August 6, 2008

What does Barack Obama really think about affirmative action?

I read something that surprised me in today's Maureen Dowd column: "Obama didn’t even tell Harvard Law School that he was black on his application."

He didn't?

Googling, I find "Delicate Obama Path on Class and Race Preferences," by Rachel L. Swarns, which I glossed over when came out 3 days ago.

Why didn't I pay more attention to this? Something about that headline? Something about the first few paragraphs?
In 1990, as his fellow students rallied to protest the dearth of black professors at Harvard Law School, Barack Obama wrote a vigorous defense of affirmative action. The campus was in an uproar over questions of race, and Mr. Obama, then the first black president of The Harvard Law Review, decided to take a stand.

Mr. Obama said he had “undoubtedly benefited from affirmative action” in his own academic career, and he praised the intellectual heft and wide-ranging views of his diverse staff.

“The success of the program speaks for itself,” he said of the law review’s affirmative action policy in a letter published in the school’s student newspaper.

Mr. Obama, a Democrat, has continued to support race-based affirmative action, calling it “absolutely necessary” when he was a state senator in Illinois and criticizing the Supreme Court for curtailing it in his time in the United States Senate. But in his presidential campaign, he has unsettled some black supporters by focusing increasingly on class and suggesting that poor whites should at times be given preference over more privileged blacks.
I read about this far the other day. My impression was that Obama, like most students of that era, supported affirmative action — it's what all the good people do — and knew he'd benefited from it. And now, he's refurbishing his position to serve his political ends. The article goes on to talk about his well-known concessions about how perhaps affluent black kids like his own should not get in on the affirmative action. Yawn. [CORRECTED to read "should not get in on..." A typo.]

But keep reading — past many paragraphs:
Former classmates say Mr. Obama chose not to mention his race in his application to Harvard Law School to avoid benefiting from affirmative action, an assertion that his campaign declined to confirm or deny.
I don't remember reading that before. This is important. How would former classmates know this? He would have to have talked about it. They may be misrembering or misreporting what they heard from him (or heard second-hand), but if not, we know 2 things: 1. He declined to show his race on his application, and 2. He chose to talk about that with other students.

Actually, we don't really know #1, because: 1. He might have misremembered or misreported how he filled out his application, and 2. One could decline to answer the specific question about race on the application form but still reveal one's race in the personal essay. I would imagine that Obama's essay explained his unusual parentage and his story of life in diverse places dealing with all sorts of people. That is, I think that the Admissions Committee would have seen strong diversity factors in his application even if he declined to check a what's-your-race box and that they'd figure out that he would serve the school's interest in having darker faces among all the white faces in the classroom. In fact, I'm guessing the campaign doesn't want to talk about this point because of this complexity.

Obama may well have believed that it wasn't right for him, a son of a Kenyan man and a white American woman, to apply for benefits that were designed for the descendants of American slaves, and for that reason, declined to check the race box. But it's possible that Obama chose to hide his race on his law school application because he actually opposed affirmative action.

That he voiced his support for it when he was in law school may not mean that much, because it is so extremely common for law students to say nice things about affirmative action in order to get along with others and to be thought well of. And it's not surprising that as the president of Harvard Law Review, he would compliment his staff and not disrespect the individuals who got their places by affirmative action.

More nuance:
“His work was with those who didn’t have much, and they were black, Hispanic and white,” said Gerald Kellman, who hired Mr. Obama to help organize poor families in Chicago. “He never had much inclination to use affirmative action as a tool then. He wanted to level the playing field by providing early childhood education programs, access to good schools.”

Even as Mr. Obama embraced more traditional liberal views of affirmative action, he was rarely doctrinaire. As a student, Mr. Obama sometimes engaged in and sometimes avoided the bitter racial debates on campus.

As an undergraduate at Occidental College, for instance, he declined to get involved in student efforts to push for affirmative action and minority hiring. At Harvard, he spoke at a rally in support of students who condemned the school administration for failing to offer tenure to any of its professors who were black women.

But he and other editors at the law review were ambivalent when some students argued that women should benefit from the review’s affirmative action policy....

“He was clearly unambiguously in favor of affirmative action as a policy matter, but he recognized some of the ambiguities and the nuances in the argument that the most passionate affirmative action supporters often did not,” said Bradford A. Berenson, who served as associate White House counsel under President Bush and worked on the law review with Mr. Obama.

Mr. Obama was sympathetic to minority students who argued that affirmative action undermined them in the eyes of their white colleagues. But he said he never felt that way at Harvard.

“I have not personally felt stigmatized,” Mr. Obama wrote in his letter to the editor in 1990.

That changed after law school.

A federal judge once asked a friend of Mr. Obama’s whether he had been “elected on the merits” as law review president, Mr. Obama told The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education in 2001. He said the question came up again when he applied for a job as a professor at the University of Chicago Law School.

Mr. Obama has not described how he felt then. But as a state senator, he spoke with empathy about accomplished minority students at elite universities who sometimes lived “under a cloud they could not erase.”
There's some resonance with what Clarence Thomas has said:
But at Yale, Thomas sensed he was being treated differently by teachers and fellow students. The law school had a program that set aside a certain number of slots for minority students.

"I honestly, honestly believed that Yale thought that having a kid who came from working people in the South, who had grown up through segregation, that this kid who had prospered, who had done well every single place he'd ever been, whether an all-white school, all-black school, he's always done well. He will do well here. And it will benefit both him and Yale," Thomas says. "That's what I thought. Well, that isn't what it was converted to."

