By WARD CONNERLY, WSJ
Few government policies have had the reach, immortality and consequences of affirmative action. A policy that could be justified at its start, affirmative action has now become yesterday's solution to yesterday's problem. Yet it endures as if nothing has happened in the past 50 years.
There is an interracial man—although self-identified "African-American"—occupying the White House, blacks are on our courts, including the highest court in the land, blacks are mayors of major cities and heads of American corporations.
Notwithstanding all this, President Barack Obama, who was elected largely because Americans thought he would lead the nation to a Promised Land of post-racialism, recently signed Executive Order 13583 "to promote Diversity and Inclusion in the Federal Workforce." The irony is that few institutions in America are more "diverse" and "inclusive" than the federal government, where the workforce is 17% black while blacks are roughly 13% of the U.S. population.
In addition to the president's executive order, the Dodd-Frank financial-reform law included Section 342, promoted by Rep. Maxine Waters (D., Calif.), which should be called the "White Male Exclusion Act." It establishes in all federal financial regulatory agencies an "Office of Minority and Women Inclusion" with responsibility for "diversity in management, employment and business activities."
It is doubtful that anyone can name a government agency that does not include an affirmative-action office or "diversity" department in its structure. The infrastructure of the diversity network is vast.
More than anything else, the pursuit of diversity overshadows and subordinates excellence and competence and often makes us content with mediocrity. The late economist Milton Friedman once told me that "Freedom to compete fairly for university admissions, jobs and contracts is central to all that America professes to be."
In a recent column on these pages, Stanford's Shelby Steele observed that "the values that made us exceptional have been smeared with derision. . . . Talk of 'merit' or 'a competition of excellence' in the admissions office of any Ivy League university today and then stand by for the howls of academic laughter." As a former regent of the University of California, I can confirm that these howls, and worse, are not confined to the Ivy League.
When former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor ruled in the 2003 Grutter v. Bollinger decision that the use of race preferences was constitutional while in the pursuit of diversity, she offered the hope that such preferences would no longer be necessary by 2028. Eight years later, the federal government is moving further away from Justice O'Connor's goal, not closer.
The longer we allow preferences to endure in the guise of diversity, the more damage will be done to the nation. If the president is serious about America rededicating itself to our ideals—which are liberty, economic opportunity for all, individual merit and the principle of equality—then he should begin with rescinding his executive order on affirmative action, calling on Congress to repeal Section 342 of Dodd-Frank, and paring back the burdensome and redundant diversity network that exists within the federal government.
Finally, he should urge Americans to embrace the color-blind vision of John F. Kennedy, who said that "race has no place in American life or law, and of Martin Luther King Jr., who dreamed of the day when the color of his children's skin would be subordinate to the content of their character.
Mr. Connerly is president of the American Civil Rights Coalition and author of "Lessons from My Uncle James: Beyond Skin Color to the Content of our Character" (Encounter Books, 2008).