Bean and Nothingness
An essay on the phenomenological ontology of racial preferences.
(Best of the tube tonight: Catch us tonight on “Lou Dobbs Tonight,” 7 and 10 p.m. ET on Fox Business.)
You can tell that the scandal over Elizabeth Warren’s unsubstantiated claim of American Indian heritage isn’t fading away, because even the liberal Boston Globe is devoting investigative resources to it. “Warren has said she was unaware that Harvard Law School had been promoting her purported Native American heritage until she read about it in a newspaper several weeks ago,” the Globe notes. But it turns out that in its annual bean-counting reports, Harvard officially claimed her as a twofer:
For at least six straight years during Warren’s tenure, Harvard University reported in federally mandated diversity statistics that it had a Native American woman in its senior ranks at the law school. According to both Harvard officials and federal guidelines, those statistics are almost always based on the way employees describe themselves.
Meanwhile, Politico reports that an “exasperated” Warren “told reporters Thursday that she’s certain about her Native American roots ‘because my mother told me so.’ ” She added: “This is how I live. My mother, my grandmother, my family. This is my family. Scott Brown has launched attacks on my family. I am not backing off from my family.”
Fade to white
So it seems the bean-counters in Cambridge and Washington relied on Warren’s own self-definition (bean for itself), which she adopted from her mother (bean for others). But does that mean that all human beans are entitled to classify themselves however they want? Can a white bean pass itself off as a red bean with impunity?
Apparently not. Another set of bean-counting rules suggests that existence (bean in itself) precedes essence. “Both Harvard’s guidelines and federal regulations for the statistics lay out a specific definition of Native American that Warren does not meet,” the Globe reports.
Harvard “defines Native American as ‘a person having origins in any of the original peoples of North America and who maintains cultural identification through tribal affiliation or community recognition,’ ” the Globe adds. The university “notes that this definition is consistent with federal regulations.” Warren “has not proven she has a Native American ancestor . . . and she has no official tribal affiliation.”
Why not remove all subjectivity from the bean-counting process and base it on pure facticity? That is, require that anyone seeking either to study or to work at a university submit to genetic testing to determine his precise racial background. That way preferences could be administered with scientific precision, measuring exactly how much diversity the applicant would bring to the student body or faculty.
We’ll admit it sounds absurd. It is absurd. But no more so than the system that gave us Elizabeth Warren, the “native American woman.”
Not in My Back Yard
Mitt Romney made a campaign appearance yesterday at a charter school in inner-city Philadelphia, but he received a hostile reception on the streets nearby, the Washington Post reports:
Residents, some of them organized by Obama’s campaign, stood on their porches and gathered at a sidewalk corner to shout angrily at Romney. Some held signs saying, “We are the 99%.” One man’s placard trumpeted an often-referenced Romney gaffe: “I am not concerned about the very poor.”
Madaline G. Dunn, 78, who said she has lived here for 50 years and volunteers at the school, said she is “personally offended” that Romney would visit her neighborhood.
“It’s not appreciated here,” she said. “It is absolutely denigrating for him to come in here and speak his garbage.”
Mayor Michael Nutter addressed the protesters. “You want to have an urban experience?” the mayor said. “You want to have a West Philly experience? Then come out here and talk to somebody in West Philly.” Inside the school, Romney was doing just that.
Has anyone heard of a presidential campaign organizing protests against its opponent, as the Obama campaign is reported to have done here? It’s a new one on us.
And the hostile tone of the Obama-organized protesters is reminiscent of the false media caricature of the Tea Party. Imagine if an Obama opponent showed up outside one of his campaign appearances and told a reporter: “It is absolutely denigrating for him to come in here and speak his garbage.” The civility police would be demanding that Romney disassociate himself from such hate. In this case, the Obama campaign actually is associated with it.
The Dream and the Nightmare
The New York Times’s Charles Blow engages in a bit of social liberal triumphalism, similar to that silly Michael Lind piece we dissected Wednesday. Blow likes charts, and this is based on two of them, what his headline calls “G.O.P. Nightmare Charts.” In truth, the GOP doesn’t need to lose any sleep over them.
The first chart is based on the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. Respondents were read a list of groups and asked: “When it comes to (READ ITEM), which party do you feel is most [sic] attuned and sensitive to issues that affect this group?” As Blow explains:
The chart illustrates just how narrow Republican support is. Respondents viewed Republicans as more sensitive to religious conservatives, people in the military and small business owners. That’s not enough for a winning coalition. For everyone else–including the middle class, young adults and Hispanics–Democrats won out. Democrats even scored higher than Republicans among some groups that conventional wisdom associates with supporting Republicans, like retirees and stay-at-home moms. (I wish that the pollsters had also asked about men and racial groups, but unfortunately they did not.)
In truth, the answers to these questions–with the possible exception of the one asking about “you and your family”–tell nothing about “how narrow Republican support” is. They measure not support for the parties but perceptions of the parties’ support for various groups.
The difference is easily demonstrated by looking at the groups at the extremes: Respondents chose Republicans, by 60% to 9%, as the party more attuned to “religious conservatives” and Democrats, by 63% to 5%, as the party more attuned to “gays and lesbians.” Many in the majority in each case prefer the party that is less attuned to the group in question.
That the Democratic Party is seen as more “attuned” to identifiable groups is hardly a surprise. The Dems far more than the Republicans have long tended to approach politics as a matter of building coalitions among disparate interests. Although that sometimes wins elections, it is far from clear that it is superior to a more unifying approach.
The second chart comes from a Gallup poll that asks this question: “I’m going to read you a list of issues. Regardless of whether or not you think it should be legal, for each one, please tell me whether you personally believe that in general it is morally acceptable or morally wrong.”
Result: For all but a handful of issues (capital punishment, wearing fur and medical testing on animals), Democrats and independents were more likely than Republicans to say “morally acceptable.” Among most of the others, Republicans were the least accepting, although some were more accepted by Democrats than independents and some vice versa.
“This does not bode well for Republicans,” Blow writes. As a nation, “we are slowly becoming less religious, more diverse and increasingly open-minded. That is completely at odds with today’s Republican Party.”
But this is absurdly overwrought. Moral fashions change, and not always in one direction. One could easily have constructed a list of issues on which Democrats are more moralistic than Republicans. Moreover, is it really politically helpful to Democrats that they are more likely to find adultery morally acceptable (8%) than are Republicans (3%)?
Similarly, does it make any difference that Republicans are less likely to find gambling morally acceptable (57%) than are Democrats (67%)? Gambling is frequently a political issue, but not one that polarizes the parties.
On the issue that is most polarizing, abortion, only 52% of Democrats said it was morally acceptable, against 40% of independents and 22% of Republicans. That does put the views of independents closer to those of Democrats in the poll. But the poll also found that 51% of respondents thought abortion was “morally wrong” (Gallup does not break this down by party). The Democrats’ pro-abortion moralism puts them at odds with the majority.