As he prosecutes his proclaimed defense of America’s middle class in his campaign for re-election, President Obama often invokes the theme of “fairness.” Everyone deserves a “fair shot,” he says, in which everyone plays by the same rules. It isn’t fair, he argues, for Warren Buffett to pay just 15 percent in federal income taxes while his secretary pays 30 percent. Mr. Buffett and other “millionaires and billionaires” should be required to pay their “fair share.”
The principle of fairness is a powerful one in American culture. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Obviously, the president realizes this fact. Unfortunately, the president has been less than consistent in distributing his passion for fairness to other public policy areas, especially to the issue of affirmative-action preferences in college admissions.
Frank Ricci is a firefighter for the city of New Haven, Conn. He is white. Mr. Ricci and 19 other firefighters - 18 white and one Hispanic - passed a test for promotions to management, but city officials invalidated the results of the test because none of the black firefighters who passed the examination had scored high enough to receive consideration for promotion. Mr. Ricci and his colleagues filed a lawsuit alleging that it was “unfair” for the city to take such action, especially after Mr. Ricci had studied extensively for the exam and paid for special coaching to overcome dyslexia. The Obama administration’s Justice Department supported the action of the city.On June 29, 2009, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled 5-4 in favor of Mr. Ricci and his colleagues.
As a high school senior in 2008, Abigail Fisher applied for admission to the University of Texas at Austin. Ms. Fisher, who is white, was denied admission because she was not in the top 10 percent of her high school class, which would have granted her automatic admission, nor was she accepted under the university’s race-conscious “diversity” considerations. Ms. Fisher thinks her rejection was unfair, and the U.S. Supreme Court will hear her case this fall. The Obama administration has supported the University of Texas in the lower courts.
The Obama administration also has issued “diversity guidelines” that essentially advise colleges and universities on how to select students based on race to achieve “diversity.” Many Americans consider such practices to be unfair.
It also is noteworthy that the president signed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which establishes an Office of Minority and Women Inclusion in the Securities and Exchange Commission. This office is regarded by many as an agency that will promote “inclusion” of minorities and women to the exclusion of white males. If so, it will hardly deal in fairness.
Failure of the Obama Justice Department to prosecute the New Black Panthers for threatening voters in a Philadelphia polling place or to take action against the Panthers for offering a bounty for the capture of George Zimmerman are also incidences of unfairness.
The pattern that can be clearly portrayed is that when it comes to race, the Obama administration applies the principle of fairness in a radically different manner than it suggests with respect to the issue of taxation. The “same rules for everybody” and “fair play” for all are conspicuously missing.
It is ironic that a man who was reputed to be the first “post-racial” president in American history has presided over one of the most race-conscious administrations in modern times. This has occurred because Mr. Obama has been able to inoculate himself from this fact by leaving issues that directly relate to race to agencies within his administration, especially the Departments of Education and Justice, rather than addressing the issues himself. In addition, the high profile of other matters, such as Obamacare and the federal deficit, has overshadowed lesser-profile issues such as race.
Fairness is a foundational principle of our nation. That is why it has been invoked not only by the president but by the presumptive Republican nominee for president as well. It is important, however, that the American electorate not be seduced into believing that the principle is being observed when it is not, especially with regard to a sensitive issue such as race.
Ward Connerly is a former regent of the University of California and president of the American Civil Rights Coalition.