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Tuesday, April 22, 2008
Hillary Clinton Ducks Discussion of Affirmative-Action Preferences in Philly Debate
When the topic of race-conscious admissions policies came up in the April 16 Democratic debate in Philadelphia, however, she let Barack Obama take a few steps out on that limb and then refused to follow. He stated a position that is actually more centrist than the ones she has expressed in the past--saying that some affluent young black people, such as his own children, perhaps should not be given extra consideration. Ms. Clinton then positioned herself to the right of him by giving an answer Ward Connerly could endorse, refusing to talk about affirmative-action preferences at all and instead focusing on the need to make college accessible for all Americans.
As Color and Money discusses at length, the Clintons have long had an ambivalent relationship with affirmative action and the broader cause of racial integration. When they first moved to Washington DC, they refused to enroll their daughter Chelsea in the heavily black and Hispanic DC public schools, choosing instead to enroll her in a highly exclusive private school, Sidwell Friends. In winning election in 1992, Bill Clinton did not reiterate the Democratic Party's support for affirmative action. When up for reelection in 1996, he avoided expressing opposition to the Proposition 209 ban on affirmative-action preferences before voters in California, for fear of losing that state. At the same time, however, Bill Clinton appointed a staunch advocate of affirmative action and integration, Norma Cantu, to head the Education Department's civil-rights office. And, based on a sweeping review of federal affirmative action policies, he famously declared that the federal government's approach to affirmative action should be "mend it, don't end it."
As described in this Chronicle of Higher Education blog post on the Philadelphia debate, Hillary Clinton had been a fairly strong supporter of the use of racial preferences by colleges prior to the Pennsylvania contest, which is expected to hinge on the votes of blue-collar whites. It will be interesting to see how she answers questions on the subject if she stays in the race through the upcoming primaries in North Carolina, Kentucky, and Puerto Rico.