Mitt Romney: The Affirmative Action Candidate

As Newt Gingrich and many other conservatives continue to demand that Obama’s college transcripts be released, with the unstated implication — read: dog whistle — being that Obama must be a product of affirmative action who didn’t really earn his academic success, Ta-Nehisi Coates wonders why such questions are never asked about rich white candidates.

But there’s also something else — the frame of skepticism is, as always, framed around Obama, not around Romney. No one wonders what advantages accrued to Mitt Romney, a man who spent his early life ensconced in the preserve of malignant and absolutist affirmative action that was metropolitan Detroit. Romney’s Detroit (like most of the country) prohibited black people from the best jobs, the best schools, the best neighborhoods, and the best of everything else. The exclusive Detroit Golf Club, a short walk from one of Romney’s childhood homes, didn’t integrate until 1986. No one is skeptical of Mitt Romney because of the broader systemic advantages he enjoyed, advantages erected largely to ensure that this country would ever be run by men who looked like him.

This kind of skepticism — racism at its most common — is in the air. It surrounds us, and upon this willful ignorance, Americans demand proof of Barack Obama’s existence. The better of us attempt to contest such demands with facts. But the contest itself indulges racism. To truly get to the meat of the thing we must understand why some questions are asked and some are not.

This echoes arguments over the larger affirmative action question. Much outrage is expressed at the idea of giving minority students a leg up in the college admissions process, but those who spew such self-righteous indignation never seem to question the way the children of the wealthy and the powerful are given a huge leg up compared to other students. And the advantages they have are many.

Even if we leave aside the huge advantages that attach to a wealthy family, from access to elite private schools to tutors to even good nutrition and health care, Ivy League schools love to make “legacy admissions” to the mediocre offspring of wealthy alumni, who often donate large amounts of money to the university’s endowment fund. How else to explain George W. Bush or Dan Quayle? Both are dullards who would likely have ended up going nowhere without the many headstarts their families’ wealth afforded them.

But the bi-racial kid from the wrong side of the tracks who ended up being the editor of the Harvard Law Review and is now president? Something funny must be going on there.

Comments

  1. Michael Heath says

    I have not followed this conservative meme closely. Has Mitt Romney released his college transcripts?

  2. harold says

    1) It is exactly correct that the most extreme affirmative action is provided to the wealthy and connected, who are usually white. That was one of the findings, not reflected in the abstract but noted in the text of the article, of the excellent UC Davis Medical School study of affirmative action. A couple of other points that come out in the article is that even the “affirmative action” students were very well qualified. Incidentally, this matches my medical experience exactly, right down to a white guy from a wealthy family mysteriously getting in with test scores that nobody else could get in with. (In that particular case he was a solid guy and turned out to be brilliant when he actually applied himself.)

    2) I oppose ending current affirmative action programs, but it is worth noting that they are fairly useless. What they do is push the already successful to a minimally higher level of success, and in doing so, they address an anachronistic problem. Circa 1960, a high achiever with African physical appearance like Obama would have been denied access to top professional roles. However, at that time, the average African-American male was far more likely to hold a decent paying job and far less likely to be incarcerated, than is the case today. Therefore, the priority was on making prestigious programs open their doors to African-Americans; ensuring access to more common opportunities was less of an issue.

    That particular goal was met, to the extent that a well-educated man of African physical appearance can now be elected president, but it’s worth noting that if someone gets into Harvard Law School via affirmative action, that person would almost certainly have gotten into a different good law school without affirmative action. (This is not a reference to Obama; Obama shows obvious very high academic intelligence, likely qualified for Harvard on the basis of grades and test scores, and did extremely well at Harvard Law, therefore validating whatever method they used to accept him.)

    Thousands or millions of US children are growing up without access to decent education at all, and are trapped by lack of education, inadequate transportation systems, unofficial segregation, etc, into lives of poverty. (And although such children are disproportionately of visible minority status, many of them are white.) Affirmative action programs operate at the level of college admissions and above, and do almost nothing for the most disadvantaged.

  3. Randomfactor says

    Tax returns, tax returns, tax returns.

    We’ll talk about trivia after Willard releases his tax returns.

  4. Billy Clyde Tuggle says

    What never seems to come up in these discussions about Obama’s college transcripts is whether his withholding them is unprecendented for US presidents. If by withholding them he is unique among US presidents, then that would suggest to me that there is some embarassing information in those transcripts that could damage him politically.

    Of course if he did release them and it turned out that there was nothing embarassing in them, the wingnuts would just claim that they were altered or outright faked.

    \BCT

  5. davidworthington says

    My friend, Kevin Keith, has a fantastic post on white privilege that went up recently. You can read it here: http://leanleft.com/
    In it he points out the centrality of whiteness to the nostalgic past that so many white’s seem to embrace, and that is central to contemporary politics, particularly Republican politics.

    Dave

  6. Jordan Genso says

    What never seems to come up in these discussions about Obama’s college transcripts is whether his withholding them is unprecendented for US presidents.

    Good point. I’ve also yet to see a compelling reason as to why he should. What relevance is there, regardless of what they show?

