The Magazine

Obama's Opportunity

To truly transcend race, he could call for an end to racial preferences.

Feb 11, 2008, Vol. 13, No. 21 • By TERRY EASTLAND
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If Obama were to decide to move against preferences, he could look to the precedent of the Democratic Leadership Council, which in 1995 called for an end to preferencs in all federal programs. He could point out that the DLC's position, whatever its merits then, has become more and more compelling with the passage of time. Preferences were introduced into the federal government (as elsewhere) and have been continued on representations that they would be temporary. Surely, Obama could say, after 40 years they have served their purpose. Note, by the way, the familiar terms in which the DLC, 13 years ago saw race-based programs: Preferential affirmative action "divides Americans most dramatically along racial lines," making it "more rather than less difficult to transcend racial difference."

If he proposed phasing out preferences, Obama would meet with furious opposition from inside his own party, even from supporters of his candidacy. Obama would have to hold strong. But, if he did, voters tired of the "old politics" of race would have a strong reason to be for him. These voters would include many Democrats, to be sure, but probably also a substantial number of Republicans and independents.

And Hillary Clinton? How would she respond in the battle for their party's nomination? Certainly it would complicate the strategy the Clintons tried in South Carolina of making Obama into a "black candidate." And, if she decided to dig in her heels and defend her husband's work in 1995 when he was faced with what to do about federal preference programs, if she opposed Obama's position by saying that Bill's decision to "mend, but not end" affirmative action was right and that there is no need to revisit the matter .  .  . well, she wouldn't be on the side of change, would she? She'd be the one stuck in the past. Obama could be on his way to winning the nomination. And on to the making of a politically diverse and ultimately victorious coalition this fall.

Terry Eastland is the publisher of THE WEEKLY STANDARD.