Letter to a Trump Supporter #5: Affirmative Action

This is the fifth in my series of “Letters to a Trump Supporter,” from correspondence with a family friend who supports Mr. Trump.

Continuing our conversation about Barack Obama, he sent me a so-called “Newsweek” article blaming affirmative action for the Obama presidency.

Below is my response.

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Dear Mr. ——,

This is an interesting argument. Thank you for sending it. Before addressing it, I should note that it wasn’t published in the reputable Newsweek, but rather on a conservative website called “American Thinker.”

I also don’t think it’s fair to call Newsweek “liberal,” especially without any proof to back it up. It’s not easy to measure media bias, but the economists Tim Groseclose and Jeffrey Milyo came up with a clever way in the one of the top research journals in 2005. They rated each news outlet by how often they cited more conservative or liberal think tanks, where “conservative” or “liberal” was judged based on the legislators they were associated with. They came up with a score of 66 for Newsweek, making them more conservative than Republican Rep. Constance Morella and significantly more conservative than the average Democrat, but more liberal than the average Republican. Basically, middle of the road.

But that’s beside the point. The author, Matt Patterson, makes some astonishingly incorrect claims.

First, it’s not just Barack Obama who hasn’t released his transcripts from college. George W. Bush didn’t release his. John McCain didn’t release his. Donald Trump didn’t release his. Basically, no presidential candidate has done it.

Second, he did not have bad grades in school. On the contrary, he graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School, which by the way is how I graduated from UPenn. In fact, his classmates said “he was a natural leader, an impressive student, a nice guy.” One of his professors said he was so smart that the professor once joked, “Barack, I’m teaching this class, not you!”

Third, he did not become president of the Harvard Law Review because of affirmative action. On the contrary, it was the conservatives on the editorial board who swung the election because, as one of them said, “they had a sense that he was more open-minded and would listen to the conservatives, and would value and accept their contributions in a way that some of the other candidates would not.”

And it turns out they were right. “He ended up upsetting many more of his colleagues on the far left than those of us who were on the right,” recalls this particular editor, “in part because the bottom line for him as president of the law review always remained putting out a first-class publication.”

I should note that the editor who said those things went on to work for George W. Bush’s administration. Hardly a biased source.

Fourth, it’s false that he “authored no signature legislation as legislator.” He crossed the aisle to co-sponsor the Lugar-Obama Act with Republican Sen. Richard Lugar to help our allies detect and interdict illegal shipments of weapons of mass destruction. He also joined with Republican Sen. Tom Coburn to sponsor the Coburn-Obama Transparency Act, which created a website to show Americans how all their money is being spent. He contributed key provisions to the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act, prohibiting lobbyists from flying Congress members on corporate jets for free and requiring them to disclose bundled campaign contributions. All three bills were signed into law by George W. Bush.

So, the truth is actually the opposite of what Patterson claims: Barack Obama was a high achiever for many years in multiple facets of life before he ran for president.

When you think about it, it’s pretty surprising that anyone would question his intellect. We all watch him on TV, and we hear how thoughtful, poised, and articulate he is — to the point that many Republicans have criticized him for being too professorial. He quotes the great philosophers off the top of his head. He never loses his temper, never engages in name-calling, always tries to see a problem from multiple angles.

In all these ways, he is the type of man I was raised to be — by my father and all the men I grew up around, including you.

The thing that amazes me the most, though, is that Patterson thinks any of these things is evidence of “affirmative action.” After all, he could make the exact same argument about plenty of white presidential candidates. George H. W. Bush, Dan Quayle, George W. Bush, and John McCain were all terrible students. Did they become successful because of affirmative action?

Well, actually, in part, they did. See, the thing we often forget is that black Americans were prohibited from occupying most high-paying professions until a few decades ago, and racial discrimination persists to this day. Experiments, statistical analyses, and surveys all show that employerslenders, and voters are less likely to choose a black person, even if they are slightly more qualified, than a white person.

Less likely, not more likely. Affirmative action exists, and has existed for centuries, but it’s been in favor of whites, not blacks.

Funny how Matt Patterson never wrote about that problem.

Best regards,
Anthony