Pivoting off a 2000 speech in which Pat Buchanan accused Ivy League schools of discriminating against "white Christians," Ross Douthat writes that "it’s worth recognizing what Pat Buchanan got right." Douthat isn't too specific on what Buchanan got right, and he never actually makes the claim that Ivy League schools aren't mostly made up of white Christians, but he does conclude that "lower class whites" are being harmed by affirmative action. I suppose this is Douthat's way of justifying the weird conservative oppositional culture that has sprung up in the aftermath of Barack Obama's election, which I think Glenn Beck summed up best when he said America has turned "into the 1950s overnight, except the races are reversed."
This was particularly pronounced among the private colleges in the study. For minority applicants, the lower a family’s socioeconomic position, the more likely the student was to be admitted. For whites, though, it was the reverse. An upper-middle-class white applicant was three times more likely to be admitted than a lower-class white with similar qualifications.
This provides statistical confirmation for what alumni of highly selective universities already know. The most underrepresented groups on elite campuses often aren’t racial minorities; they’re working-class whites (and white Christians in particular) from conservative states and regions. Inevitably, the same underrepresentation persists in the elite professional ranks these campuses feed into: in law and philanthropy, finance and academia, the media and the arts.
Having not-quite-agreed with Buchanan's claim that "white Christians" are being discriminated against, Douthat claims based on this study that lower-class whites are being discriminated against. Are the upper-class whites whose access to elite institutions are never in danger any less "Christian" than lower-class whites?
Douthat never actually suggests that the admissions process relies too much on factors that favor the wealthy -- he merely suggests that minorities are getting too many of the scraps and that lower-class whites are therefore correct to fight with people of color for the gristle being tossed under the table. Douthat never questions -- and these days few do -- the implicit size of the pie retained by the wealthy, as though being born into the type of family that can afford to send you to Andover is a matter of individual merit. It's possible to argue that both African Americans and lower-class whites are underrepresented on elite college campuses -- not exactly hotbeds of racial diversity either -- but Douthat doesn't make that argument.
More frustrating is the way Douthat uses this single study to conclude that Buchanan -- and by extension the conservative grievance mongers arguing that there's an "advantage" to being a Latino jurist given Sonia Sotomayor's rise to the Supreme Court (percentage of Supreme Court Justices who have been Latino, .009 percent, percentage who have been white, 98 percent), that there's some truth about the idea that the Obama Justice Department won't protect white voters (false) and the idea that the Affordable Care Act was "reparations" (47 percent of the uninsured are white) are actually onto something about white Christians being discriminated against. It seems a little odd to extrapolate from this single study on affirmative action in college admissions that white Christians as a whole are having a harder time in life than everyone else, given that a white guy just getting out of prison has an easier time finding a job than a black man who has never been. If you're white and lower class, by the time you get out of college you've picked up enough to know how to fake the requisite social markers -- if you're black, you're still black.
When you get down to it, Douthat's right that being a white Christian is actually easier if you have oodles of money, but when has being broke in America, regardless of race, ever been easy? Douthat's implicit conclusion isn't really that we should expand the share of the pie at elite institutions to the underrepresented as a whole; it's to wave his foam finger for one group of underrepresented people over another.