Va. Sen. Webb restates opposition to some affirmative action programs in op-ed

Virginia Sen. James Webb (D) was criticized by several Democrats for his statements in a Wall Street Journal column.
Virginia Sen. James Webb (D) was criticized by several Democrats for his statements in a Wall Street Journal column. (Koji Sasahara/associated Press)
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By Ben Pershing
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 24, 2010

Just as racial issues have returned to the forefront of political debate, Virginia Sen. James Webb (D) on Friday reiterated his opposition to some affirmative action programs and suggested that white Americans are being "marginalized" by current government policies.

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed headlined "Diversity and the Myth of White Privilege," Webb writes: "Forty years ago, as the United States experienced the civil rights movement, the supposed monolith of White Anglo-Saxon Protestant dominance served as the whipping post for almost every debate about power and status in America. After a full generation of such debate, WASP elites have fallen by the wayside and a plethora of government-enforced diversity policies have marginalized many white workers."

This is not a new topic for Webb, whose complicated views on race-based programs were an issue in his 2006 Senate campaign, when some of his fellow Democrats complained that Webb sounded like a Republican. In a 2000 book review, also published in the Wall Street Journal, Webb wrote that affirmative action "has within one generation brought about a permeating state-sponsored racism that is as odious as the Jim Crow laws it sought to countermand."

Webb has said he supports some preferential programs for African Americans but not for other ethnic and immigrant groups. He reiterated that point in Friday's op-ed.

"I have dedicated my political career to bringing fairness to America's economic system and to our work force, regardless of what people look like or where they may worship," Webb writes. "Unfortunately, present-day diversity programs work against that notion, having expanded so far beyond their original purpose that they now favor anyone who does not happen to be white."

Webb's latest airing of his views comes during a week when racial issues have dominated the headlines, after the firing of Agriculture Department official Shirley Sherrod sparked debates on alleged "reverse racism" and whether the Obama administration -- and society as a whole -- is capable of engaging in mature discussions of racial issues without descending into acrimony.

Asked whether Webb's latest piece was prompted by the racial controversies of recent days, Webb spokesman Will Jenkins said Webb would let the article speak for itself.

Though Webb's position on affirmative action has long been known, at least one prominent Virginia Democrat -- former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder -- was highly critical of Friday's column.

"If it's not for the civil rights movement and diversity programs, he would not be a United States senator today," Wilder told the Associated Press, referring to Webb's 2006 victory with the help of minority voters. "Things are tough enough without having people you thought were friends do things like this."

In recent weeks, some conservatives have cited the controversy over the New Black Panther party and comments by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to promote the idea that the current White House is biased against whites.

Webb makes no such allegation in his op-ed, although he does complain that immigrants who have come to America in recent decades "have frequently been the beneficiaries of special government programs. The same cannot be said of many hard-working white Americans, including those whose roots in America go back more than 200 years."

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