Festival of Smugness

 

Antonin_Scalia_2010There are few more repugnant spectacles among the liberal elites of this country than the festivals of smugness that follow any comment by a conservative public figure that can be twisted into a racial slight.

This week it is Justice Antonin Scalia’s turn. In an oral argument over affirmative action, Scalia said:

There are those who contend that it does not benefit African-Americans to — to get them in the University of Texas where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less advanced school, a less — a slower track school where they do well.

Sure, maybe Scalia should have said “some” African-American students, but frankly, he shouldn’t have to. After a career in public life, he doesn’t need to prove his bona fides to anyone. Everyone is, in effect, on notice that this brilliant jurist is the farthest thing from a racist.

But you know this game works. A conservative says something that can be misinterpreted, and the self-righteous, bad-faith denunciations pour out like sewage in a flood. On “Meet the Press,” Ted Koppel compared Scalia to the hapless Al Campanis, and said:

I was thinking both of them have the same problem, it’s generational. He really doesn’t think he is saying anything untoward. This is the kind of thing that someone of Antonin Scalia’s generation has been saying all his life. Al Campanis did the same thing. But the key thing is being a Supreme Court Justice means never having to say you’re sorry.

The rest of the crew on MTP chimed in with similar head shaking and invocations of bad popular fiction. Now, leaving Mr. Campanis aside (I have my doubts that he was a racist either; he got caught up in one of America’s fits of righteous indignation), who does Koppel think he is? First of all, he’s almost exactly four years younger than Scalia, so spare us the generational snobbery. Second, he (like the other panelists) is clearly unfamiliar with the argument Scalia was referencing. Molly Ball of The Atlantic, Jerry Seib of The Wall Street Journal, Helene Cooper of The New York Times, and of course, Chuck Todd himself then regretted that Scalia can “get away with it” and noted that this explains why he opposes cameras in the Supreme Court.

Who pays these people for their commentary? This is risible. Supreme Court oral arguments are fully available to the public in print and audio form. Is Scalia trying to hide his racism by having it only unavailable on video? Quite a strategy.

The usual people issued denunciations and everyone had a good “two minutes hate” as George Orwell might have put it.

But Scalia has nothing for which to apologize (though his critics do). He was referring to a perfectly plausible theory about the effects of affirmative action. He was not saying that all African-American students are slower than others, merely that the widespread practice of accepting black students into colleges with much worse grades and scores than the majority of students has certain unfortunate effects. As Stuart Taylor Jr. and Richard H. Sander explain in their book, Mismatch, there is a good deal of evidence (and more has been produced since the book’s publication) that black students who “benefit” from affirmative action in admission and thus attend schools for which they are less prepared than their peers, are less likely to major in difficult but remunerative subjects like engineering and science, more likely to wind up in the bottom 10th of the student body, and, most important, less likely to graduate than their peers.

What the Mismatch authors and others have described as the “cascade effect” means that at every level of college except for the very top, black students are more likely to attend colleges for which they are unprepared and thus, many are set up to fail. That might be important, right Ted Koppel?

One of the most telling statistics that is rarely mentioned in this debate comes from California, where Proposition 209 banned racial preferences by law in 1996. Advocates of affirmative action note that minority enrollments dropped thereafter. Yes, but graduation rates increased.

Perhaps the mismatch theory is wrong. Perhaps the benefits of attending more prestigious schools than you are prepared for outweigh the disadvantages (though this leaves unaddressed the constitutional problem of discriminating by race at all). But surely this is a worthy debate for people of good will to have.

If we had people of good will.

There are 15 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. Brian Wyneken Member
    Brian Wyneken
    @BrianWyneken

    It’s almost as if they are eager for these little tempests – another opportunity for personal exculpation.

    • #1
  2. Basil Fawlty Member
    Basil Fawlty
    @BasilFawlty

    Trump has some things to recommend him.  But his attack on Scalia negates them.

    • #2
  3. Ryan M Member
    Ryan M
    @RyanM

    But the left is like this.  What necessarily goes unstated in Scalia’s comments is that he’s referring to black students who would benefit from affirmative action, which naturally excludes those black students who might get into higher-end schools on their own merit, thereby not requiring any assistance.

    So no, adding “some” would not only be unnecessary, it would actually be wrong.  All students who require affirmative action to get into a school are ones who presumably did not get in on their own qualifications.  That is the whole point of affirmative action.

    It doesn’t even require that the left read his words charitably, only that they read his words and understand them at all.  But this is a group of people who read only to find what they’re looking for, whether it is there or not.

    • #3
  4. Mendel Inactive
    Mendel
    @Mendel

    It was an inartful statement. The very fact that Mona and Ryan feel the need to parse and explain it demonstrates that it did not convey they entire message it was intended to.

    I’ve had the privilege of hearing Scalia speak extemporaneously. The man is absolutely brilliant, and can formulate an argument with the precision of a laser-guided bomb if he so chooses.

    But he also chooses to talk quite a bit, and to frequently shoot from the hip while doing so. And so inevitably he says something inartful, which could have been phrased much more favorably.

    We all know what Scalia was trying to say, and I continue to admire the man greatly. But I won’t defend something he is smart enough to know not to say.

    • #4
  5. Basil Fawlty Member
    Basil Fawlty
    @BasilFawlty

    Mendel:It was an inartful statement. The very fact that Mona and Ryan feel the need to parse and explain it demonstrates that it did not convey they entire message it was intended to.

    I’ve had the privilege of hearing Scalia speak extemporaneously. The man is absolutely brilliant, and can formulate an argument with the precision of a laser-guided bomb if he so chooses.

