AFFIRMATIVE ACTION. Immigration. Bilingual education. Over the past
few years, these issues and broader matters of ethnic politics have
become the stuff of nightmares for Republican candidates around the
country.

On the one hand, ethnic issues are tremendously important to the
future well-being of our large and diverse society. They are the
hottest of hot buttons for many voters, and several ballot measures
on ethnicity-related social problems have turned out to be immensely
popular-for instance, Proposition 187 (eliminating public services
to illegal immigrants), Prop. 209 (ending affirmative action), and
Prop. 227 (dismantling bilingual education), which all won huge
victories in vote-rich California. An anti-affirmative action
measure did even better in Washington State, and additional
referenda on these topics are coming in other states.

Yet these same ethnic issues-including the popular ballot measures
mentioned above-are widely believed to have created disastrous
problems for the Republican Party by scaring away minority voters
and leaving Republicans with a harshly negative image. With the
elite national media always quick to espy bigotry when Republicans
talk about race and ethnicity, many conservative politicians have
recently decided to avoid these issues altogether.

Attempts to bridge the chasm between conservative activists and
minority voters have recently caused many prominent Republicans to
stammer their way through terminological contortions aimed at
avoiding controversy. Thus, presidential candidate George W. Bush
may oppose “quotas” and have his doubts about “affirmative action,”
but he is all for “affirmative access. ” Governor Bush has similarly
announced his support for those bilingual education programs “which
work.” To most voters, minority or otherwise, these rhetorical
flourishes are merely platitudes. Such content-free symbolism may
lessen a candidate’s vulnerability, but it eliminates any
possibility of developing a mandate on these critical subjects. Such
a stance is merely a polite means of saying “no comment.”

The conservative tendency to confront these issues on a
case-by-case basis, with no overarching framework or broader social
vision, further courts disaster. Attacks on prevailing policies seem
scattershot, politically opportunistic, and purely negative in tone.
Liberal critics are quick to respond, “But what do you offer
instead?”

The solution to these political obstacles is a broad social vision
which connects various controversial policies in an old and accepted
framework easily understood by all: the melting pot. For most of the
last century, assimilation and the ethnic melting pot were regarded
as fundamental aspects of the American experience, promoted by
liberals and conservatives alike. Returning national policies to the
principles of the melting pot should become the primary Republican
goal on ethnic issues.

A “NEW AMERICAN MELTING POT” would not be a cartoonish one-way
street of forced integration into the dominant white culture, as
“multicultural” activists charge. Over the past couple of centuries,
America’s mainstream culture has widely diverged from its original
Anglo-Saxon heritage through the admixture of foreign elements. Our
language, our cuisine, our high and popular cultures contain
important elements from the Germans, Italians, Slavs, Jews, blacks,
Asians, and others who today compose well over half our national
population. American assimilation has always been a two-way street.

Assimilation is also variable in its speed and extent. A
Chinese-born Stanford Ph.D. in engineering with a job in Silicon
Valley and a house in the suburbs is likely to assimilate much more
rapidly than a poorly educated Chinese immigrant living and working
as a short-order cook in a Chinatown. But for most of our history,
thorough assimilation into the mainstream has been a process taking
generations rather than years, and alarmists concerned about today’s
ethnic and language enclaves of Mexicans or Chinese should recognize
that similar enclaves of Italian Americans or Jewish Americans
dominated the New York City landscape for generations following
their arrival.

Today, the American melting pot is both far stronger and far weaker
than it has ever been before. The reality of assimilation has grown
with the rise of electronic media and America’s ubiquitous
English-language popular culture, which now dominates the world. A
recent study by the National Immigration Forum indicates that over
half of U.S. immigrants already spoke English “well” or “very well”
upon their arrival, and after ten years of residency, that figure
climbs to more than three-quarters. The vast majority of
third-generation Asians and Latinos speak only English at home.

Cultural and economic assimilation are also quite rapid. Today, a
quarter or more of Hispanics have shifted from their traditional
Catholic faith to Protestant evangelical churches, a religious
transformation of unprecedented speed, and one obviously connected
partly to their absorption into American society. And more than 70
percent of foreign immigrants have achieved the middle-class
distinction of becoming homeowners within 30 years of their entry
into America.