"It was converted to, 'Well, you're here because you're black,'" Thomas explains.

Thomas did well at Yale, graduating somewhere in the middle of his class, but he says it was the first time anybody had tried to put him in a box because of his race, and whatever benefits he accrued from being there were tarnished when it came time to graduate.

"You know, I was in debt. I needed a job. And I couldn’t get a job," Thomas says.

"Not even with a Yale law degree?" [Steve] Kroft asks.

"I couldn’t get a job. And I just saw the discounting of my degree happen before my eyes," Thomas says.

Asked why he thinks that is, Thomas says, "That degree meant one thing for whites and another thing for blacks…it was discounted."

"You write in the book that your Yale degree was worth 15 cents," Kroft remarks.

"Well, you know Steve, I have still a 15 cents sticker on the frame that my law degree is in," Thomas says. "It's tainted. So I just leave it in the basement."
Of course, as a Democratic politician, Barack Obama would never state his doubts about affirmative action in such a vividly harsh way — even if he thought exactly the same thing.

What does Barack Obama really think about affirmative action?

The fact is we don't know.

But we don't know a lot of things about Barack Obama.

96 comments:

Middle Class Guy said...

"What does Barack Obama really think about affirmative action?"

What ever this week's polls tell him he should think.

Jeff with one 'f' said...

"Obama didn’t even tell Harvard Law School that he was black on his application."

Oh please. With the name "Barack Hussein Obama" on the application I would think checking the "African American" box on the application would be a moot point.

Pastafarian said...

It sounds like he left that "race" box on the application blank, probably knowing that his status as a minority was apparent from his name and from his essay, just to give himself the opportunity to, at some point in the future, point out to someone that he hadn't benefitted from affirmative action, because he'd left it blank.

Which is, at once, understandable, and dishonest.

I doubt that we'll ever know how Obama really feels, deep down, about affirmative action, because there seems to be only a very loose relationship between what he says he believes, and what he believes. He's spent the last several weeks simply co-opting all of McCain's positions, on issues from gun control to oil drilling.

At this point, I think that we should ignore what he says, and focus on what he's actually done -- what votes he's cast as a legislator -- if we're trying to determine what he'll actually do as President.

Jeff with one 'f' said...

Ops- two "application'-s in one sentence- must proof read!

Jeff with one 'f' said...

Oops

AJ Lynch said...

Ann asked "How would former classmates know this?"

Perhaps it was seared in his memory?

Beth said...

It's terrible that Clarence Thomas couldn't fulfill his dreams of going into law. That tainted degree must have put a spin on his life's plans. If only he'd been able to overcome his Yale degree!

Roger J. said...

I don't know about Senator Obama, but for the life of me, I could not tell you what boxes I checked on my application to grad school. He will eventually have to come up with something during the campaign, but what he did over 20 years ago doesnt seem like a big deal to me--and I am most definitely not an Obama supporter

Host with the Most said...

Barack Obama is the least qualified major party Presidential candidate in the entire history of the United States.

Joan said...

And it's not surprising that as the president of Harvard Law Review, he would compliment his staff and not disrespect the individuals who got their places by affirmative action.

Individuals like himself, you mean?

This post strains credulity, with all the ifs and maybes and perhapses. The fact is, Obama doesn't have a single opinion of his own. He's worse than a weather vane.

T J Sawyer said...

All affirmative action is based on the voluntary, "self-reported" checking of those boxes. It is quite possible that Ann Althouse is a black or a native american when reported on the U of Wisc reports. She can be whatever she wants!

The interesting question is what percentage of affirmative action is real, what percentage is a lie and what percentage is a joke?

3rd Way said...

Dowd's point was that if benefiting from affirmative action is a campaign issue the media should focus on the guy that graduated at the bottom of his class as a legacy, not the guy with the funny name that was at the head of the class.

I have to hand it to Ann for the quality obfuscation of that point.

Methadras said...

Joan said...

He's worse than a weather vane.


That's right. He's a nebulous gas cloud. It has already enveloped most of the media and most of his followers. You can see it coming from a mile a way. This large body of nothingness that upon surrounding you leaves you with the feeling and the sense that you don't know where you are and that you won't be able to find your way out. Disturbing isn't it. Makes you wish you he was a weather vane doesn't it.

m00se said...

I recall seeing stats that African American law students don't do as well on bar exams, and having quit in higher numbers from law firms.

This prompts me to ask: is it the fact that they were not up to the rigors of the profession due to the fact that affirmative action or is it the ongoing racism in the profession?

I would venture a guess that in Obama's case, he was either angling very early for a career in politics, or he was sincere in his rejection of affirmative action.

Doyle said...

But we don't know a lot of things about Barack Obama.

Obama as mysterious stranger? You can't get insight like that anywhere else.

Impressions of the Moment said...

He didn't check the box because he is NOT BLACK, HE IS NOT WHITE, HE IS WHAT AMERICA IS--DIVERSE. Obama represents what it will probably take to end racial bigotry in America, mixed race. Perhaps--a huge perhaps--America will then see everyone as HUMAN BEINGS?

He's being attacked because he looks black. If he looked white, he would have no problem.

Bissage said...

Jesus got into the carpenter's union only because they needed a Jew.

3rd Way said...

Does Obama's skin tone make his stance on affirmative action an issue? I don't recall the issue coming up at all during the Kerry/Bush or Gore/Bush election cycles. I am sure we know 10 times as much about Obama's stance on the issue than we know about McCain's, and McCain is likely more of a benefactor of affirmative action than Obama.

bearbee said...

