The Breakfast Table

The Illusions of Affirmative Action

Rev. Joni:

Sermons over breakfast? Now I know what Bob Dole is getting this week. The news quotes Liddy as saying, sweetly, that he is “in the woodshed.” If we were having this exchange in person over a real breakfast table, you would know not to trifle with me today, since I am wearing my Darth Vader tie, in honor of you-know-what. But you have dragged us into the muck of policy. Worse, before I’ve even had my second dose of caffeine, you insist on invoking ponderous Ivy League scholars in favor of your position on what you call “affirmative action” and I call “racial preferences.”

So I will roll out my own Yodas, the redoubtable Stephan and Abigail Thernstrom, who expose the Bowen-Bok river as a dry creekbed. In the February Commentary, they point out that 21 percent of the blacks admitted to these elite schools failed to get a degree there or anywhere else–more than three times the white rate. Many preferentially admitted grads do go on to professional schools, but here too there is a disturbing development: Barely half the blacks admitted to law school end up graduating and then passing the bar within three years of graduation. When I first heard it, the Bowen-Bok thesis sounded too good to be true, and apparently it is.

The IRS stories sound like grousing in the ranks from a few people who are used to having a free rein to intimidate and mistreat taxpayers–sort of like cops who treat every investigation of police brutality as a boon to criminals. Sure, they will lose some revenue from incorrigible tax cheats (and libertarians more fanatical than I) who will exploit the new rules, just as police fail to solve some crimes because they are barred from conducting unreasonable searches and seizures. I will endure that cost stoically. The real problem here is a complex income tax system that mandates vast state intrusion into matters that should be private, which ought to concern even people who think the highest use of Joni Balter’s paycheck is to finance the Department of Commerce.

This conversation is getting awfully serious, I’m afraid. What’s more, we’re on our next-to-last day, and we haven’t even got to talk shop. American Heritage has a list of the overrated and underrated–Civil War generals, education programs, baseball parks, etc. So let me ask you: As a columnist, who do you think are the most overrated and underrated colummnists of our era? (And no, you can’t nominate me for either, though you probably have another category in mind.)

I yield the pulpit, and go to find that second cup of coffee.