The strongest measure of assimilation-intermarriage across ethnic
lines-illustrates today’s assimilationist reality. As late as the
1960s, intermarriage rates for white ethnic groups such as Jews and
Italians were as low as 5 percent or less. But today, not only Jews
and Italians but also American-born Asians and Latinos marry outside
their ethnicity in a third to a half of all cases. By most measures,
the assimilation of Asian and Latino immigrants is proceeding far
more rapidly than that of white immigrant groups who arrived early
in the twentieth century. Thus in California the number of
“multiracial” births recently passed the combined total of black and
Asian births.

Yet at the same time that the reality of the melting pot has grown,
the ideology behind it-even the very term itself-has been driven out
of public discourse. Today, the contrary concepts of “maintaining
diversity” and “fostering multiculturalism” are the purported goals
of liberal elites in universities, the news media, and elsewhere.
Leaders of ethnic advocacy groups are assumed to be speaking on
behalf of millions of their co-ethnics, and the Democratic Party
chooses its convention delegates based on strict ethnic and racial
criteria. American assimilation has become the powerful reality that
dare not speak its name.

HOW WOULD A REVIVED “melting pot” principle apply to some of the
difficult ethnic issues in politics today?

First and foremost, our public schools and educational institutions
must be restored as the engines of assimilation they once were.
America is now in the midst of one of its largest immigration waves,
bringing to dwell among us millions of foreign-born or
first-generation arrivals who lack good knowledge of English or of
our historical traditions and national institutions. Our schools
once met similar situations by teaching English to students as
rapidly as possible, together with the civics lessons and American
history which turned Italian or Polish children into good Americans.
Today, schools often do not, and instead keep millions of immigrant
students in native-language programs in which barely a word of
English is used-sometimes for many years. In history and social
studies classrooms, “multicultural education” is now widespread,
placing an extreme and unrealistic emphasis on ethnic diversity
instead of passing on the traditional knowledge of Western
civilization, our Founding Fathers, and the Civil and World Wars.

Although changing an entire educational curriculum is difficult,
requiring nearly all children to be taught to read, write, and speak
English as soon as they enter school is legally easy and enormously
popular. In 1998, California’s Proposition 227 passed in a landslide
despite facing the united opposition of both the Democratic and
Republican Party establishments and being outspent some 25-1 in
advertising; it ran 20 to 30 points ahead of Republican candidates
among blacks, Asians, and Latinos. Results since the election have
proven the people right and the party establishments wrong, as test
scores of the students who moved into English immersion classes have
risen 20, 40, or even 100 percent compared to similar students who
remained in bilingual programs, all after less than one year of the
new curriculum.

Public opinion surveys on requiring English in the schools are also
quite remarkable. More than three-quarters of likely voters support
federal legislation “which would require all public school
instruction to be conducted in English, and for students not fluent
in English to be placed in an intensive oneyear English immersion
program,” according to Zogby polls. Support is overwhelming across
all geographical, ethnic, political, and even ideological lines. Yet
despite this near unanimity of opinion, government policy has been
(and, except in California, remains) completely contrary.

Similarly, current public school curricula which glorify obscure
ethnic figures at the expense of the giants of American history have
no place in a melting pot framework. Multiculturalist ideology,
which claims that Asian students can only identify with Asian
heroes, black students only with black heroes, and so forth, is not
only demeaning and divisive, it is also false. Earlier this century,
children of Jewish and Italian families, who entered school with
scant knowledge of American culture and often barely even speaking
the language, soon saw themselves as just as much the political
inheritors of George Washington as Americans whose ancestors had
arrived on the Mayflower. Black leaders such as W. E. B. DuBois
believed they had as much claim to the legacy of Western
civilization and American government as any white citizen.
Individual families must remain free to preserve as much-or as
little-of their own traditional ethnic heritage and culture as they
desire, but our public schools should provide a single, unifying
American culture rather than encouraging ethnic fragmentation.
Today’s immigrants deserve such support.

OUR CURRENT SYSTEM of affirmative action-preferences based on race
or ethnicity-also becomes completely indefensible under a melting
pot analysis. Given current high intermarriage rates, even
classifying a particular individual ethnically can be almost
impossible. Consider a child whose four grandparents are Asian,
Hispanic, Armenian, and Italian-the kind of mix growing ever more
common. At the University of California at Los Angeles, Asians and
Armenians are over-represented, while Hispanics and Italians are
underrepresented. So should our hypothetical child be given a boost
or held back? And who should decide this?

