Income affirmative action puts aid on equal footing

Wednesday, July 2, 2003 at 1:00am

America still has big trouble figuring out how to deal with racial issues. For a country that prides itself on "diversity," we continue to be clueless on how to deal with race in a constitutional way.

If you believe in what America stands for, then you must accept the fact that all U.S. citizens should be provided an equal opportunity to pursue happiness. That means that no one citizen can be put above another on the basis of who that person is. We all know that theory is not always practiced, but it should be mandated by federal law.

Therefore, no race-based preferences should be permitted in the United States. That line of thinking mirrors the intent of the Constitution "to promote the general welfare." Notice the word "general." That means the welfare of all citizens.

So giving a black person points on a college admission application simply because of skin color is decidedly unconstitutional. Do Michael Jordan's kids need those points?

However, there is another way to give disadvantaged Americans of all colors some help in improving their lives. And that is economic-based affirmative action. The plan is very simple: Household income can and should be a consideration in any scholastic competition because there is no question that poor Americans have fewer resources than affluent Americans. So if a student from a poor family achieves academic success in high school, surely that effort should be taken into consideration by colleges that want to recruit quality student bodies.

Economic affirmative action would immediately help African Americans without the racial polarization that comes from color preferences. The latest census bureau statistics put the black poverty rate at 23 percent, as opposed to the Hispanic rate of 21 percent and 10 percent for whites. Therefore, poor minority students who achieve would automatically be in the forefront of economic affirmative action, and so would everybody else who's poor. No race could scream exclusion.

Clear-thinking Americans know we are all in this together. The U.S. military is not a race-based organization. Those who are fighting for our country all live and die under the same flag. There are no racial quotas in the foxhole. Military training also emphasizes teamwork, which means helping members of the team who may be deficient in a certain area.

So let's take a lesson from the armed forces. All Americans should be looking out for their countrymen who are born into difficult circumstances. Anything society and the government can do to help those willing to help themselves is a noble enterprise.

But favoritism based on skin color or religion or family connections or any other personal characteristic was never part of the constitutional mandate. The Founders saw too much of that in England and France, where the aristocracy took their privileges, and the peasants got what was left over. The oppression of favoritism was rejected by the Framers, who knew it would lead to strife and violence.

Today in America, racial polarization is big business. People can achieve power and money by fostering entitlement thinking and hawking group victimization. Liberal guilt and conservative insensitivity both contribute to unfair social policy. If racial harmony is ever to be achieved in this country, skin color judgments have to stop, and the charlatans who push racial politics must be scorned.

The al Qaeda killers don't care what color or religion or social class an American is. They just want to kill us. The more divided we are as a nation, the more opportunity our enemies have. Poor Americans deserve points for overcoming obstacles. I'm happy to award those points. And I don't care what color you are.

TV news anchor Bill O'Reilly is host of the FOX News show The O'Reilly Factor.

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