Sunday, August 22, 2004

Nixon's Affirmative Action

In his defense of reparations, Keyes has been raving about Richard Nixon's affirmative action plan, for instance, this from Crossfire:
Well, the unfortunate truth is that people don't listen to what I say, and I'm not surprised. I have never said that I'm against Affirmative Action. I have said that I am for Affirmative Action and against quotas. Affirmative Action is a Republican idea. It was invented under Richard Nixon. It was not intended to establish a quota.
I was curious what Nixon's stance actually was. I linked to an article earlier and I want to list a few highlights from the article entitled, "Richard Nixon and the origins of affirmative action" by Dean J. Kotlowski. First, he opens with a quote from Fortune magazine which stated "[i]ncredible but true, it was the Nixonites who gave us employment quotas." Nixon endorsed a revised version of the Philadelphia Plan (a plan put forth during the Johnson administration). The LBJ version awarded contract to companies that set targets for hiring minorities, but it was later dropped after the U.S. Comptroller viewed the plan as racial quotas and a violation of the Civil Rights Act. In 1969, Nixon defended the use of numerical goals and endorsed a revised version of the Philadelphia Plan. The Philadelphia plan required "federally assisted contractors on projects exceeding $500,000 to show good faith in hiring minorities" and "establish[ed] numerical 'ranges' for employment of African Americas." The AFL-CIO found "the plan's emphasis on quotas and deadlines unacceptable."
Did the Philadelphia Plan establish quotas? Absolutely not, said officials in the Labor Department. [George] Shultz and [Assistant Labor Secretary Arthur] Fletcher distinguished between racial quotas that compelled employers to hire a set number of African Americans and goals that simply established numerical ranges for minority employment. Under a quota system, employers who failed to hire a specific number of minorities would face immediate sanctions, while a policy of numerical ranges only punished contractors who failed to demonstrate a good faith effort to meet their goals. Accordingly, Labor Department Solicitor Laurence H. Silberman and Attorney General John N. Mitchell found no conflict between the Philadelphia Plan and the Civil Rights Act. At any rate, such practical men as Shultz, Fletcher, and Silberman probably were more interested in opening skilled jobs to minorities than in splitting hairs distinguishing between quotas and goals.
After the initial adoption of the plan, it seems that Nixon's committment to affirmative action may have waned, but he remembered his administration's struggle with it into the 1990's.
In 1990, Nixon warned President George Bush against attacking racial quotas as Senator Phil Gramm, Republican of Texas, had proposed. Since the 1950s, the former president explained, the "civil rights label on the Republican party was indelible," Therefore, he counseled, "there is no [political] reward for going after the anti-quota vote."
In a review of Kotlowski's book on Nixon, a reviewer adds these comments to the debate over Nixon's affirmative action contributions:
Nixon's accomplishments were significant and no doubt would make many a contemporary Republican shake his head in dismay. There was no "rollback" of previous progress on civil rights issues. Affirmative action took strong root. Furthermore, critically or disastrously depending on your viewpoint, it was the Nixon administration that took the fateful step that transformed minority participation from an aspirational goal to an enforceable target. Ambivalent as he was, Nixon inaugurated himself Quota King by introducing the groundbreaking Philadelphia Plan for federal contracts. (Who was his point man on the project? Surprisingly, the future Reaganite George P. Schultz.)
Until beginning this minor research, I had no idea of the types of affirmative action that the Nixon administrative had undertaken, so I found this to be fascinating insight into Nixon. However, coming back to Keyes, it seems that saying that the Nixon plan had "no quotas" is an overstatement, or at least a hotly debated point. Also, as Nixon was adopting a plan that LBJ had been forced to drop, the contention that Nixon "invented" affirmative action seems exaggerated.