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A Plan of Action

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Next week, I'll mark the fifteenth anniversary of a poisoned memory -- for it is a day that represents the nadir of my obsession with fidelity to conservative orthodoxy.

On May 28, 1998, U.S. District Judge Joseph L. Tauro of Boston issued a ruling in a controversial case known as Wessmann v. Boston School Committee. Judge Tauro upheld the constitutionality of a diversity policy for Boston Latin School, from which I had graduated three years earlier. Tauro found that the diversity policy ensured that the school maintained the dual values of academic excellence and pluralism.

The Boston Globe editorial page praised the ruling for its sensitivity to Boston's uncomfortable racial history and its recognition of the importance of diversity. I had a profoundly divergent reaction.

By 1998, I had thoroughly immersed myself in the writings of Thomas Sowell, Walter E. Williams, Shelby Steele and other African-American Republican pundits who had asserted that affirmative action was more trouble than it was worth. I wholeheartedly agreed with Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who believed that affirmative action was nothing more than a paternalistic left-wing policy built on the presumption that people of color couldn't succeed on their own merits.

I was horrified by the Boston School Committee's decision to defend the Latin School diversity policy in the face of a legal challenge. I couldn't understand why the School Committee didn't decide to simply scrap the policy and admit students to Latin School purely on the basis of academic merit. I was angered by Judge Tauro's decision to declare the policy constitutionally valid. When I first learned of the ruling, my spirit turned sour, and I was livid.

On the morning of May 30, two days after the ruling was issued, I wrote a lengthy four-page screed entitled "The Boston Latin Screw," in which I denounced Judge Tauro as an ultra-liberal moonbat who cared not at all about the constitutional rights of the plaintiff in the case, and cared only about being admired by Harvard academics, Boston Globe editorial page writers and Clinton-loving progressives. I poured as much hatred as I could into the piece, printed out multiple copies, and sent it via overnight mail to friends who also opposed affirmative action.

I no longer have a copy of the piece, but I can still remember how much contempt pulsed through my body as I wrote it. I accused Judge Tauro of having committed a judicial crime by ruling against the plaintiff. I declared that he didn't have the courage to make a ruling that Jesse Jackson wouldn't approve of. I tried to land as many rhetorical punches as I could.

All summer, I burned with anger towards Judge Tauro for his ruling, anger that didn't leave until Nov.19, when a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit overturned Tauro's decision, striking down the diversity policy and ordering that the plaintiff be immediately admitted to Latin School. An injustice had been remedied! A wrong had been righted! Colorblindness would rule the day!

I could not have imagined on Nov. 19, 1998, that within ten years, an African American would be elected president, and my ideological allies would respond with a rhetorical and political assault that made my own attacks on Judge Tauro look polite by comparison.

*****

I noted last year that after four years of racially charged attacks on President Obama, I now understand why those who defended the diversity policy at Latin School were so adamant about maintaining it. As then-Boston School Superintendent Thomas Payzant testified in the Wessmann trial, diversity in the classroom was absolutely necessary to destroy racial stereotypes. When racial stereotypes are not destroyed in one's mind, inevitably one will fall for such nonsense as the allegation that Obama wasn't born in Hawaii.

Read without partisan-right eyes, Tauro's ruling makes a compelling case for diversity as a noble, constitutionally valid goal. He accurately describes the sordid history of public school desegregation in Boston, the extensive efforts to remedy said discrimination, and the lingering challenges of the Boston Public Schools. He affirms the importance of pluralism to public education with the following words:

"The Boston School Committee has a compelling governmental interest in adopting a policy that seeks to attain the educational benefits of diversity for its students. Striving for diversity in a secondary school setting does not require the establishment of quotas, nor does it justify the admission of unqualified applicants. Rather, it calls for a conscientious effort to reach out to worthy candidates whose inclusion will enrich the educational experience for all who participate. And, it requires an appreciation for the fact that we all learn from those whose experiences and points of view differ from our own.

Of great significance is the fact that diversity in the classroom is the most effective of all weapons in challenging stereotypical preconceptions. When studying side by side, in a diverse setting, students grow to understand and respect the differences among them as they share life in a complex, pluralistic society. And, as important, they learn that most people, regardless of their backgrounds, think in fundamentally the same say about matters of character, team work, and mutual respect."

*****

One of the nice things about being divorced from the Republican Party is that you can once again engage your objectivity. Tauro was no left-wing ideologue (heck, he was a Nixon appointee!), but a judge who made a reasonable assessment -- not reasonable enough for the First Circuit, granted, but one that could certainly pass muster in the court of public opinion.

I'm sorry I called him a moonbat fifteen years ago. I only did so because back then, I was a wingnut.