Furthermore, the broad ethnic categories on which affirmative
action is based-such as “Asian” and “Hispanic”-are meaningless.
Chinese and Hmong have almost nothing in common, with the former
being massively over-represented in elite institutions and the
latter massively underrepresented. Most Cuban Americans are
well-to-do, while most Puerto Ricans are poor; why grant them both
preferences on racial grounds? And by what absurd logic does the son
of an affluent, blond, thirdgeneration Argentinean American not
speaking a word of Spanish (or the child of a black millionaire
living in Beverly Hills) end up categorized as a “disadvantaged
minority”?

The obvious solution to all these obvious contradictions is to
replace ethnically based affirmative action with special assistance
based on socio-economic factors. To the extent that some ethnic
groups such as blacks or Hispanics are disproportionately among the
poor or the poorly educated, they would disproportionately benefit
from such programs, but poor whites or Asians would receive help as
well. Programs and benefits aimed at the disadvantaged must use
objective criteria such as poverty or lack of education, not skin
color.

Besides being far more just and workable than our ethnically based
spoils system, such a colorblind approach would demonstrate the
commitment of Republicans to enhancing opportunities for the truly
poor, while today’s system sets aside admissions quotas and business
contracts for the country-club members of favored races. Poor whites
and poor Asians who now overwhelmingly vote Democratic might have a
new reason to consider the Republican Party. There would also be
better targeted help for poor blacks and Hispanics, since the
benefits of current affirmative action set-asides are mostly scooped
up by more affluent and privileged members of those groups (which is
why the minority-group establishment fights so hard to preserve the
status quo).

A strong and forthright stand in favor of assimilation should be
combined with an equally strong and forthright stand in favor of
beneficial immigration. Under an assimilationist framework which
supports and expects integration into American society, many public
concerns about immigration will disappear. Then it becomes possible
to be pro-immigrant in a way that will reassure Asians, Hispanics,
and others who have sometimes felt under attack.

GOOD POLICIES MUST ALSO BE good politics in order to have a chance
of becoming a reality. How would an assimilationist agenda play in
the political arena?

Thanks to today’s trendy multiculturalist status quo, promoting
assimilationism will generate considerable controversy. Left-wing
academic and media elites regard “the melting pot” as fighting
words. But such controversy can be extremely useful, since harsh
attacks by ardent multiculturalists will be offPutting to most
voters. And the wide media coverage generated in the process will
help attract public interest and ultimately a mandate for change. A
sensible and sensitive call for assimilation will defuse most
potential opposition, leaving the loudest contrary voices-diehard
supporters of ebonics and Spanishonly instruction-isolated as
extremists. Half of winning a victory is picking the right enemies,
and these could not be better.

On the other hand, any attempt by Clintonized Democrats to co-opt
assimilationism or borrow its language while ignoring its substance
would be very difficult, if not impossible, given the vehemence of
the multiculturalist Left. While nearly 80 percent of ordinary
Democrats support ideas like requiring the public schools to teach
English, many left-wing activists will fight to the last ditch
against this, and denounce as a traitor any Democrat leaning in that
direction. Liberals will face a desperate choice between numbers and
intensity@ and lose either way.

As for the minorities and immigrants who are the principal subjects
of the melting pot agenda, few votes will be lost and perhaps many
will be gained. Although Asians are a tiny fraction of today’s
electorate, within a generation their growing numbers, wealth, and
presence in elite institutions will give them influence similar to
that of American Jews. And Asians are among the most assimilable of
American groups, with an enormous emphasis on learning English and
intermarriage rates often at 50 percent or above. Asians will also
benefit most from the end of racial preferences in academic
institutions. A pro-immigrant, pro-assimilationist agenda is almost
tailor-made for winning Asian support.

And contrary to some misperceptions, America’s huge and rapidly
growing Hispanic population should also be receptive. Although a
small core of Hispanic activists (many of whom are native-born and
speak not a word of Spanish) are in the forefront of the
multiculturalist and bilingual camps, their views have little
relation to their alleged followers, who support English in the
schools in landslide numbers. The improved school results among
Hispanic children now resulting from the rollback of bilingual
education will marginalize these activists, and destroy their
remaining credibility. What ambitious Hispanic politician will dare
to oppose an educational reform that has a demonstrated possibility
of eventually doubling the academic performance of his constituents’
children?

