Thursday, May 28, 2009

Race and Merit: Conservative Hypocrisy

I get frustrated and repulsed by the duplicity of conservatives when it comes to questions of race and merit in terms of individual accomplishments.

For many conservatives, everything Barack Obama accomplished was due to the preferential treatment he was given because of his race.

Now, I hear the same argument being posited regarding Sonia Sotomayor. That argument goes something like this: Were it not for the fact that Sotomayor is Hispanic and female, she wouldn't be where she is today.


Here are the facts. Both Barack Obama and Sonia Sotomayor came from modest backgrounds and very daunting family situations. A reality that daily stands in the way of many individuals' ability to reach their full potential. Under these trying situations, situations that may have set back the best of us, both of these individuals persevered, achieved, and rose to prominence such that today Barack Obama is President and Sonia Sotomayor is up for the Supreme Court. No small feats.

If Barack Obama and Sonia Sotomayor were conservative Republicans with the same achievements, they would be hailed as testaments to individual perseverence and accomplishments in the face of such daunting odds. They would be treated with the same reverence and deference that Condoleeza Rice and Clarence Thomas are treated.

Instead, because Barack Obama is a liberal Democrat and Sonia Sotomayor is his choice for the Supreme Court, they are demeaned as unworthy of their success, which is considered the product exclusively of identity politics.

Let me just say this: There are hundreds of thousands of black and hispanic citizens of this country, both liberal and conservative, that don't graduate from high school, much less get admitted to Harvard or Princeton, much less graduate from these institutions with top honors and with recognized leadership roles in prestigious institutions, much less with successful professional careers. For anyone to suggest that Barack Obama or Sonia Sotomayor have not earned any of these accomplishments and are simply the beneficiaries of affirmative action is to exemplify the height of cynicism. It tells folks like me that such conservatives are not at all interested in individual initiative and merit, but are driven purely by ideology. It tells me that such conservatives think that only minorities who are conservative Republicans are capable of success and accomplishment by the merits of their own abilities and intelligence, instead of by affirmative action.

It's one thing to challenge Obama or Sotomayor on the merits of their thinking and their ideas, but it's another thing altogether to claim that their successes are due primarily to their status as racial minorities. Any conservative who even thinks this, in light of the objective impressiveness of Obama's and Sotomayor's accomplishments, isn't worthy of being taken seriously at all. In fact, any conservative who even thinks this is nothing but a hypocritical, angry, petty, race-hustling boor in my mind.


Eric said...

While I agree it is wrong to assume without reason that these people have earned success due to their racial status, it is also true that the Democratic party is the party who sometimes promote policies favoring the benefits of ethnic diversity over the benefits of merit, an idea which many consevatives strongly disagree with. To some degree, liberal support of Affirmative Action harms the credibility of a Democrat who says he has chosen a minority because they are the best for the job. Of course, the ultimate test of this credibility is to look at the merits of the person being promoted, and Sotomeyer appears to have solid judicial merits.

However, I still think it says something important that I've heard more than a few people (from both parties) make the argument that the safest way for the Republicans to fight the Sotomeyer confirmation is to look for other Latina female judges who can be promoted in her place. I doubt they'll do it that way, but I don't doubt it would be effective if they did, because people of both parties now universally believe that seat belongs to a Latina female first and formost.

Huck said...