Here is a current application online with the following choices:

If you wish to be identified with a particular ethnic group, please check all that apply:

African American, African, Black

Native American, Alaska Native (date enrolled

Tribal affiliation

Asian American (country)

Asian, incl. Indian Subcontinent (country)

Hispanic, Latino (country)

Mexican American, Chicano

Puerto Rican

Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander

White or Caucasian

Other (specify )


Assuming this is the same as in 1988, he would have a number of selections.

wanderlust747 said...

and everyone said hillary will say and do anything to get elected.

of course, now that dowd mentioned that he didn't mention his race on his harvard app, it will become common knowledge. unless the press gets off their lazy ass and dig into this. i guess why bother? it's more fun thinking of obama as mr. darcy.

Ben (The Tiger) said...

Here's how we know -- he told his conservative classmates he didn't put his race on his application.

Of course, there's the issue of whether we believe what he said. But he did say it.

Richard Fagin said...

What Sen. Obama thinks about affirmative action is much less important than the type of people he is likely to nominate to the federal bench. The statutes concerning racial discrimination are generally fixed; the scope of enforcement has been essentially entirely delegated to the courts. Sen. Obama's opposition to Justices Roberts and Alito is probative on the matter.

Mortimer Brezny said...

One could decline to answer the specific question about race on the application form but still reveal one's race in the personal essay.

How is one supposed to avoid discussing one's personal biography in a personal essay? That's an absolutely ridiculous standard.

reader_iam said...

At the risk of being a contrarian, does it matter, practically speaking, what Obama thinks about affirmative action? It's embedded in the system, and also in the culture of the system and the society now. I, for one, don't think that's going to change, regardless of what any presidential candidate, or president, thinks or even does. I think it's a done deal, a feature of the landscape.

Am I all kinds of crazy?

Christy said...

Who the hell wants to get a position because of their minority standing? Wasn't affirmative action originally to overcome the prejudice against hiring qualified people of color? against giving a quality education to bright people of color? It was only when it morphed into quotas that Affirmative Action took on a bad smell, when the "only because he's black" meme began.

Obama is a proud man. I suspect he was a proud youth. He knew he was smarter and more capable than the average guy. Why wouldn't he want to get into Harvard on his own merits? I respect both his and Justice Thomas's position on the topic. Doesn't mean I'm going to vote for Obama this election.

Careful Doyle, wasn't Twain's Myterious Stranger actually Satan?

When I was a kid the Native American block didn't require tribe affiliation or date enrolled. I sometimes checked both white and N.A. but for the life of me don't remember on what.

reader_iam said...

OK, back to my first pass at outlining the history curriculum for my kid's schooling.

vbspurs said...

Palladian wrote:

his name and from his essay

Exactly what I was going to say.

Also, isn't there an interview process at some point? I'm fairly sure all these details would've tipped off the geniuses at Harvard Law that the chap, well, is considered black in the US.

OTOH, it IS very interesting, in terms of insight.

But I wouldn't be too harsh on him, if I were a militant black activist and reading this. It's not a cop out, nor was he embarrassed to be black, if that's what some people are thinking.

Being biracial is hard enough in any society, without adding youth into the mix. You're just coming to terms without yourself, even at 22. The person you are at 22 resembles very little the person you will be at 42.

In "Dreams From My Father" he mentioned at length how isolated and aware of how different he was racially from other kids in Hawaii.

The NYT later interviewed some of his classmates and friends, and they were astonished to hear it, because Hawaii is such a hodge-podge of races, and their society is very relaxed and open to them.

So, did he write that because it was true he felt isolated due to his race in Hawaii...or would he just have felt that anywhere, because of his own interior conflicts about who he was?

I think most of us would say the latter.

Again I repeat, every time we find out ANYTHING about Obama, we get more questions than have our questions answered.

Cheers,
Victoria

vbspurs said...

RIA, I didn't know you home schooled your kids! Cool. :)

reader_iam said...

Just starting. One kid.

Trumpit said...

Obama is black as the ace of spades!

I thought I'd join the callous, cankerous, and cantankerous commenters' point of view for a change to see how it felt. Frankly, it sucks.

Bissage said...

Jesus got into the carpenter's union only because they knew his dad.

Cedarford said...

but what he did over 20 years ago doesnt seem like a big deal to me--and I am most definitely not an Obama supporter.

Well, it does, because Obama has been puffed up so much in the minds of supporters who believe he in turn must be sold as the All-Wise Man of Perfect Judgment who will stop the ocean's rise....that getting into Harvard Law on AA would spoil the narrative.

Therefore, Obamessiah did not. He is "untainted" because they claim he did not check the "black box" and get any bonus points.

The claim is pretty shaky, as other posters have said, any Admissions Staff that did not pick up on his name or the elements of his required biography submission that this guy was a bona-fide bonus point minority has to be pretty dense.

The 3rd Way - the media should focus on the guy that graduated at the bottom of his class as a legacy, not the guy with the funny name that was at the head of the class.

3rd Way has some remarkable education institutional ignorance.

The service academies to not rank purely on academics, but on matters of officer comportment, conformity. And have a long history of the unconventional "fighters" near the bottom of their class having a promotion record to senior rank exceeded only by the top 10% of the class.

Nor does being named head of law review, Skull&Bones Society, medical review, MBA Journal signify being at the top of class standing.
It signifies a prestigious position awarded by classmates and school. Obama was not at the top of his law school class. And Obama being named Editor was apparantly fairly irregular as "head of X Review" is in large part predicated on the quality of past writings, of which Obama apparantly had none...nor did he ever submit an article afte being named Editor. His selection was was described as based on him being a well-liked minority that the various factions that did write on law and dispute elements of it could agree on because he had no paper trail or strong veiws putting him in any "camp".

