Washington Times, February 21, 2008
The perception that Senator Barack Obama is the messenger of hope and America’s first post-racial candidate has contributed enormously to his success to date as a presidential candidate. Across the country, Americans have eagerly embraced the Senator’s message that hope requires audacity and that race should not matter in this year’s elections. Amid the national swooning, the country seems to have forgotten that other black men, at great personal cost and with immense courage, have stood and fought for the proposition that race should not matter long before the Senator claimed the message for his campaign. Next to them, the popular Senator has precious little claim to audacity.
The names of these other black men are familiar: Clarence Thomas, Ward Connerly and Shelby Steele, just to name a few. Their position is simple: End the sordid business of government sponsored, race-based affirmative action. Their conviction has been fueled by a grotesque reality: Affirmative action programs treat blacks as numbers and tokens, rather than as individuals from whom excellence is sought and on whom equal standards are imposed.
The actions of these men have spoken louder than words. Justice Thomas has consistently ruled against race-based quotas and preferences in decisions on the Supreme Court. Mr. Connerly has led grassroots-based, ballot initiative campaigns that ended race-based quotas and preferences in public university admissions, government hiring and government contracting in California, Washington, Michigan and Texas. Mr. Steele has written numerous articles and books articulating the case against affirmative action, denouncing the use of blacks as tools in the America’s wider quest for moral redemption.
The words employed by these men have been inspirational and powerful. In Grutter v. Bollinger, the controversial 2003 Supreme Court decision that upheld the consideration of race in university admissions, Justice Thomas dissented, “I believe blacks can achieve in every avenue of American life without the meddling of university administrators.” In presenting the case made by ballot initiatives that seek to end race-based quotas and preferences, Mr. Connerly declared that “all Americans are entitled to equal treatment by their government” and that “racial, gender, and ethnic preferences are morally wrong.” In decrying the stigma of inferiority that affirmative action imposes on blacks, Mr. Steele has criticized the “impulse to engineer the appearance of racial equality rather than develop a true equality based on a parity of skills between the races.”
The price that these men have paid has been exorbitant. Each of them has been disowned by their race (or at least by the political leaders who claim to speak for their race) and excoriated by white liberals as Uncle Toms. Justice Thomas, for his unconventional positions as a black man, has been branded by the left as the worst Justice on the Supreme Court. Mr. Connerly saw his office vandalized and received numerous physical threats at the height of the campaign for the California Civil Rights Initiative, the ballot initiative that sounded the clarion call for ending quotas and preferences one state at a time. Mr. Steele, for his award winning articles and books, has been compared to 1960s segregationists Bull Connor and George Wallace, by a former President of the NAACP no less.
Before daunting odds, these men have pressed on, hopeful that Americans would judge blacks, as they deserved to be judged, by the content of their character. These men and others like them (Thomas Sowell, Walter Williams, for example) have shown the country a true audacity–an audacity to persist in the lonely and anguished struggle for the hope that one day, America would be a country where race would not matter.
By contrast, Senator Obama cannot even bring himself to decry affirmative action. At best, he expresses a willingness to understand the position of those who oppose it. Grandiose exhortations for equality and justice aside, the black man peddling the audacity of hope, in a post-racial paradigm, cannot even muster the audacity to repudiate a system of government sanctioned racial divisions. The candidate, next to men like Thomas, Connerly and Steele, may stand for all the thrill and giddiness of hope, but none of the courage and conviction of audacity.