Eric - Thanks for the thoughtful comment. I have a couple counterpoints of my own. First, all things being equal on the qualifications front, why shouldn't one's personal story, which might include experiences that are directly connected to their ethnicity or race or gender or sexual orientation, have some bearing on a SCOTUS nominee? I've said it before and I'll say it again, things like race, gender, religion, ethnicity have meaning to one's identity and their worldview. To deny that is to deny humanity. No matter who Obama would have picked for the SCOTUS, these identity markers (if you want to call it that) would accompany that person. It's partly these markers that make certain people appealing to conservatives or to liberals. That doesn't mean that their qualifications for the task are somehow suspect. It means you get a particular kind of person along with those qualifications. And I have no problems with this criteria entering into a decision-making process like this. With regard to Alito and Roberts, I disagreed with them ideologically; but they were certainly qualified, and I was actually quite pleased that they were also Catholics, because I thought this must and will have meaning for them and it is something I shared with them. So, I don't necessarily find the injection of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, etc., into the decision-making process to be inappropriate. Sotomayor is, by all measures, a qualified and competent judge. And that she is a Latina woman is icing on the cake. Second, let's not pretend that affirmative action in practice is only a liberal conception and is only limited to race, ethnicity, and gender. You wrote: "it is also true that the Democratic party is the party who sometimes promote policies favoring the benefits of ethnic diversity over the benefits of merit, an idea which many consevatives strongly disagree with." Yes, it is true that the Democratic party has promoted such policies as a matter of rectifying an historical injustice. Perhaps those days are over and perhaps there is no longer the need for this. Perhaps it is even perverted to perpetuate the "soft bigotry" of low expectations. But it is also true that the Republican party sometimes privileges wealth and connections over merit. Worse, I think sometimes conservatives equate wealth and connections with merit. And I have personally seen this kind of "affirmative action" at work.

All this points to is the question of whether "merit" should be the "be-all-and-end-all" of decision-making. And if so, what should be considered "meritorious." I think taking a chance on someone's promise is sometimes worth giving some weight to beyond some standardized measures of merit. I'd be curious to hear your thoughts on this.

Eric said...

Huck, great response, but one I will have to reply to later, as I am out of here for a business meeting and a rare evening alone in the big bad city. Time to be stuck in traffic instead of stuck behind a tractor.

Eric said...

"No matter who Obama would have picked for the SCOTUS, these identity markers (if you want to call it that) would accompany that person. It's partly these markers that make certain people appealing to conservatives or to liberals. That doesn't mean that their qualifications for the task are somehow suspect."

While I don't really agree with the idea that, all other things being equal, racial identity then becomes a good qualifier for a job because some people find one race more appealing than another, that wasn't the point I was making. The Democratic Party has long been known to support the idea of giving minorities preferred consideration for jobs and/or other competitive opportunities even when all other things weren't equal, with the justification being that the benefits of maximizing cultural diversity and redressing past institutional racial discrimination outweigh the benefits of a system that rewards merit based achievement. While you are correct in your implication that affirmative action is not only practiced by liberals, it IS, however, an issue that has been legislatively advanced almost entirely by the Democratic Party. Republicans and Democrats are both guilty of offering privelaged positions to the 'good ol boy' network, but neither party has tried to enforce that practice through legislation.

Now, I believe Obama has gone on record as saying he doesn't think his daughters need Affirmative Action to get a fair shake in life, and I commend him for that statement. But until he, and the Democratic Party as a whole, starts actively trying to put an end to racist policies that deny opportunities to qualified people based on their race (in addition to affirmative action, this would include the government granting favored trade status to Minority Owned Businesses as vendors, a racist practice that has negatively effected my business in the past), you will always find some conservatives who use that support as a basis to be skeptical about decisions such as this one.

As for your final comments, I think it is generally unwise to pass over an applicant for a job in favor of somebody who has shown less success and aptitude. There are always exceptions, but generally speaking, hiring on merit makes sense, and it is something we need more of, not less. The problme is, adequate standardized measures of merit don't always exist... but to the degree they DO exist, it is wise to employ them in your decison making. All other things being equal, I'll almost always hire the person with a good and established track record of success over applicants who might be appealing for other reasons but have never proven themselves. Sure, I might take a chance on somebody who has less experience but has a lot of fire in their belly, but their lack of experience would be reflected in the starting pay I'd be willing to offer them, and hence, "all other things" would not be equal. If I couldn't get the unexperienced person for less money, I'd hire the person with a proven record.

MAD said...

Huck, what is boorish is your routine straw man challenges to conservatives. Just make your point and stop throwing out foolish challenges to your readers to reply or risk summary execution by you of their integrity and intellectual honesty.

D-BB said...

Huck , you stated "Eric - Thanks for the thoughtful comment."

That hurts. You have never ever said that to me. In fact, I think you are using that "Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi" tactic on me.

Tust me, I've tried that on my wife and it just makes her meaner.

