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Nuance without ambiguity
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“I don’t do nuance,” President Bush supposedly once said to Sen. Joe Biden.
And he didn’t, during the past eight years, in ways too disastrous, too numerous, too familiar to list.
If Bush’s problem was not doing nuance, Obama is facing the opposite problem: doing too much of it. Good for policy, bad for politics.
He goes to Iraq, sees what’s happening and realizes that the timetable he had favored needs to be more flexible than he had first believed. Obama made the shift only after he satisfied himself in person that the actual security situation on the ground required discarding rigidly preconceived, ideologically driven troop movements deadlines.
It’s what presidents are supposed to do, though we can think of one who didn’t.
Yet Obama got hammered for flip-flopping.
Obama has also been attacked for changing his mind on any number of other issues: offshore oil drilling, dipping into the strategic petroleum reserve, NAFTA, negotiating “without preconditions” with Iran and Cuba, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
Not every Obama supporter is going to like every tug and adjustment. And some of those tugs and adjustments are self-serving. Nothing else explains his opting out of public campaign financing.
So there’s political calculation mixed in there with the policy nuance. Well, it is politics. But now Obama’s job is to show that it is not all politics.
He can do that by leading a reform of affirmative action.
Obama has the opportunity to bring nuance to these policies because there is no agreement on what affirmative action is, or even on what its purpose should be.
On one side, there are liberals who fear that any recalibration of racial preference programs means disaster for ethnic minorities left unprotected from discrimination in employment and college admissions.
Obama sees the absurdity in that. He told George Stephanopoulos last year that his daughters “should probably be treated by any [college] admissions officer as folks who are pretty advantaged.” And he added that “we should take into account white kids who have been disadvantaged and have grown up in poverty and shown themselves to have what it takes to succeed.”
An Obama reform of affirmative action must have as a premise the fact that racial discrimination is much more likely to affect people who are not white — while at the same time, the policy must be nuanced enough to recognize that indeed, reverse discrimination is also reprehensible and should be every bit as illegal.
And so there you have Obama’s nuanced affirmative action: It should be used to oppose racial discrimination, whether overt from the right or the veiled, patronizing kind from the left; and it should boost disadvantaged people regardless of race.
He has said much of all that, a little bit here and a little bit there, sometimes ambiguously. Now he needs to lay it all out. Nuance without ambiguity. Because what this country urgently needs is a president unafraid to act upon shades of gray.

Hernandez is a syndicated columnist and writer-in-residence at New Jersey Institute of Technology. Read his blog at
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