John McCain yesterday told George Stephanopolous that he supports the Arizona Civil Rights Initiative, a ballot proposition based on the language of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that will appear before Arizona voters this fall. When Arizona legislators pushed for a similar measure back in 1998, McCain called it "divisive" and, according to news reports at the time, fought behind the scenes to smother it.
McCain has a cluttered history on racial policy, but his comments in 1998 are exceptions to the views he has expressed over most of his career. And with one major exception, a 1998 vote on a highway bill that included rigid quotas, McCain has pretty consistently voted against affirmative action programs that include racial preferences and quotas.
What about Barack Obama? The man running as a post-racial candidate is backing racial preference programs that, by their very definition, count Americans by race. He went out of his way to defend these discriminatory practices by cutting a radio ad against a ballot initiative in Michigan - the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative - two years ago. Obama warned that race-neutral policies would "close doors" to advances by minorities.
More troubling, however, is that Obama - the supposed avatar of a new, more civil politics - would be associated with a campaign compared ending racial preferences to the attacks on September 11, 2001.
"If you could have prevented 9/11 from ever happening, would you have?" another radio ad asked. "On November 7th there's a national disaster headed for Michigan, the elimination of affirmative action."
Is this the new politics Obama has promised? How does he square it with his claim in his stump speeches that "We can't afford the same politics of fear that invokes 9/11 as a way to scare up votes."
Six weeks ago, I asked Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs how his candidate squares his very compelling campaign rhetoric this year with his words and the actions of the anti-MCRI campaign in 2006. He promised an answer. Despite follow-ups, I've heard nothing.
For more background on McCain, Obama and racial preferences, see here.