Conservatives are Crowing

By Rinku Sen Jun 29, 2007

Yesterday was a big day in domestic politics, one of the most dramatic in recent years. The Supreme Court ruled against school districts using race explicitly in making school assignments, and the immigration bill died in the Senate, held back by 14 votes. My email inbox was full of conservative triumphalism. Ward Connerly, of the American Civil Rights Institute, characterized the two integration plans as “racial preferences” and claimed yesterday’s decision a victory against affirmative action. Others will argue, as Juan Williams did today, that it’s time to let go of Brown, that students of color need a focus on “quality” rather than on race to get better educations. He says the current dismal state of education for kids of color reflects the failure of Brown. I say it reflects 50 years of attacks on the principles of Brown, including white flight and school financing plans that privileged predominantly white schools. It’s important to say here that, as dismaying as the ruling is, the majority of the court, including Justice Kennedy who wrote a concurring dissent, actually supports explicitly using race as a factor in school design. So Brown is not dead – this ruling is a chip away at precedent, but we have to resist the urge to self-censor and fall voluntarily into the race-silent line. See our statement about the ruling here. The immigration bill, although reviled by many progressives and immigration activists for its many horrible provisions, was effectively killed by the right. Two hours after the vote, I got an email from Californians for Population Stabilization, declaring a HUGE VICTORY, thanking everyone for derailing the bill and asking for donations. While it’s difficult to say whether the death of the bill is a good or bad thing – immigration advocates have been under tremendous pressure from the base to keep alive the path to citizenship, even if it meant accepting some horrible compromise. The undocumented immigrants I’ve been interviewing for my book on immigrants and the restaurant industry keep asking me if something is going to pass; until it does they have no security and are separated from their families. They will likely have to wait at least two more years, since the ’08 election campaign has started a million months too early and immigration is too hot for the candidates to handle. But the fact that the right killed this bill indicates that, without new interventions from the immigrant rights community, future plans are likely to be worse rather than better. This is the time for the movement to try to broaden our immigration demands to try to drive the debate in our direction. Clearly, Brown is not dead, and immigrants will continue to fight for reform, but this week has made me realize the severe limitations of this Congress. This week confirms my feeling that last week’s panelists on conservatism at the Take Back America conference were terribly premature in predicting the downfall of conservatism. Our ideas aren’t dead, and neither are those of our opponents.