The Failure of the Affirmative Action Presidency

Hopelessly Unprepared

Barack Obama has been President for nearly five years.  With all the promises of “hope and change,”  one might have expected a bit more from the nation’s forty-fourth president.  Instead, we have now the lowest labor participation rate since Jimmy Carter, and the most rapidly spiraling debt in our nation’s history.  We have a health-care debacle that is threatening to ruin what remains of the entire nation’s economy, and a foreign policy that appears to have been concocted on the fly by a session of fourth-grade group-think. We have escalating violence in our cities, where people of all colors have become all too familiar with blood in the streets, of children, and racial tensions are at their highest in at least a generation.  Barack Obama was never really qualified for the job, and dismissing all the flowery rhetoric, what the litany of failures demonstrates is that affirmative action even in politics is a failure.  The good wishes and good will of the American people who elected him in part precisely because of his race could not overcome an unpreparedness for the job.  Like so many promoted more quickly merely on the basis of race as a matter of affirmative action, Barack Obama is an unrivaled failure.

Through the course of my working life, I have seen any number of instances in which an individual had been promoted solely on the basis of some affirmative action formula.  It was true even in the Army, and while results did vary, on average, the results would generally be considered failures.  This is because affirmative action often causes pressure to promote individuals who may not be ready, yet, and at a pace that exceeds the merit of their records.  Some proponents of the scheme will argue that a given individual “just needs a chance,” but too often what the beneficiaries of this program really need is more experience and seasoning.  Instead, dropped into a position for which they are not entirely prepared, errors in judgment and immaturity for the role often surface, sometimes in the form of disaster.

In 2008, a majority of Americans made a decision that it was time that America had its first black President, the claims of Bill Clinton to that title notwithstanding.  Polling results at the time indicated that there was a significant proportion of voters who had cast their votes simply as part of a notion about the historic implications of electing a black man to the office.  Sadly, five years later, what we find is what one often finds when following up on affirmative action hires: Failure.  The good intentions of those doing the hiring cannot overcome the lack of actual qualifications of the applicant, and bad things will happen.

Barack Obama had been a state senator from Illinois, and then elected to the United States Senate from his home state.  His scant state legislative record didn’t justify his rapid elevation to the federal body, and his even lighter federal record didn’t begin to justify his rapid ascent to the presidency.  In short, he had been only slightly more qualified to be president by virtue of his record than a person picked at random off the street.  The American people, reaching into the well of their vast compassion and good will, elected a man who had no business becoming President of the United States at least in part simply to further an affirmative action motive, and this decision has led to utter disaster.

In the presidency, Barack Obama has demonstrated at times a petulance about the job.  When the American people don’t respond favorably to something he has done or said, it is assumed that they did not get the message.  When the American people voice their disapproval, it’s “reactionary” opposition, and in too many cases, the President’s political allies have resorted to the claim that he’s met such resistance “only because he’s black.” That’s balderdash, of course, but what makes it more galling is when one recognizes that a fair proportion of the reason he is in office at all is precisely because he is black.  The American people elected him with respect to that particular trait virtually without regard to any other, including his preparedness for the job.

Barack Obama’s ideology is such that I would never find myself in agreement with him.  His notions about law and government are virulent expressions of statism from which this nation will not soon or easily recover.  All of that aside, he might have been a better president if he had been even slightly ready for the job.  Another decade of seasoning might have tempered some of his greatest errors, miscalculations, and simple bad policy with a greater respect for the scope of the job to which he had been elected.  Instead, having obtained the job too easily, and frankly unjustifiably early in his career, he seems not to have any sense of the gravity of the office.  This leads inevitably to the instances in which he has made absurdly foolish statements, from “the Cambridge police acted stupidly,” to “if I had a son, he would look like Trayvon.”   A decade of greater experience, perhaps seeking gubernatorial election in his home state, or otherwise tempering his tone with a broader contextual experience might have made it possible to avoid such spectacles.

Instead, in a rapid process of affirmative action promotions through the political system, Barack Obama went from community organizer to President of the United States much too rapidly.  Thomas Sowell has observed the effects of affirmative action in college admissions, and the great pain it inflicts on the objects of this alleged benevolence, because they stroll onto a campus for which they are entirely unprepared, simply on the basis that they are part of some favored group, class, or race.  What we have in the person of Barack Obama is somebody who has jumped up a ladder, skipping rungs, many rungs at a time, because affirmative action born of a sense of compassion or fairness demanded it.  What we have as a result is a president who is wrecking the nation in stubborn indifference to the fact that he had been unprepared for the job, and who did not have the perspective or temperament to understand his own experiential shortcomings.

He wasn’t qualified.  No summation of the good intentions of the American people could overcome that simple fact.  No number of well-wishes or aspirational hopes could arrest the almost inevitable disasters that are accumulating. When a people who claim to be color blind use their racial motivations to select their leader, nothing good can result, because it permits a sort of self-blinding foolishness to predominate.  Those who elected him out of a sense of racial solidarity will overlook virtually anything he does.  Those who elected him from a notion of affirmative action will likewise try to look past his failures, no matter how severe.  None of these motives centering around his race will begin to repair the damage that has been done, either to the country, or to the man.  One could almost be tempted to feel badly for Barack Obama because he was thrust into an office for which he had neither the training nor the temperament, and in the end, it’s destroying him.  Viewing his treatment by Vladimir Putin, it is impossible to believe that Obama feels anything but contempt for the office he now occupies.  He’s been played for a fool on the global stage in scandalously bad fashion, and with him, the entire country is diminished.

There is a silver lining in all of this, if you’re willing to find it.  One could hope that the American people would recognize the error of their way, taking greater care in future elections to select leaders on the basis of factors excluding race, sex, and age.  There are any number of qualified men and women of every conceivable racial background who are much more qualified to the office than Barack Obama had been, and it is my hope that America is able to recover from its bad choices.  Let us refrain from making electoral decisions on the basis of superficial characteristics that have no relevance to the job, instead focusing on the question of a candidate’s suitability, temperament, and experience for it.  Being a color-blind society means refusing to consider race, either to the detriment or the benefit of those under evaluation.  Infusing a choice with these sorts of notions will always come out wrong, whichever direction the motives might have been leaning.

There is still a great deal of damage that will be done by Barack Obama’s intransigent inexperience.  Even a decade later, the added wisdom might have provided a buffer between his most radical views and the reality of the world in which he operates.  Instead, Obama’s central flaw is the belief that he is somehow entitled to the job, or that he is infallibly capable of executing it without counsel from more experienced people. The full measure of the tragedy of this presidency will never be calculated, because there are so many moving parts, and so many imperceptible tiny effects, but what must be known and measured is the catastrophic large-scale result: We are again a nation beleaguered by a leadership that is intractably fixed upon the worst of all worlds in policy and temperament because we elected a man who was not ready to govern, whatever one thinks of his particular worldview.  This presidency is the living evidence of the failure of affirmative action taken to its logical limits, and the results are breathtakingly and painfully clear.  Good intentions have once again paved the road to Hell, and once more, we are marching silently down its smoldering surface, paying the price in wasted human potential in every field for the sake of an ideal that had remained impossibly flawed.

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