A friend of mine who was on Auburn Law Review said his basic understanding was that people at any law school selected to law review were expected to publish something or they would not stay on Review, let alone be appointed editor.

Ann Althouse said...

Mortimer Brezny said..."How is one supposed to avoid discussing one's personal biography in a personal essay? That's an absolutely ridiculous standard."

If you wanted to avoid it and you had any legal writing skill at all, you could. I'm not saying he should have tried to avoid it, just that one might actively hold back the info if you really wanted to make sure you were not given affirmative action. He was in a position to easily reveal it, writing the most natural sort of personal essay, and then by not checking the box, he was creating a data point about himself that could have proved useful in the future.

Palladian said...

"vbspurs said...

Palladian wrote:"

No I didn't!

KevinHayden said...

There is a lot we don't know about Obama. So let's substitute speculation and inject a little bias. Of course, I remember, even as a teen, that there was a ton known about Richard Nixon and he got elected in spite of all of it, leading to the entirely predictable course that ended his presidency.

Yes, I definitely think speculation is a better way to tackle this. We don't know what he thought about Sacco & Vanzetti, Alger Hiss, Patty Hearst or the Beatles. I presume he secretly supported the genocide in Cambodia, thought Rodney King got a raw deal and opposed the government tests done on live subjects for syphilis and LSD.

Clearly, he should not be a Senator. The guy who specialized in crashing planes and chasing skirt who left the navy when it was obvious he'd never succeed on the family admiral track should get elected. Because he clearly has stated his thoughts about whether black Americans should gain an edge in getting into Ivy League schools.

vbspurs said...

Oops! Apologies to Pastafarian and Palladian for the mix-up.

Damn those Ps, as Gregor Mendl used to say.

Mortimer Brezny said...

If you wanted to avoid it and you had any legal writing skill at all, you could. I'm not saying he should have tried to avoid it, just that one might actively hold back the info if you really wanted to make sure you were not given affirmative action. He was in a position to easily reveal it, writing the most natural sort of personal essay, and then by not checking the box, he was creating a data point about himself that could have proved useful in the future.

First, as you know, law students aren't expected to have any legal writing skill whatsoever when they apply to law school; legal writing is a technical enterprise that is taught in law school, not an innate ability or a simple skill that undergrads acquire before applying. Whether Obama had legal writing skill when he applied to Harvard Law is irrelevant.

I'm not sure what "the most natural sort of essay" is, but that sounds like what critical race theorists would call "white skin privilege" talking. It might be perfectly natural for a white person to write about the death of a relative or your love of science-fiction in response to a "tell us about what makes you unique or tell us about overcoming adversity" essay, but for a good many people the most natural thing to write about might be losing a friend in a racist church bombing (e.g., Condoleeza Rice) or growing up in a multicultural environment with an extended family dispersed around the world (e.g., Barack Obama). I would be hesitant to even call that affirmative action, in the sense of race preference (i.e., points for being a minority), because it depends on an individualized assessment of who you are and what you have done. Frankly, Barack Obama and Condoleeze Rice are more interesting people than your average applicant, and there is nothing wrong with mentioning that in an essay in which you're supposed to distinguish yourself by arguing "Hey! I'm special!" I sincerely doubt anyone writes an essay that is as follows:

Hi.

I am black.

Admit me!

bleeper said...

Obama is black? I think he is "skinny".

Mortimer Brezny said...

No. He is "unknown".

Chip Ahoy said...

OK, le'me get the straight. You trying to tell me Obama is black? Do. Do tell. Tell me all about it. Let's examine every single possible fiber. When we're done let's reexamine them. When we're done with that, let's go over our reexaminations. We can never get enough. Life is dull without this.

Affirmative Action -- KEEP RACISM ALIVE !!!!,onehundredeleventythousandandonepointeleven!!! (It's all we've got)

That way, if we can't talk about actual hard-knuckle racism, we can talk about Affirmative Action, the explicitly racist anti-racism, one of the more brilliant strokes of social engineering. Keeps the subject going ad infinitum. Take your bow, Social Fiddlers. *frowns*

The strain of reading this subject again has caused me to prepare a batch of broth from a couple of free-range chickens.

vbspurs said...

No. He is blank.

Roger J. said...

Anyone critizing McCain's class standing at USNA knows very little about the service academies. Not worth arguing or trying to explain how they work.

Bissage said...

If I were half-white and half-black, I’d identify myself as Cheronian.

Trumpit said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Trumpit said...

I have no problem with Yale setting aside 2 spots out of 100 for minority students. I do have a problem with them setting aside the other 98% for rich, well-connected children of alumni, donors, etc. Especially those of dubious academic qualifications like George W. Bush. I don't believe in a dynastic right of the rich and influential to the best schools and the the best pedigrees. Although they should be judged like the dogs that they are. That is a disgrace. And most of you voted for him (twice). That is also a disgrace. Have you no sense of shame? Even a dog has that.

al said...

vbspurs said...

No. He is blank.


The truth finally comes out!

Pogo said...

When asked the color of his skin on the Harvard application, Obama did not check 'black'.
He checked 'thin'.

bleeper said...

Whoa - good Yale/Bush blast. How very 2000 of you.

And speaking of thin, have you seen the Messiah's resume?

Revenant said...

