence between affirmative action (in the sense of preferences) and Nazi doctrines of racial superiority. But I do believe that systematic racial preference is a potentially dangerous and morally problematic remedy that ought to be avoided if it can be."

But you turn the facts on their head. Affirmative action works to address an imbalance and create a level playing field--not create an imbalance.

Pretending that there's a zero-sum game at work--enabling the false notion that for an African-American citizen to win in life, a white American must somehow lose out--is the fatal flaw in your rhetorical argument.

That false idea is, of course, how Milwaukee (wrongly) rationalized its hiring and firing practices of dividing and weakening labor in the recession of the 1970s. Acting on the "last hired, first fired" personnel policies toward African-American workers, Milwaukee created an under-employed poor black community that's been sealed in by hypersegregation. Milwaukee and the region is still dealing with the consequences.

So, no, the need for "proof" does not flow inexorably from affirmative action/ preferences. The burden of proof is on those who claim there is no problem.

Why? Because conservatives and liberals alike want both economic opportunity and a sense of social belonging and inclusion for every ethnic group. The choice is clear and is as patriotic and wholesome as applie pie: close out any ethnic group from social networks the jobs that are found through them--and create a ghetto-ized, crime-ridden community without hope--OR, extend resources and opportunities to those communities until they are as economically as diverse as any other.

The burden of proof is on those claiming the racial imbalance is fixed and no longer exists.

Until that point, rhetorical con games involving Nazi bloodline tests will do irreparable harm to the idea that Republicans are overly concerned with economic opportunity or the liberties detailed in teh Constitution.

Point is, do you want a solution? If the answer is REALLY yes, you'd focus on economic opportunity as an overall problem, and direct resources to where the problem is. Period. Same with credit for businesses. Same with crime reduction strategies. Same with drugs (more whites abuse drugs than blacks).

But to squabble for political advantage, well, it's got no real substance to contribute to solutions. It's rhetoric. It's very clearly a red herring.

IF conservatives cared about the real issue, they'd take a look at how the feds have spent their money lately---and compare it to how much was invested in entrepreneurial / credit / business training , etc. / human development / business loans ---IN GENERAL.

How much does $400 billion buy?

Then, by all means, propose policies to REALLY address poverty, etc., across all ethnic lines. Actually invest in America. Work to relieve the imbalance in business ownership rates and education attainment between black and other ethnic communities in Milwaukee. Then phase out affirmative action.

Until then, don't you have something to prove?

Dad29 said...

You are simply ignoring the largely universally accepted fact at the heart of my point.

First of all, if it were "universally accepted" it would not come under continuous scrutiny, as the Michigan Law School case (and referenda in California, etc.) make clear. Maybe you've read the newspapers in the last 10 years?

Further, it is NOT acceptable to construct "justice" on a basis of color, sex, ethnicity, yadayadayada. That is a parody of justice, at best, and in fact, it is a figment of imagination--whether positively legislated and adjudicated or not.

Real justice is administered to real individuals based on real facts and circumstances particular to their case at the time.

Finally, your insistence that there is a White Man's Burden based on the injustice of slavery, if it were actually true, happens to fall on only a small segment of White Men: ethnic English and Scots/Irish (Whigs) of the South, and their kinsmen in England and the East Coast who, in fact, USED slaves and benefitted from the trade.

So bother them about it--

Not everybody else, who arrived in this country after 1865.

Anonymous said...

The one thing that is all too evident is that Dad wasn't a history major -- a major in which we learn about causation, about consequences that endure for generations and even eons.

Instant gratification only works with a TV remote, not with real life. This is the kind of thinking that leads some to think that a land like Iraq can be "won" within weeks and reformed within months.

Eradicating the effects of racism for centuries -- the effects of an eradication of a culture -- just isn't one of those missions so easily accomplished.

Anonymous said...

Dad - I'm the person who wrote the posts you claimed to be responding to.

Problem is that you are responding to phantom nonsense, nothing I wrote. Again, you are just making this up; can't have much of a debate if one side is obsessed with the voices in its head.

dude, no white man's burden, public policy discussion to address problems in our communities. If you wanna live in your own world, fine.

Dad29 said...

Anony 1212

There never was a discussion, dud.

You still haven't READ your own posts, much less understood their consequences.