    With Mitt Romney’s tax returns, there is an obvious reason as to why they should be released (outside of the precedence of past candidates doing so), and that is because one of the biggest questions we face this election is what we want our tax policy to look like. As long as one side is saying the wealthy are “taxed enough already”, then we should see if that is the case by looking at the tax returns of their wealthy candidate.

    Conservatives want to lower taxes for people like Mitt Romney, but they don’t want us to see what the status quo is for people like him. How are we supposed to accept that Mitt’s taxes should be lower, if we don’t know what they are now?

    With the President’s transcripts or any other rubbish the Tea Party Republicans are demanding to see, they’ve never explained what debate about a national issue would benefit from such information.

  7. Chiroptera says

    Billy Clyde Tuggle, #4: What never seems to come up in these discussions about Obama’s college transcripts is whether his withholding them is unprecendented for US presidents. If by withholding them he is unique among US presidents, then that would suggest to me that there is some embarassing information in those transcripts that could damage him politically.

    Huh. Such a thing wouldn’t be suggested to me.

    You forget that the decision to not release transcripts was made in a climate of ever increasingly bizarre conspiracy theories — remember that at the time the accusations of being foreign-born and not really being born in Hawaii was still getting a lot of tractions in even the slightly less crazy fringes of the conservative movement.

    Even if it has been common for past candidates to release their college transcripts, what this suggests to me is that people decided, “Oh, this is getting ridiculous. Enough is enough; if we continue to cater to these nuts, there’ll be no end to it. Just shut the fuck up!”

    Now, that may or may not have been poor political strategy; certainly one can argue about the ethics of such a decision under the basis of the necessity of complete transparency. But, viewing the context in which the decision was made, there is nothing that suggests to me anything suspicious.

  8. harold says

    If by withholding them he is unique among US presidents, then that would suggest to me that there is some embarassing information in those transcripts that could damage him politically.

    I don’t follow you.

    You mean he might have some bad grades? That didn’t seem to bother you when George W. Bush was president. I have many complaints with Obama (just far more with the other alternative), but seeming to be stupid is not one of them. He’s obviously intelligent, whatever else one thinks of him, so why would a bad grade have much significance?

    You mean “affirmative action”? That didn’t seem to bother you either, when George W. Bush was president. He breezed into a Harvard MBA with grades that wouldn’t get the average person a scholarship to dog grooming school (no offense to the honest profession of dog grooming intended).

    What was Obama supposed to do, turn down Harvard?

  9. harold says

    Wingnuts may be doing Obama a favor with all of the unfair attacks. I know that I, personally, have my share of complaints with him, but the constant unfair attacks motivate me to support him, not the other way around.

  10. Chiroptera says

    harold, #9: I know that I, personally, have my share of complaints with him, but the constant unfair attacks motivate me to support him, not the other way around.

    Certainly, these types of attacks against not only the President but reality itself should be evidence to rational people that the Party that goes out of its way to pander to the nuts making these attacks is pretty much unfit to govern.

  11. slc1 says

    Re Harold @ #8

    How about Dubya getting into Yale with SATs in the low 1200s? Only with legacy admissions could he have been accepted there.

  12. harold says

    slc1 –

    Thank you for reminding me. His entire education was an extreme example of affirmative action.

  13. says

    Michael Heath “I have not followed this conservative meme closely. Has Mitt Romney released his college transcripts?”
    Releasing things is for the Common Folk and Democrats.*

    * This is the new normal.

  14. slc1 says

    Re Harold @ #12

    By the way, a score on the SATs in the low 1200s back when Dubya took them ain’t chopped liver. It would probably have gotten him into any of the prestigious state universities (e.g. UC Berkeley or Un. of Texas) but, if he was not a legacy candidate, would not have been anywhere near sufficient for any of the IVYs or Stanford which are the most competitive schools in the country.

  15. caseloweraz says

    I think that Chiroptera (#7) hits it. There may be courses that the right could try to make political points over (e.g. “a history of Marxism”) — as it did with that paper by Michelle Obama not long ago.

    But this bit about course titles is only speculation. The White House may just feel they’ll get jumped on whether or not they release: so why release?

  16. M Groesbeck says

    slc1 @ 14 –

    It depends on GPA, extracurriculars, etc. I applied to college much later than W, but it was very clear that even my perfect SAT scores wouldn’t get me accepted at Berkeley, UCLA, etc. with only a 3.3 GPA.

  17. Reginald Selkirk says

    Romney’s Detroit (like most of the country) prohibited black people from the best jobs, the best schools, the best neighborhoods, and the best of everything else.

    But not from the best music.

  18. imthegenieicandoanything says

    You mean they are bald-faced hypocrites? Hardly news to me when I thought such people [sic] actually had the fact printed, in the blood of a Christian virgin, on their business cards.

  19. slc1 says

    Re M Groesbeck @ #16

    Well, I had no trouble getting into Berkeley with a 3.2 (out of 4) and 1380 on the morning SATs. They didn’t even ask about extracurriculars.

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