    But he also chooses to talk quite a bit, and to frequently shoot from the hip while doing so. And so inevitably, he says something inartful, which he could have said much better had he tried.

    We all know what Scalia was trying to say, and I continue to admire the man greatly. But I won’t defend something he is smart enough to know not to say.

    You mean the truth?

    • #5
  6. I Walton Member
    I Walton
    @IWalton

    Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams make the point all the time as do a lot of others who bother to look at the facts.   But it gave us an opportunity to see that Trump will be right in the thick of political correctness if he ever gets power.   That’s worth a lot.

    • #6
  7. Mendel Inactive
    Mendel
    @Mendel

    Basil Fawlty:

    Mendel:

    We all know what Scalia was trying to say, and I continue to admire the man greatly. But I won’t defend something he is smart enough to know not to say.

    You mean the truth?

    Yes, the truth. The truth that most students don’t benefit from being artificially promoted to a higher academic level at which they are more likely to fail. And the truth that blacks are more likely to fall into the trap because they tend do worse in high school but are the recipients of affirmative action.

    I don’t see a conflict in staunchly defending Scalia’s intended point while criticizing the way he expressed it.

    • #7
  8. Basil Fawlty Member
    Basil Fawlty
    @BasilFawlty

    Mendel:

    Basil Fawlty:

    Mendel:

    We all know what Scalia was trying to say, and I continue to admire the man greatly. But I won’t defend something he is smart enough to know not to say.

    You mean the truth?

    Yes, the truth. The truth that most students don’t benefit from being artificially promoted to a higher academic level at which they are more likely to fail. And the truth that blacks are more likely to fall into the trap because they tend do worse in high school but are the recipients of affirmative action.

    I don’t see a conflict in staunchly defending Scalia’s intended point while criticizing the way he expressed it.

    What was wrong with the way he expressed his point?

    • #8
  9. Bereket Kelile Member
    Bereket Kelile
    @BereketKelile

    Mona Charen:One of the most telling statistics that is rarely mentioned in this debate comes from California, where Proposition 209 banned racial preferences by law in 1996. Advocates of affirmative action note that minority enrollments dropped thereafter. Yes, but graduation rates increased.

    Did minority enrollment drop because of Prop 209? I’m not so sure just yet. Why?

    One thing the media and public don’t realize is that when you’re looking at time series data it’s important to look at the pre-“treatment” (Prop 209) period in order to determine whether it had a meaningful effect. Simply looking at what happened after 1996 is like conducting an experiment without a control group. In this case, we need to see what’s happening before and determine whether there’s a statistically significant difference.

    I took a look at the data. From a first glance you can see that enrollment is starting to taper off before 1995, the year of the Trustees’ decision, and it’s declining into 1996, the year of Prop 209. It’s unclear to me that the law had a significant effect but to be sure requires more data and some regressions. Moreover, the rate increases steadily a few years later, making criticism of the law based on its effect on enrollment null and void. Here’s the data I found:

    CA minority enrollment

    • #9
  10. Ryan M Member
    Ryan M
    @RyanM

    Mendel:It was an inartful statement. The very fact that Mona and Ryan feel the need to parse and explain it demonstrates that it did not convey they entire message it was intended to.

    Inartful, though?  I don’t think so.  He’s a judge.

    My in-court speech is much different than my out-of-court speech.  Keep in mind the fact that those people he’s addressing have briefed and argued this issue, so he doesn’t need to go into great detail in qualifying his speech.  If any of the attorneys in that courtroom believe that he’s referring to all black people in the context of that discussion, they have no business being in the courtroom in the first place.

    • #10
  11. hokiecon Inactive
    hokiecon
    @hokiecon

    Ryan M: If any of the attorneys in that courtroom believe that he’s referring to all black people in the context of that discussion, they have no business being in the courtroom in the first place.

    Yes, Scalia was doing his job. As Charles C.W. Cooke put it, anyone who thinks otherwise is being intellectually dishonest.

    • #11
  12. Susan the Buju Contributor
    Susan the Buju
    @SusanQuinn

    I greatly appreciated what Scalia said and how he said it. I think it provoked such a strong reaction because it was unvarnished and precise. I think the outrage by the left was covering for their embarrassment in being exposed, on some level (although they’d never admit it). Jason Riley had an opinion piece in the WSJ today on this same topic. We’ve done such a disservice to the black students who are placed in colleges this way; it’s a set up for failure. And no one pays the price except the black student.

    • #12
  13. Jim Kearney Contributor
    Jim Kearney
    @JimKearney

    No controversy involving Justice Scalia is a good thing.

    He needs to breath deeply, take nature walks, watch his cholesterol, have a good laugh every day, and avoid stress. In the case of a conservative Supreme Court Justice, living long is the best revenge.

    • #13
  14. Functionary Thatcher
    Functionary
    @Functionary

    Jim Kearney:No controversy involving Justice Scalia is a good thing.

    He needs to breath deeply, take nature walks, watch his cholesterol, have a good laugh every day, and avoid stress. In the case of a conservative Supreme Court Justice, living long is the best revenge.

    May he live long.  But giving any credit to those who twist his words, and then blaming him for being inartful, seems counterproductive.

    • #14
  15. John Paul Inactive
    John Paul
    @JohnPaul

    He was asking a question in a court proceeding. It is not a controversy. Premises are tested during argument. The premise appeared in an amicus brief.

    • #15

Comments are closed because this post is more than six months old. Please write a new post if you would like to continue this conversation.