home > archive > 2004 > this article
How the Left achieves its agenda
By Robert S. Sargent, Jr.
In "Understanding the Liberal Agenda," I argued on these pages that egalitarianism is what drives the agenda of the left. In this paper I'd like to look at the successes of this agenda and how the left has achieved them in the last 50 years. I will look at four areas of egalitarianism: racial, gender, material, and political.
We may say that a major force in racial equality in the last 50 years began with Brown v. Board in 1954. This is not egalitarianism because it didn't make blacks "equal" to whites and the same is true of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. These were efforts to make our laws "color blind," to give minorities an equal starting place, to create equal opportunities. Perceiving that these laws didn't make minorities "equal," President Lyndon Johnson, in a speech at Howard University in 1965 said, "We seek…not just equality as a right and a theory but equality as a fact and equality as a result." Equal results, as opposed to equal opportunities, is the egalitarian concept. So, in September of 1965 Johnson issued Executive Order 11246 which is still in effect. This order requires government contractors to take "affirmative action" to seek out minorities when hiring. At first, affirmative action was presented as a temporary policy to make up for past discrimination, but that is no longer the goal. Even if discrimination is shown not to exist, the idea is that affirmative action is justifiable until equality is achieved.
In another example of racial egalitarianism, it was seen that even when a state had legal school integration, housing patterns kept many schools segregated. This was true in North Carolina, and in 1971 in Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, the Supreme Court upheld a District court-ordered busing program to achieve a more egalitarian integration. Chief Justice Burger wrote: "The District Court's conclusion that…the remedial technique of requiring bus transportation as a tool of school desegregation was within that court's power to provide equitable relief." Busing provided the equal results that the law didn't.
I will give two examples of gender equality successes. Under pressure from feminist groups, Les Aspin, President Clinton's Defense Secretary from 1/21/93 to 2/3/94, eliminated the phrase "substantial risk of capture" as a consideration in determining where the military could place women on the battlefield. Jessica Lynch is a well known example of the growing egalitarian nature of gender-equality in combat zones.
The second example is in state-run educational institutions where we have the elimination of non-co-educational schools. In 1982, in Columbus Mississippi, a male sued to enter the all-women Mississippi University for Women. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court held that the "W," as locals fondly call the school, violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. In 1996, in a more famous case, a woman applied to the Virginia Military Institute, an all-male military college. In a 7-1 majority, the Court held the school, again, in violation of the 14th Amendment. These schools are co-ed now.
The left hasn't figured out how to eliminate the disparity between the rich and the poor, even with taxation. But, there are two examples of material equality successes, even if they don't address the disparity issue. In 1966 in Harper v. Virginia State Board of Elections, the court held that poll taxes violated the Equal Protection Clause. It wasn't fair that some poor people couldn't afford the taxes, and in 1963 in Gideon v. Wainright, indigent criminal defendants were given a Constitutional right to counsel at public expense. Again, it wasn't fair that wealthy people could afford lawyers, but poor people were denied their expertise.
We see political equality success most famously in the "one-man-one-vote" decisions of the Supreme Court in the 1960s. These, of course, forced states to cut up their political units – counties – in order to comply with a more equal representation. Each person's vote should be equal to every other person's.
Without passing judgment on these results, my point is to look at the process. I'm not saying that egalitarian results are never achieved legislatively, but in all of these cases, none were decided through the democratic process. All were decided either through executive order, or judicial fiat. Egalitarianism as a concept always sounds "fair," (and sometimes is) but, in truth, it clashes against individual autonomy, and when the people are given a choice between the two, they usually choose freedom.
Robert S. Sargent, Jr. is a senior writer for Enter Stage Right and can be reached at email@example.com.
Get weekly updates about new issues of ESR!
© 1996 - 2005, Enter Stage Right and/or its creators. All rights reserved.