George F. Will [op-ed, May 9] and Michael Barone would have us believe that the blue (Democratic-leaning) states epitomize "softer" sensibilities, while the red (Republican-leaning) states exemplify "hardness" marked by "competition and accountability."

Apparently these sensibilities do not extend to receipt of federal largesse. As documented extensively by the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, federal tax revenue from "welfare states" such as New York subsidizes disproportionate payments to the "rugged individualist" states. This discrepancy has only increased under the current governing party, whose supposed affection for "competition and accountability" seems not to apply when certain constituencies are involved.

-- Sanford B. Gruenfeld

New York

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George F. Will says that the U.S. military "has no racial preferences" and suggests that this partly accounts for why it is the most trustworthy institution in America. In fact, the military does use racial preferences, and history shows that its successful use of them has been crucial to its success in building a diverse, representative and extraordinarily capable fighting force. As a group of prominent retired military officers put it in their influential amicus brief to the Supreme Court in Grutter v. Bollinger (the case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action program), "[T]he military cannot achieve an officer corps that is both highly qualified and racially diverse unless the service academies and ROTC use limited race-conscious recruiting and admissions policies."

This calls into serious doubt Will's argument that limited racial preferences somehow have contributed to a "softening" of U.S. competitiveness and accountability.

-- Michael Vatis

New York

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George F. Will pines for the good old days when things were simpler and fairer. Among the villains cited for 21st-century malaise are "racial preferences, which were born in the 1960s and '70s."

I don't know which history book Will is using, but mine says that racial preferences began in 1620, when the first boatload of Africans came to supply cheap labor for the colony at Jamestown.

-- Joseph Branscomb

Fairfax Station

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Judging from his column, George F. Will appears to be oblivious to recent news, or to have no sense of irony whatsoever. His ode to the moral superiority of the (implicitly Republican) "hard" America rings somewhat discordant given his assertion that the military is the epitome of this hardness. One might think, given the events at Abu Ghraib, that Will would at least see fit to question the values that this "hardness" instills. But perhaps I'm just too soft.

-- Daniel Waite

Olympia, Wash.