by Tim O'Brien
September 16, 1999
There must be something seriously wrong with how we define our political spectrum if I can somehow have been moved from one end to the other while always standing in the same place.
Take the issue of racial discrimination.
Not since my college days when I marched in the streets in uncompromising opposition to the notion that individuals may be segregated or otherwise discriminated against based on the color of their skin, has race been such a hot political topic.
The flashpoint then (and for that matter, now) was admissions to government sponsored educational institutions.
Many of us insisted that any institution supported by everyone must be equally open to everyone who meets objective admission standards. These criteria might include grades, test scores, even athletic prowess or alumnus legacy. However, admissions ought never be based on any intrinsic (and irrelevant) characteristics such as a student's gender, sexual orientation, ethnic group, race, and so forth.
Universities, especially in the south, were adamant that criteria for admittance should be entirely within their administrative discretion.
That position is echoed today by our own University of Michigan which is currently embroiled in lawsuits over its racist admissions policy, nowadays euphemistically called: affirmative action.
"Can you get into an admissions process by a court?" president Bollinger asks in words that could have come directly from a 60's vintage diatribe by Lester Maddox or George Wallace.
In the style of those "segregation forever" southern governors he goes on to rail against "anybody coming from the outside [saying], 'This is fair, this is unfair. I don't like this thing you are doing, I don't like that thing. If we can just get inside this admissions policy, we're sure we can do a better job.'"
And, having asserted a self-righteous moral superiority justifying exemption from societal norms and accountability, Bollinger proceeds as his political forebears did to offer up one spurious argument after another to rationalize racial discrimination against individuals whom no one denies are utterly innocent of any wrongdoing.
He begins by smugly stating that the notion that race is no longer a significant factor in American life is a myth.
This is what in argumentation is called a "straw man" -- a debating ploy whereby, a claim is attributed to the opponent which he never actually made for the sole purpose of then knocking it down.
The fact of the matter is that opponents of affirmative action never said that race is not a factor in contemporary America. Indeed, it is, ironically, affirmative action proponents such as president Bollinger who continue to make it one.
Apologists for contemporary discrimination assert that "diversity" (by which, incidentally, they mean only of the most superficial, physical kind -- diversity of viewpoint, for instance, is ruthlessly repressed) is not an optional characteristic of a particular university environment but rather an essential element of the entire educational process.
This would, no doubt, have come as something of a surprise to the scholars and academics from time immemorial whose devotion to the knowledge and teaching of the arts and sciences, irrespective of the ethnic composition their student bodies, somehow managed to get us through to the 21st century.
And in traditional left-liberal mulishness the fact that his own students tend to prefer congregating and interacting within their own ethnic groups only reinforces the belief that efforts to impose social engineering must be redoubled. The more persistent the failure, the more this is taken as evidence of the necessity.
Coincidentally, in Washington U.S. Representative John Conyers, D-Mich., has introduced a bill to prohibit the practice of racial profiling. Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer also claims to oppose the practice.
Perhaps, they can prevail upon president Bollinger to explain the rationale behind treating people differently based on their skin color since he so vigorously endorses the idea and supports the practice.
The fundamental fact that is utterly ignored by those who would impose their vision of a just society is that there is no such entity as the black race, the white race, or any other discrete collective, that can either perpetrate or suffer from injustice.
There are only individuals -- some particular characteristic of which places each into one or another of those amorphous categories.
There are only unique students with their own, personal hopes and dreams for a happy and productive life.
Like James Meredith, who in 1962 used integration laws to become the first black man to attend the University of Mississippi, going on to a distinguished career as an author, civil rights activist and attorney, who ran for U.S. Congress and worked for a time (interestingly enough) in the office of conservative U.S. Senator, Jesse Helms (R- NC).
And like Jennifer Gratz, the math major and homecoming queen who graduated from a high school in Southgate with a 3.8 GPA dreaming of one day becoming a doctor, who has now filed suit against the University of Michigan to stop that institution from destroying her aspirations by denying her admission simply because she is white.
None of us dreams in black and white. We only dream as individuals.
There is no fairness or balance achieved by compensating those who never suffered under a system of legal discrimination at the expense of those who never caused it.
A great American leader back in my college days once said he dreamed of a day when each of us would be judged not by the color of our skin but by the content of our character.
I thought he was right. I still do.
Tim O'Brien is the Executive Director of the Libertarian Party of Michigan.