It's terrible that Clarence Thomas couldn't fulfill his dreams of going into law. That tainted degree must have put a spin on his life's plans. If only he'd been able to overcome his Yale degree!

The pity, Beth, is that a somewhat smarter and better-qualified white kid didn't get admitted in his place. He probably would have gone on to even bigger and better things (although, being white, would likely not have been appointed to replace Marshall).

Obviously affirmative action gives black kids options they might not otherwise have had. The problem is that it does that by denying smarter and/or harder-working white or Asian kids those options. Nobody minds that Obama and Thomas got a college education. They mind that better people didn't.

Revenant said...

This line tells you all you need to know:

an assertion that his campaign declined to confirm or deny.

That means it isn't true. If Obama really had refused to list his race on his application, they'd say so.

Beth said...

Revenant, forgive me, but I'm going to pass on discussing affirmative action per se. I'm just galled by Thomas, sitting in the highest position his field offers, among the most powerful and influential people on the planet, whining about how his degree in that very field isn't worth the cheap frame he bought for it. He strikes me as congenitally unhappy and irrational. Just the guy we need in a black robe.

William said...

The thing that caught my attention in the Rachel Swarns article was that when asked about whether his daughters deserved affirmative action, Obama graciously waived that privilege. The reporter further questioned a civil rights activists who stated nonsense-- raciscm is so pervasive in Ameerica that of course Obama's children deserve a few extra points towards admission.....Is there such a thing as negative grandiosity? Delusions not of being Napoleon but of being Quasimodo? I don't maintain that being black in America is an unmixed blessing, but being the President's daughter certainly is. Is being black such an overwhelming disadvantage that like quadriplegia there is no corresponding advantage to make up for it? Who besides God can make an accurate accounting of all the deficits and strengths that give one individual an advantage over another?

Sloanasaurus said...

It is my understanding that Obama opposes the recent slate of state constitutional amendments that prohibit any preferences based on race (such as the recent one that passed in Michigan). Obama said that such amendments are "divisive." Why would he not support such amendments if he wasn't for affirmative action.

Also, it is unbelievable that Obama did not include his race in some way in his Harvard application, otherwise he would have been making a big stink about it. That sort of think would make him much more "post-racial."

Maybe Obama should release his LSAT scores and Undergrad grades so we can get a good understanding of why he was admitted. Also Obama should release an x-ray of his lungs so we can make sure that he doesn't have lung cancer. After all he was a chain smoker for 25+ years.

Obama is not a post racial candidate. He is the next Jessie Jackson. Just read his books. He thinks about race all the time.

Yachira said...

Ann, do you think you could get the photo of the naked chick off of your site's top right-hand corner? It's NSFW. Thanks.

veni vidi vici said...

"All affirmative action is based on the voluntary, "self-reported" checking of those boxes. It is quite possible that Ann Althouse is a black or a native american when reported on the U of Wisc reports. She can be whatever she wants!"

Yes, but if her name was "Kenyatta Ann Althouse", if she neglected to fill in a box on an application, you are certainly naive if you believe the admissions office wouldn't assign her into the "minority" classification regardless.

Mid-eastern Muslim-sounding surname which was changed shortly before matriculating at law school (but which was on the original application, as well as undergrad transcripts, etc.), and the application was not gamed for special ethnic-group hosannas and admission privileges, was nonetheless the cause of my being bombarded with mailings and invites into all manner of "minority law students' association" type organizations' activities. I walked into the Minority Students' Coordinator's office during the first few days of school and introduced my very white-skinned, strawberry-blonde self, and the look of surprise was priceless.

Frankly, judging by many of my classmates' prior academic records, I'm fairly confident that, despite having an incredibly high LSAT score, my overall package minus the minority consideration that I had not in any way asked for would probably not have qualified me for admission to that school.

At the time, I was good, but not *THAT* good.

So, if you think the admissions offices of prestigious top-10 schools will ignore ethnicity based on the applicant's failure to check a box, you are dreaming.

Does any of this really matter? That's the important question. Based on the ethnic makeup of my class, which was overall fairly representative of the general populace, probably not that much. There were good, bad and middling students in each "group" in my class, so it's tough to form a strong opinion on the right and wrong of it based on the actuals, as opposed to the theoretical/moral angle of AA and special consideration for minorities.

reader_iam said...

Just a question, but ... didn't Barack Obama Sr. ALSO go to Harvard? On scholarship, I think, and well before AA. I believe he earned a masters in Economics.

Among other questions/observations one could make as a result of pondering that: Does this make Sen. Barack Obama a legacy of some type?

Henry said...

When asked the color of his skin on the Harvard application, Obama did not check 'black'.
He checked 'thin'.


No, he checked "opaque."

reader_iam said...

Ah, OK: I found an article which appears to confirm what I recalled.

Obama Sr. left Dunham and Barack Jr. after winning a graduate scholarship to Harvard; he enrolled in September 1962, records show. ...

At Harvard, Obama Sr. thrived in the academic setting, earning a master's degree in economics with a focus on econometrics, a mathematics-based specialty used in forecasting. He became a fixture in bars in Cambridge, Mass., chain-smoking in his signature black-rimmed glasses.

Nearly 30 years later, his son would become the first African American president of the Harvard Law Review.

X said...

wait a minute. Obama got into Harvard on the merits? A black guy? I thought they had to have an affirmative action program because institutional racism meant that could never happen. Anyway, I'll bet Harvard counted him as a black guy.

reader_iam said...