(For those who have no clue as to what I just said, perhaps you should just ignore me.)

Huck said...

MAD - I wasn't throwing out any "challenges" at all. I was simply stating my opinion. And my opinion remains firm that any conservative who even thinks that Obama's and Sotomayor's success is due primarily to their status as racial minorities is exactly how I described it: unserious, hypocritical, angry, petty, race-hustling and boorish. That IS my point. There's no other way to say it.

Now if you are referring to my comment to Eric soliciting his thoughts, then I would say that our exchange is really none of your business and that my invitation to hear his thoughts was directed to him specifically. It wasn't an open invitation to you or any other conservative so that I can summarily execute them on my blog. The fact is that I am interested in Eric's thoughts, because I respect what he has to say, even if I disagree with him. What I am not interested in is your defensive blitzkrieg in my comments about my intentions and your presumption to know how I will react. The fact is that I tend to respond in kind to the way my readers respond to me. There was nothing in my response to Eric that was of the execution-baiting kind. And I know Eric well-enough to know that he's capable enough of defending his own ideas, even if I were to summarily execute his integrity and intellectual honestly, which I'm comfortable Eric knows I wouldn't do, because I respect his thoughtfulness.

It's clear to me that you are extraordinarily defensive when you visit my blog, perhaps because we've had some testy exchanges in the past, and perhaps its because my opinions, as forcefully expressed as they sometimes are, and which have questioned the integrity and intellectual honesty of some conservative voices and opinions, strike very much at the core of something that defines who you are and what you think.

I make no apologies for my opinions. And if you really don't like them, and if you really do think I'm boorish for expressing them, it's certainy a fact that you don't have to subject yourself to them.

Huck said...

d-bb - Thanks for the thoughtful comment, and are you sure I've never said something pleasant and positive about you here? I'm pretty sure I have; but, if not, I'm sorry for the slight. It wasn't intentional. Oh, by the way, would you please teach me that "Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi" tactic? Sometimes, I want my wife to be meaner (if you get my drift)!

Huck said...

Eric - I really don't have any objections at all to what you say. I have my own reservations with Affirmative Action that mirror a lot of what you say. I will comment, though, that I do believe historical oppression deserves (or deserved) some remedy. I think it would be hard-pressed for anyone to argue that the fact that black Americans, for so long, did not have equal opportunity, did not produce unfair disadvantages that have lingered across generations exclusively because of racial discrimination. I am sympathetic to the point of view that argues that any affirmative action remedies designed to rectify these structurally rooted inequalities are temporary and that, at some point, can actually become crutches as opposed to aids. I truly don't believe that very many liberals hold that affirmative action is an indefinite policy. And if any do, I would say that they are truly not interested in the whole purpose of affirmative action to begin with. But what I think the debate centers on now is whether we are at a point where the structural roots of this historical inequality are sufficiently erased such that equal opportunity IS functionally the norm. I, personally, tend to think it's probably time to reconsider the efficacy of affirmative action; but I respect that there may be others who sincerely think we are not quite there yet. The Democratic Party is wed more completely to the affirmative action idea and is much more of the opinion that the time is not right to end it. The Republican Party is more on the other end of the spectrum. But it seems to me that there what often comes across from the Republican Party's opposition to affirmative action (even if this is not the case) is a blanket denial that the historical oppression of minorities has prohibited and compromised equal opportunity. That's the nub of the controversy, I think. The extremes on both sides of the issue tend to obscure the more reasonable middle ground. Folks on the left who argue that there can never be a functional equal opportunity society in the U.S. and use this as a justification of an interminable affirmative action policy turns off people who really do think we are making progress on this front. Likewise folks on the right who say that historical oppression doesn't matter or impact the formation of an equal opportunity society and use this as a basis to argue that affirmative action is nothing but cold, calculated reverse racism turns off people who really do think that progress towards an equal opportunity society requires some recognition of the impacts of past oppression and discrimination and that recognizing this does not equate to reverse racism.

Good points on the "good old boy" network thing. You are right that both parties do it and that no legislation directly has targeted this group for preferential benefits. I can't dispute that.

