Another Republican entered the 2024 presidential race last week, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, a 37-year-old with a $500 million net worth. While many Republican politicians are boring and offer the same political views, Ramaswamy is a curious case. Although he hasn’t made any revolutionary proposals, he is an opponent of affirmative action.
He points out that Lyndon Johnson established an affirmative action policy via executive order in the 1960s. It applies to hiring for government jobs and companies that conduct business with the federal government. Colleges and universities can legally consider race in their admissions process. It’s likely part of the reason why there’s variance in the average SAT scores among those accepted to Harvard University, depending on their race. Affirmative action has many enemies, especially conservatives. While it’s not a top issue for national Republicans, people who oppose it think it’s a racist practice that’s unfair.
In recent years, Republican politicians have briefly touched on the topic in higher education. When they do, they typically make two arguments. One is that affirmative action is bad for Asian students, who have the highest average SAT scores of Harvard applicants. And unfortunately for the Asian community, some colleges want fewer Asians for the sake of racial diversity. The other argument is that affirmative action can hurt some people the policy tries to help. Blacks, Hispanics, and Native-Americans are generally the people that affirmative action benefits. However, the beneficiaries of affirmative action can fall victim to what George W. Bush called “the soft bigotry of low expectations.”
If someone barely gets into a school and race is part of why they get in, the school could be putting the student in a position to fail. It can adversely impact people in jobs and schools they can’t handle. It can lead to people dropping out of school or struggling at work. Some benefit from affirmative action and can succeed, but it hurts other supposed benefactors.
However, the argument that no mainstream politician will make is that affirmative action hurts white Americans. If someone pointed that out, they’d be labeled as a white supremacist, alt-right, Nazi, etc. Yet, opposing affirmative action can be good politics because it appeals to white Americans, who are the majority of the country. If America’s demographics looked more like South Africa, ending affirmative action would be awful politics.
Eliminating affirmative action in hiring and admissions is one step needed to create a meritocratic society. Politicians also need to destroy barriers to entry that harm working-class people of all races.
The high costs of college and vocational training are impediments, as well as arbitrary college degree and occupational licensing requirements. Additionally, if politicians want to make college admissions fairer, they must also look at legacy and athletic admissions since those also hinder the meritocratic dream; both can serve as affirmative action for rich white people. All of this disproportionately harms working-class people, who are disproportionately black, Hispanic, and Native-American. Fixing those problems would be a viable alternative to affirmative action because it would help eliminate some classist discrimination in our society. Affirmative action in college admissions, in a weird way, affirms credentialism. It sees pushing kids into schools they wouldn’t otherwise qualify for as a way to help them.
Political commentators for Fox News and The Washington Examiner have called Ramaswamy the Andrew Yang of the 2024 presidential primary. If that’s true, he can debate and force Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis to commit to taking some of his positions, a win for the conservative movement.