Pardon me for reading with a jaundiced eye Jim Webb’s call for government to end the Diversity Industry and start sticking up for white Americans, but I don’t think there’s anything there.
Richard Hoste has told us not to read politicians’ words too closely, but just focus on their motives and the moods and effects their language might give rise to. Alright. I think that Webb grasps that, as Pat Buchanan wrote recently, whites are abandoning Obama in droves, and he’s afraid they might leave him, too, when he’s up for reelection in 2012. He wants rural Virginia to vote him; and it might work.
But words do matter -- particularly from a man who was a professional writer and novelist before going into politics. (Though Webb’s writing style here is both cluncky and pretentious: he ends his piece asking his peers to “allow harmony to invade the public mindset.” Unfortunately, Senator, harmony cannot invade anything.)
And, more importantly, Webb doesn’t make any sound arguments for ending affirmative action (not to mention edgy, race-realist ones.) The senator can't even muster the intellectually respectable Classical Liberal case against AA, referencing fairness and meritocracy.
Instead, Webb worries that "[t]hese programs have damaged racial harmony" and haven't adequately "helped African-Americans." Webb even argues that LBJ's original program's were "justifiable and understandable" -- and constitutional, to boot. His concluding line says it all: "Beyond our continuing obligation to assist those African-Americans still in need, government-directed diversity programs should end." Should we read this as implying that Webb plans to keep all the Diversity programs for people “in need”? One wonders where he’d draw the line.
(Webb is, perhaps, reacting to what Hugh Davis Graham has called "the collision course" between affirmative action and immigration, that is, the prospect that Hispanic immigrants might start pushing poor blacks out of Diversity positions.)
In many ways, the HBD-informed argument against affirmative action is the opposite of the one Webb makes. Webb, like other mainstream conservative and libertarian AA critics, argues that the problem with the Diversity Industry is that poor whites (and Asians) don't benefit from it. (And without question this is unfair.) It’s a search for a victim, whether it be Jennifer Gratz or Webb’s rural constituents.
Such people are victims. But we should understand that the real problem isn't the fact that Johnny didn't get into Harvard Med, but that Jamal did -- and is actually practicing medicine! (Steve Farron’s excellent book The Affirmative Action Hoax details many wrenching stories of blacks who couldn’t pass medical school exit exams, were graduated anyway, and went on to cause great harm to patients and society.)
It’s also worth putting pressure on Webb’s contention that African Americans haven't benefited from AA. It is true that blacks were making strides in the 1950s, as Thomas Sowell and Elizabeth Wright have pointed out, often times developing all-black, segregated businesses and local economies. And as someone who is laissez-faire on economic matters, I'm convinced that society as a whole would be dramatically wealthier and better off without our multiculti welfare state.
Still, one is confronted with the fact that so much of the current black middle class is built on employment in the federal Diversity sector. Were the welfare sate to go, this great American success story would all but collapse. The Shirley Sherrods of this world would be out of work and see their living standards plummet, even as society became richer and more productive.
One wonders whether contemporary blacks would be willing to trade a wealthy, free world, in which it'd be demanded of them that they work and produce, for a poorer, Diversity world, in which they have the chance to get a full scholarship to Princeton and one day work at a major law firm or the Equal Opportunities Commission. It's a good question.