Wednesday, October 21, 2020
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On Affirmative Action, Jim Webb Is Right…and Wrong

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By now, most of you have probably read Jim Webb's Wall Street Journal editorial, "Diversity and the Myth of White Privilege." I've been giving this some thought, reading what others have written, and have a few reactions of my own.  In sum, I believe that much of what Jim Webb wrote was correct and needed to be said. I'd even go so far as to say that it was courageous for Webb to write on this subject.  Although, given how much Webb admires Daniel Patrick Moynihan - author 45 years ago of the groundbreaking report, "The Negro Family: The Case For National Action" - and also how much Webb has already spoken out on this matter (for instance, see Webb's 1995 Wall Street Journal article, "In Defense of Joe Six-Pack"), it's not surprising.  Also, here's Webb from his Meet the Press debate with George Allen in September 2006.
Now, with respect to affirmative action, my view on affirmative action has been that-and, and remains that it's a 13th Amendment program. If you go back to the Johnson administration's executive order on affirmative action, it was based on the 13th Amendment and the Civil Rights Act of 1866, designed to remove the badges of slavery. African-Americans are the only ethnic group in this country that have suffered from deliberate discrimination and, and exclusion by the government over generations. When this program expanded to the present day diversity programs, where essentially every ethnic group other than Caucasians are included, then that becomes state-sponsored racism. And we should either move this program back to its original intent, which I support, or we should open up diversity programs to the point where poor white cultures-and they are cultures, as in southwest Virginia-have some opportunity.
So, again, none of what Webb wrote this past week was surprising. At least not if you've been following him for any length of time. However, Webb's latest venture into the thorny territory of race comes at a particularly interesting time in this country, with the nation's first African American president in the White House, with a still-bubbling controversy over the firing (and possible rehiring) of Shirley Sherrod, and with the NAACP demanding that the Tea Party movement "to be responsible members of this democracy and make sure they don't tolerate bigots or bigotry among their members." Into that maelstrom wades our old friend Jim Webb, ever the one to throw himself at an armed-to-the-teeth bunker. In this case, that "bunker," metaphorically speaking, comprises the interconnected issues of race, ethnicity, class, social status, and gender. Just another day at the office for Jim Webb!

With that, here are a few thoughts of my own, and specifically my opinion of where Webb is right - and wrong. [NOTE: This article turned out to be way longer than I originally intended, once again demonstrating that this is not a simple or easy subject to tackle.]  

Webb Sure To Stir Hornet’s Nest

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Sen. Jim Webb had an op-ed published today in the Wall Street Journal about his desire to see affirmative action as now practiced ended. When I first read snippets of the editorial on Huffington Post, I thought, "Uh, Oh." Then, I went to the WSJ link and read the entire article. The article contains nothing Webb hasn't said before.

Before some on the left jump to the conclusion that Jim Webb is trying to end affirmative action where it is needed, I beseech them to read the whole argument Webb is making. It really isn't a change from the view he had on affirmative action when he ran for the U.S. Senate.

His thesis is this: When President Lyndon Johnson pushed for affirmative action programs, he based his argument for the laws on the 13th Amendment and on the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which authorized the federal government to take actions in order to eliminate "the badges of slavery."  As Webb said, "Affirmative action was designed to recognize the uniquely difficult journey of African-Americans."

Using specific numbers of the low educational attainment among poor whites in the South, Webb notes that they, too, are at the bottom of the  economic ladder. He is NOT attacking affirmative action for black Americans. He simply does not feel that recent non-white immigrants, including Indians and Chinese, should benefit from laws that were designed to assist black citizens, who, Webb notes, "despite a veneer of successful people at the very top still experience high rates of poverty, drug abuse, incarceration and family breakup."

This article is not an attack by Jim Webb against black Americans. It is Jim Webb standing up for poor people, regardless of the color of their skin.