The tongue-in-cheek about the legacy question aside (though it does, potentially, rather put him in the same category as certain other politicians), I don't buy the Barack-is-just-an-AA-product meme. Given his parents and other factors, I think it's entirely unsurprising he ended up at Harvard Law and not at all difficult to imagine that he was able and qualified enough to make to the cut all on his own.

I realize that whether he did, or not, is a different questions. Still.

carly said...

Not only is the name "Barack Obama" a heavy hint at the ethnicity of the applicant, but also every Harvard application asks if a family member has attended the University. So, even if Barry is telling the truth about having not checked a box for ethnicity, HLS had to have known that this man with the ethnic name was the son of a former Harvard student from Kenya by the same name.

This "leaked" claim that Barry didn't specifically demand affirmative action preference is simply more disingenuous Barry verbal dancing around an issue so he'll be able to claim any/all positions, depending on who's asking him questions.

Roger J. said...

He's going to be asked about affirmative action--I don't think he is as clever as Bill Clinton's "mend it, don't end it" thing. Of course, the big dawg did neither--but it was a masterful answer.

AJ Lynch said...

Reader made a very good catch. The senator was a legacy technically but could also have gone the AA route if he wanted to.

Revenant said...

He strikes me as congenitally unhappy and irrational. Just the guy we need in a black robe.

Maybe he's constantly unhappy. I don't know the man.

But there is nothing "irrational" about him being bitter about the stigmata of affirmative action. He is constantly vilified by the Left as an unqualified hack who only got picked for the courts because he's black. Your own post pretty much states that he wouldn't have a Yale degree if it wasn't for affirmative action. The truth is that none of us will ever know if he would have gotten one or not. This means that even though Thomas is an extremely intelligent and thoughtful individual he can never really defend himself against the charge that he owes all his success to the color of his skin.

Blue Moon said...

Rev:

That's the rub. Whether you are for AA, against it, want it mended... The black man who goes to an "elite" university often feels like he is under suspicion. I cannot decide which is worse -- when people start probing my SAT, LSAT and GPA to see if I "deserved" my admission to the two "elite" public universities I attended, or the people who go the other way and overpraise me for being articulate and well-spoken. Don't get me wrong, there are worse things in life than being a high acheiver relatively speaking who some think is there undeservedly.

Beth said...

Don't get me wrong, there are worse things in life than being a high acheiver relatively speaking who some think is there undeservedly.

Blue Moon, don't take this as a comparison with your particular experiences, but your post did remind of the time a pleasant woman from Michegan said to me, "You're from the South? But you're so literate!"

Only later did I hear the best reply, from a Mississippian describing the conundrum of illiteracy against the backdrop of Faulkner and Welty: "Well, we cain't read, but we shore kin write."

Beth said...

Your own post pretty much states that he wouldn't have a Yale degree if it wasn't for affirmative action.

No, he says that, not me. I have no reason to think that - it's his own complaint, not mine. But his later complaint is absurd. He says his degree was worthless, and he couldn't get a job. Obviously, that's not true.

Blue Moon said...

Beth:

At my southern school, we had a separate orientation for out of staters. I am from the West, but most of the out of staters at this orientation were DC burbs, NY/NJ/PA or New England. A very distinguished professor of southern lit got up and said "Remember, just because someone has a southern accent doesn't mean we're stupid." I laughed because as the son of a Kentuckian and an Alabaman, I knew that. I suspect many of my classmates laughed in the "Yeah, whatever hick" way.

Trooper York said...

The last three threads sucked big time, and despite the presence of Paris Hilton, not in a good way.

Change the subject please.

Cedarford said...

Trooper York said...
The last three threads sucked big time, and despite the presence of Paris Hilton, not in a good way.
Change the subject please.


Trooper, I'm just surprised you missed a golden opportunity to discuss the many swimwear purchase opportunities at deedeevalise.com similar to the "smoking hot bitch-only" leopard print sunbathing number Paris wore in her spoof.

Mixalhs said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mixalhs said...

What's truly sad is that Clarence Thomas cannot recognize the absurdity of a *United States Supreme Court Justice* saying that his Yale law degree is only worth 15 cents.

Trooper York said...

Cedarford, thanks for the plug but it's leeleesvalise.com and we have a full selection of bathing suits in sizes 10-28.

Of course for Paris 10 to 28 is can only be either her IQ or the number of guys she banged this week.

But thanks for the thought.

somefeller said...

The last three threads sucked big time, and despite the presence of Paris Hilton, not in a good way. Change the subject please.

Agreed, this is boring. Can we start talking about Evan Bayh again?

knox said...

"What does Barack Obama really think about affirmative action?"

What ever this week's polls tell him he should think.


Hey, given the alternative, that's just fine with me. That attitude got us a *very* conservative Democrat president in Bill Clinton.

mrs whatsit said...

Victoria asked, "isn't there an interview process at some point?"

I don't know how it is now, but when I was applying to law school -- which would have been at just about the same time Obama was -- there were no interviews. It all happened on paper: Grades, LSATs, essay, done. There weren't even admissions tours of the sort undergraduate schools now use to gauge the interest and commitment of their applicants.

So, while his last name or the content of his essay certainly may have been tip-offs, there probably wasn't any face-to-face contact with anybody in admissions.

knox said...

jeff with one f, awesome avatar.

blake said...

Beth--

Awesome story. Prejudice against Southerners is evergreen.

blake said...

Knox--

Awesome use of the word "awesome".

Kut said...

Prof. Althouse you said: "The article goes on to talk about his well-known concessions about how perhaps affluent black kids like his own should get in on the affirmative action. Yawn."

