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McCain and Civil Rights Initiatives

4:32 PM, Jul 28, 2008 • By TERRY EASTLAND
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McCain's decision to support the Arizona civil rights initiative, on the ballot on Election Day this fall, means that a critical campaign issue is now in play. The initiative, patterned after ones in California, Washington, and Michigan, requires that the state of Arizona neither advantage nor disadvantage its citizens on the basis of race, ethnicity, and sex in allocating limited educational, employment, and contracting opportunities. In those three areas, where state governments have most commonly used race, ethnicity, and sex to favor certain citizens over others--under the name of affirmative action--the initiative proposes nothing less than colorblind law.

That's the sort of law that the civil rights movement insisted upon for well more than 100 years until the mid-1960s, when most of its leaders opted for race preferences in not only the public but also the private sector. Preferences have never been popular, however, and colorblind law--at least to the extent it obligates the public sector--remains the kind of law that makes most sense in a country like ours whose citizens come from every part of the planet and whose fundamental law demands the equal treatment of all persons.

Having come out for the Arizona initiative, McCain can't allow himself to be so intimidated by Democratic attacks (note Obama has already accused McCain of taking a position that's "divisive") that he fails to argue in its behalf--that he quits on it. Which is, of course, exactly what Obama and his aides would like to see McCain do. McCain's advisers usefully could carve out some time--right now--to brief McCain on the ins and outs of this issue. And to schedule a major speech in which he could, without interruption, make the case for colorblind government in Arizona--and in other states and at the federal level, too. After all, McCain can't limit his support for colorblind government to his own state. The logic of the issue won't allow that.