Though the concept of the melting pot may grate on cultural
leftists of all ethnicities, it actually resonates deeply with most
Hispanics, Mexicans in particular. Unlike Chinese, Koreans, or
Japanese, who come from effectively mono-ethnic societies with few
assimilationist traditions, Hispanics recognize themselves as a
fusion of European and Indian cultures. The very common term
mestizo-meaning “mixed”-is the self-description of most Hispanic
immigrants. It is no coincidence that when Time devoted an issue to
American ethnic trends, the attractive face on the cover-a
computer-generated composite of hundreds of actual Americans of
every race and ethnicity-looked very Hispanic. The “melting pot” is
as Hispanic as rice and beans.

An assimilationist approach might also attract surprising support
from traditional liberals (especially Jews) who have a history of
stressing common bonds among the races. It was Kennedy acolyte
Arthur Schlesinger Jr. who published one of the earliest forceful
attacks against multiculturalism, The Disuniting of America.
National polls show Jewish opposition to bilingual education running
at close to 90 percent. Individuals who themselves learned English
as children, or whose parents did so, often have even stronger
feelings on this issue than citizens several generations removed
from the immigrant experience.

Similarly, replacing race-based preferences with new assistance
based on socio-economic status could peel supporters away from the
Left. In many respects, the policies now advocated by multicultural
ists are closer to the ideas advocated by racialist reactionaries in
the 1920s and ’30s than to any truly progressive policy. Public
support for a melting pot alternative could attract a principled
core of traditional liberals who would provide tremendous
credibility for an assimilationist push. The power of this issue
might, for instance, help raise Jewish support for Republicans from
the negligible 15 percent or so at which it has long been stuck.

Using these issues to raise black support for Republicans-also
generally around 15 percent-is far less likely. Blacks, especially
those living in immigrant-rich cities, are vehement foes of
bilingual education, which provides an opening to them, but that is
not enough to overcome the drag of the other assimilationist
policies proposed here. Whereas an older generation of black leaders
from DuBois to Martin Luther King would have had grave doubts about
affirmative action, and rejected multiculturalism out of hand, a
considerable number of today’s most prominent blacks are explicit
separatists, and finding a popular black leader who opposes ethnic
preferences is almost impossible (even leading black Republicans
such as Colin Powell and J. C. Watts won’t break with affirmative
action).

Further, intermarriage rates between blacks and other groups are
minute compared to those for Asians or Hispanics, and there is
considerable sentiment that blacks whose spouses are of a different
ethnicity have betrayed their community in some way (similar
sentiments are sometimes expressed by Jewish activists toward Jewish
intermarriage, but those rates are now over 50 percent and the issue
is more of a religious one). Since middle-class blacks are
disproportionately employed in the public sector or in large
corporations-places where affirmative action policies have the
greatest influence on career advancement-there is obviously a strong
personal as well as ideological stake in maintaining race-conscious
policies. Nonetheless, with so few blacks supporting Republicans
now, a sincere and principled assimilationist approach could hardly
do worse than today’s Republican silence and squishiness.

UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF Bill Clinton, American elections have
recently turned to the small and the symbolicurging school uniforms,
for instance, or allocating 0.01 percent of the federal budget to
some high visibility program better left to the states anyway. Such
a political strategy cuts risks, and Republican candidates and
office-holders, eyeing Clinton’s success, seem to be following a
similar path. But while such micropolitics may be successful against
other micro-politicians, it would have little chance against a
campaign centered on a sincere and widely popular Big Idea.

Assimilation can be that Big Idea for Republicans. It represents a
powerful, positive vision, a clear solution to some of America’s
most intractable and controversial problems, appealing across
ideological and partisan lines. A spirited campaign to revive the
melting pot would encounter heated opposition, but that opposition
would be shrill and extremist, and the attention drawn in the
process would be a good thing politically. Although many
rank-and-file Democrats and liberals would be attracted to the
concept, a hard core of activist opposition would prevent Democratic
candidates from easily stealing the issue.

Unifying our increasingly multiethnic society is a project of the
highest importance. Large political rewards will flow to those with
the courage to move us in that direction. As a Republican, I hope
that the courage and wit necessary may be found somewhere within the
leadership of my own party.

Physicist, turned software entrepreneur, turned political activist Ron
Unz organized California’s successful 1998 ballot initiative that
rolled back bilingual education.



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