Pat Buchanan, among other conservatives, has been all arage over the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to be a Supreme Court justice. Sotomayer, Buchanan argues, is an affirmative action hire, selected not because she’s the best qualified candidate but because she’s a Hispanic woman. (For an example of Buchanan in action see this debate he had with Rachel Maddow).
It’s worth reminding ourselves that for conservatives like Buchanan, affirmative action is only bad when its beneficiaries are women or non-whites. There are all sorts of affirmative actions programs that Buchanan supports.
In the early 1970s, Buchanan was speechwriter for Richard Nixon. In that capacity he often sent his superiors memos advising them on political strategy. One pet Buchanan idea was that the Republican party should chase after the Catholic vote in a more vigorous way (he also thought that the party was wasting its time trying to get support from blacks and Jews).
One way to win the Catholic vote, he said, was to appoint Catholic justices to the Supreme Court. As he wrote in a September 23, 1971 memo: “It means telling [journalist] John Chancellor and the New York Times that, no, we have not done anything for the blacks this week, but we have named a Pole to the cabinet and an Italian Catholic to the Supreme Court.”
Note that Buchanan says nothing about either the Pole or Italian being the best qualified talent. The policy he was advocating was pure ethnic log-rolling. And also note that giving jobs to Poles and Italians is explicitly coupled with ignoring the interest of African-Americans. In sum: for “white” ethnics jobs, for blacks malign neglect (“benign neglect” was the phrase coined by fellow Nixonite Daniel Patrick Moynihan but I think “malign neglect” is closer to the truth). Here we see the core of conservative opposition to affirmative action, which is nothing more than white tribalism.