Joe Conason: Alito's ugly association





It's easy to tell when conservatives feel most embarrassed by a particular political revelation because indignation immediately swells while memory grows dim. Whatever the outcome of Samuel Alito's Supreme Court nomination, his membership in the Concerned Alumni of Princeton is the kind of issue that conservatives clearly prefer to avoid.

They don't like to be reminded of their historical opposition to civil rights, their continuing hostility to the advancement of minorities, or their bad habit of coddling and cultivating bigots.

That is why Sen. Orrin Hatch angrily demanded to know why anyone would dare ask Alito about CAP, why Sen. Lindsay Graham theatrically apologized to Alito and his family about the controversy, and why author Dinesh D'Souza, who once edited the organization's magazine, dismissed the subject as a "diversion." That is why Fox News and the conservative media are exploiting his wife's tears to suggest that those questions were somehow illegitimate.

That is also why Alito himself has claimed to be unable to recall his decision to join the reactionary group of wealthy Princeton graduates (founded in 1972), which became notorious for its opposition to women and minorities on campus, its vicious bigotry against homosexuals, and its defense of the interests of affluent white male alumni and their sons. A convenient credential back when he was applying for a post in the Reagan administration, where his résumé would be perused only by like-minded right-wingers, membership in CAP became troublesome under the hot lights of a Supreme Court nomination hearing.

Perhaps under coaching from the White House, Alito came up with a canned, flag-waving justification for joining such a group: to defend the right of the Reserve Officers Training Corps to remain on campus -- an explanation that emphasizes patriotism and duty rather than prejudice and privilege....

Although CAP has been defunct for two decades, its sudden exhumation now exposes the unattractive underside of modern conservatism. To describe CAP merely as an organization that "opposed affirmative action," as the New York Times peculiarly insists in its news stories, is to whitewash its ugly reality.

The founder and chief financial supporter of CAP was an immensely wealthy investment banker named Shelby Cullom Davis, who served as ambassador to Switzerland under President Nixon and, aside from his enormous generosity to his alma mater, spent his fortune promoting right-wing causes and institutions. Davis made no secret of his opinion that diversity at Princeton, including the admission of women, was identical with decline. In "The Chosen," a recent history of admission policies at Harvard, Yale and Princeton by Jerome Karabel, Davis is quoted trumpeting his nostalgia for the homogeneity of his father's college class -- meaning an era when the Ivy League admitted no women, virtually no blacks or Hispanics and precious few Jews.

Demanding a reduction in the number of women and minorities permitted to enroll, Davis opposed sex-blind admissions as well as affirmative action (except for the children of alumni, of course). "Why should not a goal of 10 percent to 20 percent women and minorities be appropriate for Princeton's long-term strength and future?" he wondered. ...





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