White men can't catch a break these days. First, the white guy lost the Presidential election, now the winner gets to appoint someone to the Supreme Court. Though Obama has so far said nothing, this hasn't stopped speculation of the weirdest variety:
That's a stock image of an average white guy in a tie (from istockphoto.com), not, as one might have imagined, some shunned potential Supreme Court nominee. Now Richard Cohen–liberal columnist in the Washington Post–expresses his deep concern over the fate of white men under the impossible burden of affirmative action. He writes:
As the time approaches for President Obama to choose a successor to Justice David Souter, the term "litmus test" will be heard throughout the land. The White House will deny applying any such thing, but the nominee will undoubtedly be chosen according to where she stands on abortion, unions and other issues beloved by liberals. This is fine with me, but what I want to know is where she stands on Frank Ricci. He's a firefighter.
What follows is a detailed description of Ricci's case (recently argued before the Supreme Court)–how he's been discriminated against on account of his being white, and so forth. That may be, and by Cohen's very sorry description of the case, it looks absurd. But as a general rule absurd arguments do not make it all the way to the Supreme Court, so one might wonder. But that's not the point anyway. Cohen seems to take this particularly absurd case as representative for how affirmative action needs to end, since, of course, racism is over and so forth (because "For most Americans, race has become supremely irrelevant. Everyone knows this. Every poll shows this.").
It's worse than this, however, because affirmative action (as demonstrated by Cohen's extreme example) is profoundly unfair in principle (like trying to "square a circle."):
Liberalism, a movement in which I hold a conditional membership, would be wise to get wise to what has happened. Blatant affirmative action always entailed a disturbing and ex post facto changing of the rules — oops, you're white. Sorry, not what we wanted. As a consequence, it was not racists who were punished but all whites. There is no need to cling to such a remedy anymore. There is, though, every need to retain and strengthen anti-discrimination laws, especially in areas such as fire departments, where racial discrimination was once endemic. Sufficient progress has been made to revert to treating individuals as individuals. After all, it is not some amorphous entity called "whites" who will suffer: It is un-lieutenant Ricci.
Bill Clinton tried to square the circle of affirmative action in his "Mend It, Don't End It" speech of 1995. It was a moving and eloquent address in which he recounted his region's history, reminding us of the depth and ferocity of racism in the South and elsewhere. Trouble is, the New Haven case proves that affirmative action was not mended at all. It remains noble in its ends and atrocious in its means, and it now provides Obama the chance to use his own family's history — indeed his own history — to show why it ought to conclude.
Affirmative action was never meant to "punish" racists by excluding them from employment. This underscores Cohen's failure to grasp both the concept of affirmative and the facts of the case he discusses (his only reference is an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal by two conservative think-tankers). One can found more background on the relevant legal questions here. Without the necessary and obvious context, Cohen's ranting sounds a bit like this.