- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 12, 2003

When justifying his recent stand against race preferences at the University of Michigan, President Bush felt compelled to place a generous pinch of incense at the politically correct altar of diversity. This obligatory ritual, practiced ostentatiously by virtually all public figures, is not only vague and redundant. It subverts equal opportunity and tears at our social fabric. America is diversity, the world's melting simmering with past and present immigrants.
African-Americans whose ancestors didn't come here voluntarily are also a vital part of the rich ethnic mix dramatically manifest each year at the Super Bowl.
Until recently, immigrants to our shores were eager to become full-fledged Americans. And our public schools that taught only English did a splendid job of assimilating them. This diversity within freedom, buttressed by talent, hard work, and opportunity has made America the envy of the world.
But today, some immigrants, notably self-appointed Hispanic activists, tend to resist assimilation. They champion bilingual education, bilingual ballots, and a bilingual lifestyle, all of which will make them less able to enrich American society. Examples abound:
c Recently, 75 Mexican immigrants in Arizona were sworn in as new citizens in a ceremony conducted largely in Spanish at the request of District Judge Alfredo Marquez.
c A 53-page, U.S. Department of Education guide, "Preparing Your Child for University," is written entirely in Spanish.
Bill Gates' billion-dollar scholarship program to boost ethnic diversity in the sciences, launched in 1999, explicitly discriminates against whites and Asian students.
These bizarre concessions to diversity would have dismayed earlier immigrants who took pride in learning the language and ask only for a fair chance to achieve in their adopted country.
Politically correct assertions of "ethnic pride" or "victim status," if left unchecked, could tear America apart.
Diversity so understood turns e pluribus unum on its head. Teddy Roosevelt put it bluntly in a speech before the Knights of Columbus in New York on Oct. 12, 1915: "There is no room in this country for hyphenated Americanism."
A century before, John Quincy Adams said America seems "destined by Divine Providence to be peopled by one nation, speaking one language" and professing one political system.
The demands for quotas and preferences spring mainly from Hispanic and black activists. Regrettably, prejudice still exists, but the civil-rights laws of the 1960s, embracing Martin Luther King's "colorblind society," require equal access and protection for all citizens. If the implementation of these laws were ever to lead to quotas, said Hubert Humphrey at the time, he would eat them. He would be choking today.
The dogged insistence on diversity at Michigan and elsewhere typically focus too narrowly on ethnic differences, and even more narrowly on blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans, excluding Jews, Asians, and recent emigrants from Europe. Such blatant prejudice punishes merit and erodes mutual respect.
Perhaps the most grievous flaw of ethnic quota advocates is their failure to acknowledge the many other forms of human diversity differences in political, philosophical and religious outlooks, to say nothing of the variety of personal talents, such as music, science, philosophy, and physical prowess and virtues, such as integrity, courage, and the work ethic.
Surely, universities, schools, and society as a whole will benefit when citizens of diverse talents have access to education and training appropriate to their gifts and needs.
Quotas and set-asides in education, government, or business are manifestly unfair to persons who are arbitrarily discriminated against. If quotas were rigidly adhered to in sports, only 10 percent of professional basketball and football players could be African-Americans.
When will the social engineers learn they cannot micromanage outcomes? In a climate of fair play rooted in law, diversity will take care of itself. This was demonstrated in California; after racial quotas were abolished in the university system by Proposition 209, genuine diversity in the student population increased.
Of course, disadvantaged children deserve affirmative support, such as improved public schools, whether in West Virginia or East Harlem. In a diverse society, freed from arbitrary quotas, merit and diligence will be rewarded in the classroom, the laboratory, and the playing field. And the Founder's dream of equal justice under will that much closer to fulfillment.

Ernest W. Lefever is senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

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