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Smart Bombs

Reaffirmative action

One of the better arguments against affirmative action is that it has possibly outlived its usefulness. Preferences in colleges and workplaces have certainly given groups that were historically discriminated against a hand up. But in judging whether we’ve gone too far or have reached a state of egalitarianism, we need to consider the ravages of the economic meltdown.

In many workplaces, layoffs are done on a last-hired-first-fired basis. Seniority in unions is sacrosanct. Being there first matters … a lot. National Public Radio reported that General Motors has a long-standing minority dealership program, but the decision on which dealerships to close will be based on worst locations. Well, guess who has those?

With brutal swiftness, this economy is wiping out the incremental, hard-won victories of the diversity movement. If nothing else, the downturn has illuminated the value of never being victims of discrimination in the first place.

Legacy quotas. Each year, the University of Notre Dame reserves 25 percent of its slots for the children of alumni, according to the American Prospect’s blog. It’s hardly alone in this practice, which crowds out other applicants with better test scores and scholastic résumés. If opponents of affirmative action really want a pure merit-based system, they should complain as loudly about this preferential treatment.

When President Barack Obama speaks at Notre Dame today, he will be given an honorary degree. Maybe he should turn it over to a deserving student who was forced to attend a different college because he or she wasn’t born into the right family.

Small change. If you’ll recall, earmarks, or those special spending measures inserted into bills, were the centerpiece of the McCain campaign. Not along ago, President Obama caught heck for signing a 2009 fiscal spending bill that contained $7 billion in earmarks. Allegedly frugal members of Congress called on him to veto the bill. Obama signed it.

Last week, Obama caught more flak, because his 2010 budget contained only $17 billion in cuts. But that’s more than twice as large as the 2009 earmarks, so that’s cause for the budget police to cheer, right?

Wrong. They called for more cuts, and they’re right. But it just goes to show how tiny the earmark problem was to begin with.

Spent. On the health care front, President Obama got together last Monday with insurers, doctors and pharmaceutical companies, labor unions and business groups to tout an initiative to save $2 trillion off the nation’s medical bill over the next decade. Health care spending is expected to rise, on average, more than 6 percent a year over the next 10 years. The group says it can whittle that by 1.5 percentage points each year.

Finally! Some good fiscal news to cheer! So how about it, earmark warriors? Hello? Where are you?

Smart Bombs is written by Associate Editor Gary Crooks and appears Wednesdays and Sundays on the Opinion page. Crooks can be reached at or at (509) 459-5026.
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