Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin falsely claimed an Obama administration push to expand opportunities for young men of color was unconstitutional and discriminatory, comparing it to the failed Arizona "Jim Crow" bill which would have allowed businesses to discriminate against gay couples.
President Obama announced on February 27 a $200 million, five-year initiative called "My Brother's Keeper," which intends to expand opportunities for young, at-risk men of color, ensuring they have access to health, nutrition, high-quality early education, and job opportunities, while partnering with police and local communities to reduce violence. The president will sign an order establishing an interagency task force to assess existing federal programs and recommend areas which can be expanded and improved upon, but as The New York Times reported, the initiative will rely "little on the government," and instead will largely come from the business community and nonprofits.
In her Post blog the following day, Rubin falsely characterized this push as a "federal program" which would discriminate against white men, claiming it was potentially unconstitutional and attacking the administration for using "victimhood as a political weapon" to divide the country:
The problem with hyping gender and racial differences is not simply the increased resentment and divisiveness it creates but also that it uses victimhood as a political weapon. Pretty soon words like "discrimination" lose meaning. It seems you are either for an inclusive society -- devoted to diminishing racial, ethnic, religious and other distinctions -- or you're not.
Like the Arizona anti-gay law, no good can come from a program that divides up the population by these categories.
The proposed Arizona legislation, which failed this week after Republican Governor Jan Brewer vetoed the measure because it could result in "negative consequences," would have allowed businesses to deny service to gay people on religious grounds. The bill was so extreme that even multiple Fox News personalities compared it to Jim Crow laws in the racist South, noting it was "profoundly unconstitutional" and "potentially dangerous."
My Brother's Keeper, on the other hand, is not a law which could codify segregation and endorse impermissibly discriminatory practices. In fact, Rubin's criticism of the program as "flat-out unconstitutional" manages to mangle both her source and constitutional law. Rubin exaggerated a National Review Online blog, which was far more careful than her description conveyed -- likely in recognition of the fact that race-conscious law is not and has never been automatically illegal. If state action uses race as a criteria and someone sues, a court must first carefully scrutinize the government's reasons and only then decide whether the program is constitutional. It's not even clear that the government "task force" for this partnership controls the funding and administration of these private programs, making the reference to its constitutionality and the Fourteenth Amendment likely irrelevant.
Despite Rubin's fear mongering about a discriminatory society, My Brother's Keeper merely seeks to improve opportunities for young Americans -- Americans who have historically been the victims of discrimination. As the Times reported, the president's inspiration for the initiative came from the national conversation about race, and the statistical reality that young black men are still disadvantaged in this country:
Mr. Obama said the idea for My Brother's Keeper occurred to him in the aftermath of the killing of Trayvon Martin, the Florida teenager whose death two years ago sparked a roiling national debate about race and class. He called the challenge of ensuring success for young men of color a "moral issue for our country" as he ticked off the statistics: black boys who are more likely to be suspended from school, less likely to be able to read, and almost certain to encounter the criminal justice system as either a perpetrator or a victim.
"We just assume this is an inevitable part of American life, instead of the outrage that it is," Mr. Obama told an audience of business leaders, politicians, philanthropists, young black men from a Chicago support program, and Mr. Martin's parents. "It's like a cultural backdrop for us in movies, in television. We just assume, of course it's going to be like that."
"These statistics should break our hearts," he added. "And they should compel us to act."