Uses and abuses of the past

Lani Guinier, the law professor and civil rights attorney, died on January 7. The Washington Post’s obituary is here.

The Post uses its obituary to settle old scores against Republicans and to make political/ideological points. Accordingly, the obit begins this way:

Lani Guinier, a lawyer whose innovative and provocative writings on racial justice and voting rights were used to undermine her nomination to lead the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division early in the presidency of Bill Clinton, died Jan. 7 at an assisted-living facility in Cambridge, Mass. She was 71.

The Post seems to suggest that there’s something unfair about using a nominee’s writings to evaluate her suitability for a key government position. Yet, this is standard practice and was at the time.

Nowadays, Republican nominees can even be torpedoed based on what they wrote decades earlier as college students, with no protest from the Post. The writings around which GOP opposition to Guinier centered were all current and on point.

As to those writings, the Post states:

Seeking to deal a blow to Clinton, conservative activists seized on Ms. Guinier’s articles in law journals to discredit her as a radical reformer who sought to overturn the country’s election system and remake society. . . .

In a controversial article from 1991, she called for Black political candidates to be “not just physically black” but to demonstrate a “cultural and psychological view of group solidarity.” She advocated anti-discrimination policies under which “roughly equal outcomes, not merely an apparently fair process, are the goal.”

To the Post, “seizing” must be almost as bad as “pouncing.”

But the policies Guinier favored — ones that seek equal racial outcomes, as opposed to equal opportunities to compete — were radical and would have remade society. Even Bill Clinton, a friend of Guinier who reportedly attended her wedding, realized this and said so when he pulled Guinier’s nomination. Yet, the Post wants to make it seem like Republicans were pouncing on Guinier for merely partisan reasons.

The Post goes on to say that Guinier’s views have become “more mainstream” in recent years. That’s true. They may now have majority support among Democrats and they certainly do among Dem politicians.

But they still aren’t mainstream. Voters continue to favor colorblind, merit-based policies over policies designed to distribute benefits equally on the basis of race. That’s true even in California.

The Post does point, without irony, to one position of Guinier’s that might well be mainstream. She wrote:

51 percent of the people should not always get 100 percent of the power.

Someone please break the news to Chuck Schumer.

Lani Guinier was a brilliant thinker and activist who devoted her life to causes she believed in passionately. She deserves to be remembered as such. But only near the end of its obit, after Republicans have been bashed, does the Post finally get around to documenting these virtues.

It’s unfortunate that the Post’s blatant partisanship and leftism filters into even its obituary page. But it’s not surprising. The past has its uses and so, I suppose, do the dead.

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