July 1st, 2009
10:47 AM ET

Dear President Obama #163: Jobs, race and courting trouble

Reporter's Note: I really have a very hard time believing much of the press I’ve heard over the years about how often presidents exchange letters with members of the public.  Since Barack Obama’s inauguration, I have been sending a letter a day to the White House and it’s no picnic.  Still, I press on…

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Tom Foreman | Bio
AC360° Correspondent

Dear Mr. President,

Here’s the good news: I’m pretty sure the Supreme Court ruling on those Connecticut firefighters is not going to substantially hurt your nominee, Sonia Sotomayor. Yes, they turned around her decision in the case like a Miata on a wet road, and they effectively said the white firefighters and the one Latino in the lawsuit were discriminated against. And yes she’ll be hit with that during confirmation. But it’s probably not a deal breaker. She’ll get one of those fancy robes, and the first judicial cornerstone of your legacy will be set.

That said, you should read this decision carefully, because I suspect it foreshadows many tough battles ahead over a basic question: Are anti-discrimination laws fundamentally aimed at helping make up for past injustices by helping minorities move forward, or at preventing new discrimination?

A lot of Americans, from all ethnic backgrounds, are highly in favor of just treating people equally…regardless of race. We all know about our past problems, and no reasonable soul wants to repeat those. But when the discussion shifts from equality to reparation; including job quotas, paybacks for past wrongs, preferential hiring based on race; a lot of citizens want off of the train.

Precisely because some people suffered in past years (and even now in some ways) by being born to groups that were unfairly discriminated against; many Americans, in my experience, are hell bent against letting it happen again. Which for them means that everything we do in our laws, in our hiring, in our promotions should be aimed at erasing race as a measuring stick; not using it to make up for past slights. In other words, let the job, the promotion, the silver cup at the race track, go to the best performer period; not the one who can claim the biggest share of victimization.

I know, that’s easy to say for the group that’s always been in the majority with the most political and economic power. And I know not everyone agrees with that view. But you can bet your house, clashes between those opposing perspectives will only get hotter, as we struggle to recover jobs, fix the economy, and deal with a changing but at the same time still largely the same, racial landscape.

Ha! Look at me prattling on. I’m getting way too serious in these letters some days. Speaking of ethnic diversity, I’ve taken up my study of Spanish again. Give me a call if you want to jump in on that; we can study together on weekends. Si?



Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

soundoff (18 Responses)
  1. serita

    Does anyone know if any native americans wanted to be apart of the Obama administration or the Bush administration?

    July 2, 2009 at 5:51 am |
  2. RLWellman

    Sinse when is reverse discrimination the answer to discrimination? The equal rights bill was signed years ago! The trouble is, the Government wants to look good with minorities (to get more votes). That's why they want the rules "relaxed" so people who are not smart enough to pass the test will still get promoted.

    This is exactly what I want, to be supervised by someone who didn't go to college or even pass high school, but was promoted because of their minority status. I hope with Sotomayor's record, she won't be voted in.

    July 1, 2009 at 6:19 pm |
  3. jim

    That's a good point Larry. In fact that is true for not just this administrations but also the last one.

    July 1, 2009 at 5:53 pm |
  4. Larry

    Why has there been no native-american presence in the supreme court or the Obama administration? Does diversity exclude native-americans?

    July 1, 2009 at 5:06 pm |
  5. Mike in NYC

    Sotomayor is on video record as admitting that appeals courts make policy. Also, a full panel rehearing of the case was denied by a 7-6 vote, which indicates strong dissension among the Circuit judges.

    The appeals court ruling in this case, though, is not the main point. The real issue here are the federal rules mandating anti-White discrimination.

    July 1, 2009 at 4:49 pm |
  6. Lesley Anne

    It's not the job of lower courts to make new law, but rather uphold the law that is in existence. Sotomayor and the other members of the panel did just that. Until the laws in this country are changed at the top, or at least interpreted unequivocally, judges in lower courts have to work with what they are given. The rants should be addressed to members of the Supreme Court for interpreting the laws and writing the opinions that lower court judges must abide by, not the other way around.

    July 1, 2009 at 3:50 pm |
  7. Curious

    Who declares the "score is settled"? When is that magic day when caucasians (or others) no longer "owe" another race something? Is it 10 years? 20 years? 50 years from now? Does it take everyone signing off on it? What's the criteria? Is it when all organizations have a percentage of each race that reflects the makeup of society as a whole? Does that mean as we move forward, professional sports will have to follow the same criteria? At that point, does it mean the same percentage of people within each race will have the same educational levels? What about terms within the names of organizations that indicate "race association"? Will that be abolished?
    What's more important to the progress of America? Do we place value on education and qualifications, or is race enough? Seems to me like today is a good day to put everyone on an equal footing. The educational opportunities are there. Companies are interested in profits at any cost and could care less about race.
    Sotomeyor's ruling is racism at it's finest, and the use of the law to enable discrimination. Face it. The firefighters did not get the job because they were white and her ruling said that's acceptable. Equality needs to apply across the board even if the outcome, by virtue of racial numbers is not desireable. America will only move forward through fair/equal competition, not pandering to a subset of society.

    July 1, 2009 at 3:41 pm |
  8. Mike in NYC

    This SCOTUS decision was more than welcome. Bader Ginsburg's desperate attempt to prove that the test was biased was more laughable than anything else.

    Reparations are a non-starter. Aside from the fact that most Whites would not stand for it, how would it be administered? We don't keep records on people's ethnic affiliation. In addition, I don't think Hispanics and Asians are going to pony up one thin dime for AA's.