As for hiring the best person on the basis of merit versus taking a chance on promise -- I still think it boils down to how we define merit and then how we use merit in a comparative framework. Some might argue that part of "merit" includes "fire in the belly" and a demonstrated capacity to learn as opposed to more experience and knowledge but a perceived (and perhaps demonstrated) history of complacency.

MAD said...

I did not even read your dialogue with Eric. My comments had nothing to do with that. You love to dish out blanket criticisms and condemnations, but you sure can't take it.
I will, however, take you up on your offer to stop subjecting myself to your blog. That is the best advice you have given in some time.

Huck said...

MAD - What do you mean that I can't take blanket criticisms and condemnations? Every time you write on my blog, it seems, you dish one out to me. And you are welcome to do so for as long as you like. I've never censored anybody on this blog. If, by not being able to take criticism, you mean that I have the chutzpah to defend myself, well that's just rich! What should I do when someone criticizes and condemns me? Bow my head and say that I agree? Again, it seems to me that you are overly defensive about my opinions. But I will agree that it's probably not wise for you to continue visiting this blog if it elicits such anger and revulsion. That's just not good for anybody's mental or physical health. And I wouldn't wish that on anybody.

Anonymous said...

Huck, have a great super special day today (you know which one I mean). Celebrate! Be happy! Your incredible family is always in my thoughts and prayers.

Huck said...

Thanks, Anonymous. We are celebrating and we are happy! I am grateful for your thoughts and prayers.

D-BB said...

Awwwwww Hucky, thanks. A tear is running down my cheek. And it's so cool, you never make fun of my tie-poes like that punk Jefro over at that libary chronical blog of his. He's been so smug since losing his virginity but that's a hole nother story.

Hucky, this really makes me feel better and perhaps I just jumped to delusions. I guess being a refugee from a little village just west of Mexico City where my best friend was a rooster and I didn’t have shoes has made me over sensitive because of the hardships I have endured because I am Mexican but I know it has made me a better "judge" of stuff.

Don_cos said...

Huck said;”any conservative who even thinks that Obama's and Sotomayor's success is due primarily to their status as racial minorities is exactly how I described it: unserious, hypocritical, angry, petty, race-hustling and boorish.”

I agree that their minority status is not the primary reason for where they are today. And frankly I have not yet read enough on Sotomayor to form a full fledged opinion on her. But something to keep in mind is that Obama’s racial status did play a part in where he is today. Was it the major part? I don’t think so. Was it an important part? I believe yes. Was it the final boost needed for him to become president? Very possible.

You used the phrase “all things being equal.” I will have to admit that if all other thing were indeed equal, I very well may have voted for Obama so that I could see the election of our first minority President. And yes that would technically make me a hypocrite because it would go against my belief that race should play absolutely no role whatsoever in these things.

The thing that worries me about Sotomayor is the statement about white men. Does she really believe that she has greater wisdom because she is a latin female? If she does then she is racist and should not be a Judge. If she doesn’t really believe it, then she is an opportunist who also does not belong on the bench.

I do believe that she has the qualifications, but the form of justice that she seems to prefer is not blind.

Huck Said;“I do believe historical oppression deserves (or deserved) some remedy.”

Agreed. But I think the time has passed for race based AA. If AA must persist then it needs to be shifted to a financial resource basis. I could get behind an AA system that helped advance opportunity based on the financial status (and willingness to apply themselves) of the recipient, rather than skin color. There are underprivileged children of all races (including whites). If AA continues with race as its foundation stone, then it perpetuates rather than alleviates racism.

Huck said;“Some might argue that part of "merit" includes "fire in the belly" and a demonstrated capacity to learn as opposed to more experience and knowledge but a perceived (and perhaps demonstrated) history of complacency.”

The importance of each of these traits should be determined by the employer. And if the employer uses racist criteria, then you should avoid doing business with him/her.

Anonymous said;

“Huck, have a great super special day today (you know which one I mean). Celebrate! Be happy! Your incredible family is always in my thoughts and prayers.”

Don’t know what that was about, but I wish you well anyway. Happy whateverdayitmaybe!