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No Retreat on Affirmative Action Under Obama, Black Think Tank Predicts

An administration under President-elect Barack Obama will protect race-based affirmative action in education and employment, political pundits said at a post-election analysis discussion convened Wednesday at the nation’s leading think tank on African-American affairs.

Responding to the idea floated by some observers that a post-racial Obama administration might lend support to class-based affirmative action over race-based affirmative action, a leading analyst on race in American politics said he does not expect the new president to abandon racially conscious affirmative action, which is widely accepted and legally permissible in higher education.

Obama has told news media interviewers over the past year that affirmative action would not be necessary for his two young daughters because of the privileged life he and his wife have provided for them. He has said that class-based affirmative action in higher education is appropriate for economically disadvantaged Whites as well as for non-Whites.

Dr. Ronald Walters, a professor of government and the director of the African American Leadership Institute at the University of Maryland, told an audience at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in Washington, D.C. that “some people have drawn the conclusion because of what he said about his daughters” that Obama favors class-based affirmative action.

“He’s not come up with a class-based notion of affirmative action” to supplant racially conscious affirmative action, according to Walters.

Another panelist pointed out that Obama has expressed his support for race-based affirmative action before national civil rights organizations. Prior to the election, “Obama said in a questionnaire put forth to Senator McCain and him by the NAACP that he is absolutely for affirmative action; he will support it and defend it,” said Hazel Trice Edney, the editor-in-chief of the news service of the National Newspaper Publishers Association.

“I don’t think there’s a question about whether or not affirmative action will be in trouble,” Edney said. But “the president-elect [has to be] able to articulate why he believes affirmative action is so important, and he’s going to have to articulate that beyond Black people, but to the nation in such a way that we all understand,” Edney added.

In a wide-ranging discussion with six members and moderator, Ralph Everett, president and CEO of the Joint Center, the panel members expressed support for the idea that Obama capture some of the momentum unleashed by his presidential campaign by launching a national organization to allow ordinary citizens to get involved with helping to formulate and implement new policies. Walters suggested Obama create a spinoff of his campaign as Change, Inc.

“Obama was prescient to build a campaign around the theme of change,” Walters said.

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