But Rachel Swarns actually said, "During a presidential debate in April, Mr. Obama said his two daughters, Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7, “who have had a pretty good deal” in life, should not benefit from affirmative action when they apply to college, particularly if they were competing for admission with poor white students."

AJ Lynch said...

Trooper:

We are in the doldrums of summer. The intertubes don't get an exemption.

Beth said...

Trooper, let's have a singalong:

When you're a Jet,
You're a Jet all the way
From your first cigarette
To your last dyin' day.
...

Take it away, Brett!

Kirby Olson said...

Obama has always been very careful to avoid making a clear decision, or stating a principle that he will defend with his life.

He's the exact opposite of McCain.

Where Obama is really good is on the dance floor.

The Exalted said...

barack hussein obama sounds like an african american name? are you all daft?

schools 20+ years ago had arab/arab-american affirmative action policies? really?

and, oh the horrors, he talked about it. amazing, that the topic of affirmative action might come up among classmates, at least one of which is black (thats obama), at a prestigious intellectual institution concerned, to a large degree, with social justice. maybe he was asked? who knows? lets speculate wildly to his detriment, right?

and revenant, dunno, seems obvious to me the fallout that comes from this: sounds like he's denying his blackness. of course he doesn't want to do that, both alienates his base and makes him look like a phony. you, of course, assume he's a liar for it, lying to his friends/peers 20 years ago. perceptive.

also, roger, i dont understand your comment re: mccain's finishing at the bottom of his class can't possibly be understood or explained civilians.

Ann Althouse said...

Kut: "Prof. Althouse you said: "The article goes on to talk about his well-known concessions about how perhaps affluent black kids like his own should get in on the affirmative action. Yawn." But Rachel Swarns actually said, "During a presidential debate in April, Mr. Obama said his two daughters, Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7, “who have had a pretty good deal” in life, should not benefit from affirmative action when they apply to college, particularly if they were competing for admission with poor white students.""

Arrgh. That was a typo. I'm sorry. I've corrected it to add the missing "not."

Thanks for pointing out what I might never have seen.

Revenant said...

barack hussein obama sounds like an african american name? are you daft?

It sounds like an African name. The way you can tell is that his African father was named... Barack Hussein Obama. Who Harvard had on record as an alumnus, since he'd gone to graduate school there... after attending the University of Hawaii on a program for, you guessed it, promising African students.

So yeah, Exalted, the admissions department at the nation's most exclusive private college probably figured it out. It doesn't exactly take a rocket scientist. Yeah, I guess some uneducated dolt might say "huh, Barack HUSSEIN Obama, that's kinda like King HUSSEIN of Jordan, must be one of them Ay-Rabs". It just isn't very likely.

schools 20+ years ago had arab/arab-american affirmative action policies? really?

Not that it matters in this case, but yes.

revenant, dunno, seems obvious to me the fallout that comes from this: sounds like he's denying his blackness

You should meet some actual black people sometime. I doubt there is any significant quantity of black people out there who think you have to accept special treatment from white folks before you can be considered genuinely "black".

Besides, who are you kidding? Obama's got the black vote locked up. He could run out and join the Klan and he'd still get at least 90% just on the basis of his skin color.

vbspurs said...

Among other questions/observations one could make as a result of pondering that: Does this make Sen. Barack Obama a legacy of some type?

RIA, I made this observation too, a while ago. In relation to GW Bush being a legacy at Yale.

Cheers,
Victoria

vbspurs said...

You know, this post had me thinking about it all day.

Tiger Woods filled out "Asian" in his Stanford application form, as is famously known. He considers himself "caublasian", since he's only 1/4 black.

If memory serves, when they started placing "race" in application forms for affirmative action purposes, they had ("tick/check one"):

White
Black

...but did they have "other"? I think that was more recent.

Unless they left it blank, and he failed to put even "other".

I wouldn't think it's very significant if he didn't think of himself as being white or black.

But I WOULD think it significant if he didn't even bother to answer other or similar.

It's like he's not comfortable with himself, PERIOD.

Cheers,
Victoria

veni vidi vici said...

"It's like he's not comfortable with himself, PERIOD."

Or, in a more charitable yet equally plausible formulation (careful, what's that say about the quoted statement?), it's like being from a mixed-race upbringing, maybe he really doesn't care that much about it personally and as it applies to his life (being the guy that seems to have floated in his "detachment" from one to the other "racial sphere" (for lack of better phrasing)), but his resultant struggle has been to find some sort of place of belonging for himself, being of both races, thus in some senses (psychologically, most of all) of neither.

I can relate, and totally understand that idea.

I can also (but barely) respect the idea that he might not be comfortable in his own skin, but if so, it's got more to do with his political positioning and the need to "be what someone else (the party's various interest groups) needs him to be" than with his color or racial identity.

Look at the dude talk about how he's "never" doubtful about himself, and try to convince us that he's "uncomfortable in his own skin" a la Kerry or Gore.

Good luck with that one. If anything, he's supremely confident/comfortable/self-assured, thin-skinnedness aside. Comparisons with W Bush are entirely appropriate in this regard; recall that many remarked on his likeability stemming from his "comfort in his own skin" / knowledge of his own limitations, etc., and yet he was also famously considered somewhat peevish and unable to take criticism (some would call it "thin-skinned"). If Obama's lacking that self-comfort level, so is Bush 43, which is so ludicrous that I'll just stop there. That anti-Obama meme's a nonstarter.

This was brought to you buy a guy who doesn't actually like Obama much from a politics perspective, but looks upon both these toolbags as rather pathetic choices.

veni vidi vici said...

