Affirmative Action began with a 1960’s Civil Rights movement that was created to provide equal employment and educational opportunities to groups that had been historically discriminated against. The movement first became known as Affirmative Action in 1961, when President Kennedy issued an Executive Order that directed government contractors to take “affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin.” This same order established the President’s Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity, which is now known as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
Initially, Affirmative Action policies focused on improving educational and employment opportunities for African Americans. In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed an Executive Order requiring government contractors to increase their numbers of minority employee by enacting Affirmative Action policies. He expanded the policy to include women, and signed he Civil Rights Act into law, stating “And this is the next and the more profound stage of the battle for civil rights. We seek not just freedom, but opportunity. We seek not just legal equity, but human ability; not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and equality as a result.” This led to colleges and universities adopting similar systems over the following years. This caused enrollment rates for African American and Latino students to steadily increase. While there are still opportunity gaps that exist in the educational system, they have been steadily shrinking. However, the use of race as a factor in college admissions has been, and continues to be, a highly contested issue. Traditionally, the Democratic Party has strongly supported Affirmative Action, stating “Our commitment to civil rights is ironclad…We support affirmative action to redress discrimination and to achieve the diversity from which all Americans benefit.”
Arguments Against Affirmative Action
Republican views on Affirmative Action tend to be negative. They believe that policies such as these force employers and schools to consider lesser-qualified candidates for the sake of having a more diverse representation. For this reason, the party has often fought for a repeal of Affirmative Action legislation. Despite the common perception, Republicans do not intend these efforts to be racist. They do, however, want to maintain a merit-based system both within elite educational institutions and the American workforce. The 2012 Republican National Committee platform states, “We support efforts to help low-income individuals get a fair chance based on their potential and individual merit; but we reject preferences, quotas, and set-asides, as the best or sole methods through which fairness can be achieved, whether in government, education or corporate boardrooms…Merit, ability, aptitude, and results should be the factors that determine advancement in our society.”
Despite the traditional party view of opposing Affirmative Action, President Nixon was an advocate of such policies. Nixon created goals and timelines surrounding Affirmative Action legislation. His support, however, seemed to stand strongly within a system that helped minorities overcome the challenges presented to them by a biased society without requiring quotas of the institutions in question. He stated, “We would not impose quotas, but would require federal contractors to show affirmative action’ to meet the goals of increasing minority employment.”
Silence Regarding Affirmative Action
Due to the common misconception of Republican stances on Affirmative Action as racism, many Republican candidates choose to remain silent regarding their views on the issue. Mitt Romney did not discuss the issue at all during his presidential campaign. In fact, just about every Republican candidate except for Donald Trump has chosen to stay silent on the topic during the last few elections.
Democrats vs. Republicans on Affirmative Action
Many Democrats accuse Republicans of taking advantage of Affirmative Action-like strategies for political goals while opposing such policies in the workforce and educational institutions. In 2012, Republicans gave coveted speaking slots to newcomers like Mia Love, a black congressional candidate in Utah, and recently elected minorities such as Marco Rubio, Nikki Haley and Susana Martinez. Some of these newcomers, such as Love, were obscure politicians. For this reason, many accuse Republicans of selecting them for the voter benefits of having minority speakers present. While some Democrats find this so-called tactic offensive, others see it as an excuse to proclaim a partial victory. They view the Republican promotion of minority candidates and speakers as the party practicing what they won’t preach, and like to claim it as evidence of hypocrisy.
Public Opinion On Affirmative Action
While a large percentage of the general public supports Affirmative Action as a general idea, they also seem to have complicated and sometimes contradictory ideas surrounding the finer details of Affirmative Action policies. A Pew Research study showed that the more specific details of Affirmative Action were discussed, the more likely polltakers were to resist the idea. Opinions also tended to turn negative when programs involving preferential treatment for minorities were discussed. Only 16 percent of respondents reported being impacted by Affirmative Action. In general, white respondents reported being harmed by it, while black respondents reported being helped.
