by Robert Herold
Did you catch that news item about the upcoming politically incorrect bake sale at Eastern Washington University? Making use of a demonstration format that has been hauled out at more than a few of the nation's universities, the College Republicans out there in Cheney are planning a bake sale to dramatize the unfairness of affirmative action. They intend to charge white men $1 an item, whereas women and minorities only pay a quarter.
Trouble is afoot. Administrators, some liberal faculty and students are deeply affronted. The sale is being called disrespectful, divisive, jingoistic and hurtful. A similar event was shut down at the University of Washington when students crowded around the baked goods table and "heated discussions" ensued.
Permit me to offer some advice to the offended parties: Get a life!
For almost three decades now, liberals have met the self-righteous yammerings of the right with a dreary earnestness that borders on piety.
Some months back, a student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo was summarily punished merely for posting a flier on campus bulletin board that advertised an upcoming speech by black author Mason Weaver, who was scheduled to discuss his book It's OK to Leave the Plantation.
Administrators supported minority students who turned the student in. It was all about feelings, concern and sensitivity. It was also every so earnest. Ever so dreary.
Has the left completely lost its sense of humor?
This bake sale idea? It isn't even all that funny. Which is typical of the street theater practiced by the right. You would think the liberals could do better. Historically, it is the left that has specialized in irreverence. And we know that subtlety, irony, pathos, paradox, timing -- all the ingredients of laughter -- are not the strong suit of the right. Their idea of funny street theater was sending congressional staffers to hassle vote counters in Florida. Even so thoughtful a conservative as David Brooks smiled. He then dismissed those who thought that these antics had crossed the line by opining that conservatives hadn't had much experience at disrupting elections, so they might look a tad clumsy, although he gave them points for enthusiasm.
The way to counter clumsy displays of enthusiastic self-righteousness is with humor not hand-wringing, with laughter not lawsuits. Take this bake sale, for example. The College Republicans are protesting affirmative action as providing unequal treatment for women and minorities. Were we talking here about Yale instead of Eastern Washington University, liberals would have an easy solution. They could give all the "Gentleman C" legacies the 25 & cent; items; everyone else would have to pay a dollar. The George W. Bushs would get the cheap donuts and brownies. The kid from Hillyard would get no discount.
But Eastern isn't Yale: not many legacies out in Cheneyland. So how about this: Eastern, we know, plays academic home to more kids from small towns across Eastern Washington who live in the Columbia Basin Project than does any other school. The CBP envelops most of the land south from Grand Coulee to the Tri-Cities and west to the mountains. Farmers, in this most Republican of regions in the state, have their own version of an affirmative action program. They get water for about 12 & cent; on the dollar, courtesy of the federal government. Dryland farmers outside the CBP have to pay full freight.
CBP farmers get so much of that subsidized water that they can generate their own excess power, which they sell. They also sell the water itself. Dryland farmers get none of these breaks.
If this isn't a form of affirmative action, I don't know what is.
Or how about the barge operators down on the Snake River? Courtesy of the federal government, they put the railroads right out of business. Not many women and minorities can claim to have done that to any in the white majority.
We know that equal justice under the law doesn't mean that the law can't strive to promote equity though laws and policies that by necessity draw distinctions between and among demographic groupings. Married couples are treated unequally in comparison to unmarried people, which, rightly so, has become a political issue. And it's not the unequal treatment per se that's at issue, but rather the form it takes in our tax code. Homeowners get to write off interest; renters don't. And on and on.
Obviously, the affirmative action debate revolves around law and policy that is no different from most other law and policy. That it recognizes and builds from race and ethnicity can be debated. Many object, especially a growing number of black writers, such as Mason Weaver and Shelby Steele. Indeed, one could make the strong case that poor white kids are the ones today who are being ignored and who, if equity is important to us, need help.
If it would make conservatives any happier (which it wouldn't), perhaps liberals could consider changing the definitions. Instead of "affirmative action," they might call it "subsidies."
Ah, such a list would be long, wouldn't it? It would begin with the usual affirmative action suspects, but would now extend all the way from middle-class homeowners to those farmers who are allocated cheap water.
Liberals could then put on their own bake sale. Call it a "subsidization bake sale." Breaks would be given to the demographic groups presently being subsidized through affirmative action. You'd need to include everyone, of course. Inclusiveness is so very PC.
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Publication date: 12/11/03