Will whites ever vote to improve life for black Americans?

By Philip A. Klinkner

By Salon Staff
July 22, 2000 3:48AM (UTC)
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Bravo! I wish to commend Salon's decision to publish Klinkner's well-reasoned and erudite rebuttal of David Horowitz's opinion piece "The Smearing of the 'Patriot.'" As a member of the so-called "academic establishment," I have witnessed more than my share of hysterical right-wing ideologues launching calumnious accusations against other members of my profession, secure in the knowledge that, as popular journalists, they stand well-insulated from actually having to engage the distinguished scholars they attack in anything remotely resembling serious dialogue. I'd like to think that the Internet will help to change all that, that in the future, space considerations will no longer preclude scholars who have devoted their life's research to a given area of study from rebutting the slanderous distortions and unconscionable misrepresentations of the right-wing hacks and ideologically motivated dilettantes who so frequently attack them.

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-- David Flores

Prof. Klinkner's rebuttal was intriguing, but ultimately displays two core weaknesses.

1) The suggestion that a direct vote (i.e., a plebiscite, referendum, etc.) does not represent a "level playing field" because the results have not been (historically speaking) the ones that the good prof would care for. There are many reasons why whites (or blacks or anyone else) might vote against any given initiatives that do not require them to have racist or other offensive motives. I oppose affirmative action on the principle that if discrimination is bad for one reason, it is bad for all reasons. While I freely concede that many good people of reasonable mind disagree with me, I think that we all can agree that it would be offensive at best to suggest that anyone who does disagree with me is in favor of discrimination (or some other unpalatable motive). Worse still, the suggestion that because these initiatives might fail in an open, direct vote, there is no level playing field is ludicrous.

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2) The professor's suggestion that only during a period of war does America advance the status of its black citizens is only viable if one carefully defines war in such a way to make any period a period of war. The Cold War, though certainly a period of great international tension (at times), cannot even begin to compare with the sort of mass societal mobilizations that characterized WWI and WWII, not to mention the Revolution or the Civil War. The period covered by the Cold War (post WWII through the late '80s/early '90s) covers a period of incredible social, economic and political change. I can hardly imagine that the success of the civil rights movement of the '60s can be attributed to a conscious or unconscious desire on the part of society to leverage the contributions of blacks in a death struggle with the Communist menace (grin).

I tend to find Horowitz's hyperventilations a bit windy myself, but the point behind them is fairly clear. The suggestion that the U.S. is an irredeemably racist country, or that white Americans will do nothing for their fellow black citizens unless compelled by circumstance flies in the face of our own history. Our record is hardly perfect, indeed often sadly inadequate and badly in need of redoubled efforts, but one need only travel overseas, even to such self-consciously "liberal" states such as France, Sweden, Germany, Britain, etc., to see that we have done very, very well indeed.

-- Scott Rosenthal

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Mr. Klinkner, a word to the wise: Before you criticize Horowitz for factual errors, make sure you get it right yourself. Since I interviewed Connerly and covered the affirmative action story while at U.C. Davis let me see if I can help.

In your Nation essay, you write about the benefit of an "elite education." Um, Connerly was a fratboy at Sac State. Maybe I'm feeling smug because we always beat Sac in football, but implying that Connerly's alma mater is an "elite" institution is a bit of a stretch. Even for an essay in the Nation.

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According to your own writing, ignoring other groups is [insert your favorite "ism"] while including them is "window dressing." This sounds more like the reasoning of a lawyer than an academic.

You sarcastically attack Connerly's assertion of a "grass-roots" effort to end affirmative action. Well, it was. Despite all the negative noise by the media and the loud clamor by all the student governments, the chancellors and the professors, Proposition 209 was very popular. When a poll was done of university professors, a majority supported ending affirmative action. And when my student government did a similar poll of Davis students, the result was an even split. So what does one make of academic organizations whose lobbying is in direct opposition to their members? Is this democracy?

Finally, let's not forget one thing. Ending affirmative action would have never taken place in the California legislature which had been dominated for decades by Democrats. So activists made a run around the politicians and gave the issue back to the voters. And the voters will prevailed. I guess you find that reprehensible.

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-- Paul D. Thacker


Salon Staff

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