    Actually, Kirk, it was hardly a "rant." Tom, a died-in-the-wool liberal, was going out of his way to be fair. IMHO, he was way too fair.

    July 1, 2009 at 3:26 pm |

    I think Sotomeyor should be hurt by the Supreme Court's decision on those firefighters. Those firefighters wer treated unfairly.

    July 1, 2009 at 2:37 pm |

    That supreme court reversal on the firefighters who weren't treated fairly, was a JUST decision. QUALIFICATIONS must be the thing that counts in hiring. It was unfair for them to throw out the test results.

    July 1, 2009 at 2:32 pm |
  11. Kirk Denson

    I wasn't going to respond to this rant until I saw the phrase "past slights". So that's what you call it? That's how you see the discrimination and abuse of power through the creation of Law? Do you also consider "Whites Only" signs a "slight"? I'm only interested in reading and listenting to such rants when they are balanced by recognizing and speaking to why these equal opportunity practices were necessary to consider in the first place. While I do agree that we're living in a different era now and I don't want to be unfair towards any sector of society, I also want to see discussions balanced with suggestons of REPAIRations. In other words...how do you suggest we fix what went wrong for so many years while we were being "slighted".
    One final comment...Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor will NOT get that nice black robe unless she buys it herself, to my understanding....if they are a judge before they arrive they come with their own, or buy their own. But maybe that's what you meant by "get". So I'm sure she won't feel slighted if she doesn't get one.

    July 1, 2009 at 12:09 pm |
  12. Donna Wood, Lil' Tennessee

    Well said Mr. Foreman! I always enjoy your articles. In fact I look forward to them. And as usual I couldn't agree more. That is quite a daunting question: Are antidiscrimination laws aimed at helping makeup for the past injustices or at preventing new discrimination? They should be aimed at preventing new discrimination oterwise we are just doomed to repeat our past are we not?

    Donna Wood
    Lexington, Tennessee

    July 1, 2009 at 11:00 am |
  13. William Courtland

    Come on Americans: your all equal: it is those of the second and third worlds who remain the minorities.

    July 1, 2009 at 10:16 am |
  14. William Courtland

    A comedy

    So just before Herbert Hoovers inauguration Charles Curtis as his running mate travelled with him to formalize their relationship over President Hoover's closing of his financial affiars: travelling from Great Britian to Mexico they were lost in the Bermuda triangle: calvin Coolidge was retained until Congress could deside what to do. As he was not yet inaugurated... the decision was cast to hold a new election... then the stock market crashed...

    In one of the Un-hoovervilles which formed in the aftermath of that crash: two bums who were always bums found themselves at the head of the new peoples workers party: and taking residence in the Whitehouse after a landslide victory...

    The pair were so dirty when first nominated: their skin tone was not truly known...

    I do not know if such a thing should be crafted for Cheech and Chong without smoke, and Kal Pen is busy even though he has access to the Whitehouse... and with John Cho again without the buds...

    yet a new comedy pairing maybe?

    To use such an idea to promote that the people of hard times can overcome the formalities of Racism: to correct and become patriots, and to find that the real President has escaped the Burmuda triangle by digging a large tunnel to dry land...

    July 1, 2009 at 10:14 am |
  15. Sandra

    Tom – You hit the nail on the head, today is today and race shouldn't be an issue, but yet they fight to keep it an issue. Obama nominating Sotomayor is a fine example of that............Latina woman. Obviously that was a calculated move by Obama and not a very good one at that. Yes, she will be confirmed with the Democrats driving the boat, but it shows lack of judgment on Obamas part. We want Obama to quit pandering and do the job without watching poll numbers every day.

    July 1, 2009 at 10:06 am |
  16. Darleen Smith

    I am very disappointed that you continue to devote so much coverage to the Michael Jackson story. I watch your show to get the news! Last night you opened with an interview with a nurse who told a story that had not been documented – REALLY!! US troops began leaving Iraq after six years of war and the top story on AC360 was an undocumentated tale about Michael Jackson?? I contiuned to watch for almost 45 minutes and the only news I heard was about Michael Jackson. Enough!! What is happening in Iraq? in Iran? in Honduras? even South Carolina! Please return to covering the rest of the world!

    July 1, 2009 at 10:05 am |
  17. Reality

    If you look at the census, Asian-Americans are the best educated and as a whole, earn more on average than caucasians. There's a direct correlation between success and education. This also shows corporate America is less concerned about race and more concerned about profits by hiring and paying more for those who are best educated, and not because they're "white males", etc.

    It burns me that past injustices are used to leverage preferential treatment. All too often "racism" is used as a crutch to get ahead when motivation, determination, and qualifications are lacking. While racism still exists in ALL races/cultures, laws need to ensure equality, not promote reverse descrimination. Educational opportunities exist for everyone and it is not racism when cultures and communities do not promote the value of a good education as the key to success. Look at many cultures and kids idolize sport stars, actors, and musicians. They believe they can obtain the quick buck, and fail to realize their chances of success/wealth are far greater with a degree and education.

    In my opinion, we need to take away the crutches and force people to take responsibility for their own destiny. People need to take responsibility for the consequences of their own decisions. Communities need to take steps to promote education and not enable people by telling them it's not their fault. Find someone to blame, scream loud, and threaten lawsuits. If America was as racist as some will have us believe, Asian-Americans wouldn't out earn caucasians, or are they saying whites hate blacks, but love the Asian-Americans? Focus on equal opportunity for all, not preferential treatment for some.

    July 1, 2009 at 9:39 am |
  18. Joanne Pacicca

    I thought we were to believe that "justice is blind"...the only issue, clearly, is how great lawyer one can afford.

    July 1, 2009 at 9:14 am |