McCain Attacks Quotas That Don’t Exist

No weapon in the Republican race-bating aresenal is more powerful than attacks on quotas.

The old John McCain, aka McCain the Maverick, wouldn’t go there. Today’s McCain, aka McCain Who’ll Say Anything to Get Elected, seems to have no such compunction.

The late Jesse Helms might have winked and nodded in approval. Helms, after all, showed the raw appeal of attacks on quotas in his now infamous “Hands” commercial, which was used during a North Carolina senate campaign against African American Democrat Harvey Gantt:

The message of the ad is clear: quotas make whites the victim of an unfair government that takes things away from them and gives things to undeserving blacks.

The old John McCain took a more moderate view on these matters, saying he was opposed to quotas, but in favor of affirmative action. In 1998, for example, he stated his concerns about a ballot initiative being sponsored by members of the Arizona legislature that would have ended affirmative active in the state. In a talk before a group of Hispanic leaders, McCain said at the time that “rather than engage in divisive ballot initiatives, we must have a dialogue and cooperation and mutual efforts together to provide for every child in America to fulfill their expectations.”

This past April, in a campaign stop in Youngstown, Ohio, McCain said

If you’re talking about assuring equal and fair opportunity for all Americans and making sure that the practices of the US military are emulated, the greatest equal opportunity employer in America, then I am all for it…

If you are talking about quotas, I am not for it. So all of us are for affirmative action to try to give assistance to those who need it, whether it be African-American or other groups of Americans that need it.”

That was then. This is now: McCain does a total flip-flop regarding affirmative action ballot initiatives in an interview with George Stephanopoulos of ABC News. McCain was asked if he supports a current anti-affirmative referendum in his home state:

STEPHANOPOULOS: Opponents of affirmative action are trying to get a referendum on the ballot here that would do away with affirmative action. Do you support that?
MCCAIN: Yes, I do. I do not believe in quotas. But I have not seen the details of some of these proposals. But I’ve always opposed quotas.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But the one here in Arizona you support.
MCCAIN: I support it, yes.

USAToday reported that McCain’s statements were “the latest example of McCain changing positions that had once put him at odds with conservative Republicans, including his new proposals to extend President Bush’s tax cuts and expand offshore oil drilling.”

But here’s the thing: quotas are illegal, and they have been for years. The American Association for Affirmative Action (AAAA), an organization of professionals who manage affirmative action, equal opportunity, diversity and other human resource programs, issued a press statement regarding McCain’s remarks:

“Changing one’s mind is certainly the American way but changing positions to garner support from a particular population should be questioned even by those who oppose affirmative action,” said AAAA president ReNee Dunman. Moreover, using affirmative action as a wedge issue only divides our nation when it is time to bring us together. The Senator does not profess to have had a new found revelation supporting his decision to change positions on affirmative action. Instead it appears he has strategically realigned his position with those he believes will elect him as President.

Senator McCain has reportedly declared he supports the referendum because he does not believe in quotas… He says, “I have not seen the details of some of these proposals. But I’ve always opposed quotas.” Either Senator McCain has been misinformed and erroneously equates affirmative action with quotas or he is deliberately doing so to secure votes from opponents of affirmative action. Either way you view it, it’s a “lose-lose” situation and the nation should raise a collective brow.

Ms. Dunman went on to state: “Once again, I am compelled to dispel the myth that affirmative action requires quotas. Quotas are unlawful and expressly prohibited by federal regulations. In 2000, the U.S. Department of Labor revised the affirmative action regulations to make clear that “goals may not be rigid and inflexible quotas, which must be met, nor are they to be considered as either a ceiling or a floor for the employment of particular groups. Quotas are expressly forbidden.” 41 C.F.R. 60-2.16.

The AAAA’s comments are echoed in an article at by Ed Tubbs titled Which Crayola is the color ‘Despicable’?

AP reported this morning that Senator John McCain, in a reversal of an earlier position that asserted such attempts were “divisive,” announced in an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that he now supports the ballot proposal. McCain defended his support of the measure by claiming “I do not believe in quotas, I’ve always opposed quotas.”…

It must be noted that such affirmative measures have not for years involved “quotas,” because, for years, the courts have struck every quota-oriented measure down. Thus, using the ploy, opposition to “quotas,” in arguments against efforts that are intended to redress existing unfair racially- or gender- or other-based differences in opportunities for access to education, employment and contracts, etc. can only be construed as disingenuous, deceptive code; white-sheet cover intended to appeal to a “conservative” (also known as “bigoted”) base.

That’s what makes McCain’s latest statements so troublesome. By equating affirmative action with quotas, he is making affirmative action damnable in the eyes of many whites (and some blacks) who don’t understand the distinction between the two. And he seems to be doing this out of the political calculation that it will make him more attractive to particular portions of the electorate.

Jesse Helms probably wouldn’t like it that McCain is taking such a subtle approach to playing the “Q” card. But I don’t think Helms would argue with the results.

One thought on “McCain Attacks Quotas That Don’t Exist

  1. I teach this to my class. Quotas, at least in the field of higher education, have been impermissible for more than 30 years. In Bakke v. UC Regents (1976) the court allowed reserving 16 seats of 100 for ethnic minority, but did allow race to be one of several factors admissions counselors could consider. McCain knows this, but he’s counting on the fact that most Americans don’t know that.

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