What does anyone care? This "fairy tale" campaign is over at the convention, mark my words.

Obama can't beat 49%. He's steadily losing his support among the young and women, if polls are to be believed. Meanwhile, Bill C. the other day was interviewed and found a million ways around saying Barack is "ready" for the office.

Then, today, Hillary's in the news trying to bump up the pressure at the convention, bring on the vote, it's not over, etc.

Superdelegates watching Obama's likely-to-continue-declining poll numbers in the next few weeks will be panicking; a friendly "it's not too late, you know" call from team H's minions will be well-received by many of them.

At the convention, I predict the first vote won't be conclusive with the proper number in Obama's column. Once that happens, delegates are free, and the second vote will go to Hillary based on her advance prep of superdelegates and her asskicking convention speech, which will feature just subtle enough "told you so" undertones vis. the One's performance to date.

Obama will be named as VP nominee to keep the peace. If they win in November, Obama will be shipped off to the Naval Observatory grounds, where his duties as VP will be to gaze at his naval for the next 4 years, in the manner of most VPs whose names you know only because of what you learned in school, and whose accomplishments were nonexistent. Note also that the Clintons sidelined Gore for most of his tenure; it wasn't til he was really needed to manage scandal-spin that they trotted him out in earnest. They'll know how to handle Obama.

Question: Where the hell has Terry McAuliffe been since Hillary dropped out? Conspicuously not with the presumptive nominee's organizing efforts.

This will be the greatest rope-a-dope play in political history.

If Obama hadn't just yesterday called for all the MI and FL delegates to be seated at the convention, I'd think he was out of the loop. As it is, I'm beginning to think this deal was sealed in Feinstein's living room, weeks ago.

You heard it here first.

veni vidi vici said...

Note also that the Democrats successfully did a switcheroo in NJ a few senate races back, with regard to that Lautenberg fellow.

Or it might have been the seat of "Launch Loincloth" or whatever his name is/was.


Oh, and I meant to say that Obama's VP duties would be to observe his navel at the Naval Observatory. Sorry for the grammatical imprecision.

jimbeau said...

One possibility that seems to have gone unmentioned is that Obama got in due to affirmative action, but like Clarence Thomas then felt the pressure and lowered expectations of classmates, so then told them he hadn't checked a race box in order to lift his standing among them.

This fits the known data - that we only "know" from classmates that he didn't check a race box.

That being said, I'm sure Harvard admission officials could pick up enough clues from his application, and from pulling his father's record as a legacy, that his race would have been apparent.

exhelodrvr1 said...

I don't think Obama thought he would be the nominee this election, but things snowballed for various reasons and now he is in a position he isn't ready for.

submandave said...

Having biracial children myself I can easilly see Sen. Obama looking at the race block on the application and saying "none of these apply", leaving it blank and then addressing it in his essay. So it may entirely be true that he left it blank, but to assert that his racial status was unknown to the admissions office is silly. Did it affect his admission? Who knows, but the possibility should not be completely discounted given the expressed goal of Harvard to increase their minority enrolement.

In discussing the Senator's views on AA, though, many seem to be digging into his student past while completely disregarding a more contemporary and significant influence: Michelle. Our spouses have a profound influence on our thoughts and feelings, and one would be hard pressed to convince me that Michelle Obama isn't firmly supportive of AA based upon both the historical record and contemporary statements. Whatever positions or beliefs the Senator may have held as the editor of the HLR, it seems likely that those thoughts have over the years been influenced by those of the person with whom he shares his closest personal relationship. So, while he has frequently been quite coy on the topic I tend to suspect he is not as opposed to AA as ti is practiced today as some might want to project.

... said...

Head of his class ? Obama was never the head of his class at Harvard ...

His ranking at Harvard ? do any of you Obama supporters even have the slightest idea what his class rank was ?

I'll take at last man in his class at the United States Naval Academy over the top man at Harvard Law anyday of the week ...

McCain certainly got into the Naval Academy because of his family connections, like everyone else in his class ... funny thing is they shave everyone's head the same on day one and from that point forward your "family" can't do a damn thing to help you. Its all on you to get thru the 4 years. And its all you to get thru flight training, and its all you to get thru carrier training and it certainly was all him to get thru his time as a POW where he was really tortured.

spindok said...

Affirmative Action as we knew it is on the way out, yet we can't count on politicians do drive that. It has to come from "we the people". For politicos it is a lose-lose scenario.

I am familiar with strict race based criteria and experienced that in med school application process. As a white jewish male applicant I was over represented and had to deal with that.

Truth is that I can understand how a professional or graduate program cant go on numbers alone. Some candidates are just interesting or otherwise desirable because of background. If you majored in music, spent 4 years as a trader on wall street before switching to this track, or some other similar experience, but still made decent-good scores in physics, chemistry, and biology then you sound more interesting then the average straight arrow with better numbers.

Might make you better qualified to deal with the actual human condition which will be most of what you will do later when the exams are over.

Yet what I saw was a disaster. Sure we had many African-American students who could have kicked butt anywhere. There was also a subset who were out of their league in this high tension environment. They had been promoted by virtue of nothing but race, not some special accomplishment. I cant fault any of them. I would have taken the same chance and chances are circumstances after the fact molded them into fine physicians. Most people rise to the occasion.

We cannot look to a candidate for president for guidance on this issue. It has to come from the ground-up and then the politicos will respond.

Sorry I cant find much fault in Obama on this issue, although I have many others.

Spin