In a poll of 1,201 adults nationwide, 63 percent responded that they favored “affirmative action programs designed to help blacks, women, and other minorities get better jobs and education.” When the question was rephrased to mention giving “special treatment” to these groups, only 57 percent responded in favor. A survey taken the previous year, which did not state the words “Affirmative Action” but discussed “preferential treatment” and supporting “every possible effort” to improve the position of minorities received only 24 percent support. All of the polls saw a larger support for Affirmative Action than a previous poll taken in 1995.
The Fairness Of Affirmative Action
While 60 percent of Pew Research study respondents reported feeling that Affirmative Action as part of college admissions was a good thing, this number was not supported by questions discussing the fairness of the program. Only 47 percent reported feeling that the policies were fair, with 42 percent stating that they were not fair. These statistics varied greatly with race and with gender.
Mitt Romney on Affirmative Action
Mitt Romney, like many Republicans, chose to stay silent on this issue for much of his presidential campaign. However, his records on the topic show conflicting views. As governor of Massachusetts, Romney issued an executive order in 2003 that eliminated an Affirmative Action program. He later reversed this order when he received pressure to do so. In response to questioning about these contradictory actions, “Romney has said he supports workplace diversity but opposes quotas in hiring, government contracting, school admissions and the like.” Romney’s views do seem to have shifted slightly over the years. When searching for his senior staff as governor, Romney was surprised at the vast majority of male applicants. He stated, “”I had the chance to pull together a cabinet, and all the applicants seemed to be men…I went to a number of women’s groups and said, ‘Can you help us find folks?’ and they brought us whole binders full of women.” This makes it clear that Romney’s opposition to Affirmative Action is primarily quota-based, and that he is not against equal consideration or seeking out minority applicants.
Chris Christie on Affirmative Action
Chris Christie seems to have remained largely silent on the issue of Affirmative Action as well. However, many have accused Christie of neglecting Affirmative Action programs that have been in place during his time as governor. In 2008, New Jersey stopped producing its annual Affirmative Action Plan. Worker allegations have stated that “budget cuts and lack of interest from the Governor’s office have left the affirmative action goals of the state untended.” Other employees have made accusations that “the state has become much less aggressive in policing state contractors to see if they’re hiring women and minorities, which is required by law.” Chair of New Jersey’s Legislative Black Caucus, State Senator Ronald Rice spoke out against Christie regarding these policies, saying “I just don’t believe that Governor Christie, and I’ve said this is my opinion, the opinion of a lot of folk, has any interest except for a bunch of rhetoric when it comes to women and minorities.”
Jeb Bush on Affirmative Action
Bush, like much of his party, is against Affirmative Action. During his time as governor of Florida, Bush eliminated Affirmative Action in the state’s public university system. This was done via an Executive Order, which Bush signed “without inviting public comment.” Bush stated, however, that he had a plan to replace the Affirmative Action policies that was “embracing diversity, not rejecting it.” Like many Republicans, Bush seems most put off by the quota-based and government-enforced nature of Affirmative Action, stating that his new plan would create “a place where opportunity is real and lasting, not false and forced by government.” Overall, Hispanic and African American enrollment greatly increased in Florida. However, many believe that this is simply because the state’s Hispanic population as a whole increased, and because college admissions overall increased as well. Just how successful Bush’s plan was is still debatable.
Donald Trump on Affirmative Action
As with many issues in politics, Donald Trump’s beliefs on Affirmative Action are more controversial than the majority of the party. Trump has been known to accuse Affirmative Action recipients of robbing deserving white people of their positions, and has gone so far as to accuse President Obama of being admitted to college solely based on his race. Even many members of his own party believe that this is taking things too far, openly recognizing and criticizing his statements as racism.
- Affirmative Action Overview – National Conference of State Legislatures
- Conflicted Views of Affirmative Action – Pew Research Center
- Why won’t the GOP talk about affirmative action? – Salon
- Obama and Romney on affirmative action – VCU Votes
- Jeb Bush’s affirmative action atrocity: How his reactionary record on race reveals his true colors – Salon
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