When it comes to advancing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s goal of a colorblind America, President Bush is ahead of the Democratic Party, even if most African-Americans don’t appreciate it.
Bush’s opposition to quota-based affirmative action programs at the University of Michigan — combined with his high-level minority appointments — clearly move the country toward the day when people (in King’s famous words) “will not be judged by the color of their skin, but the content of their character.” [IMGCAP(1)]
Democrats, on the other hand, consistently support preferences based on race — perpetuating race-consciousness — and increasingly use race baiting as a political tactic against Republicans.
African-Americans prefer Democratic candidates over Republicans by a 90-10 margin, but Democrats act as though they fear that Bush might cut into that base vote.
While opposing racial preferences in Michigan and earlier in Texas, Bush has advocated alternative steps to promote diversity that seem to work.
And his appointment of two African-Americans, Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, to his administration’s top foreign policy positions sends an unmistakable signal that Bush believes in merit selection open to all.
It is Democrats who are constantly playing “the race card.” They portrayed the 2000 Florida ballot-counting debacle — which occurred even in upscale, Democrat-controlled counties — as a systematic GOP effort to “disenfranchise” blacks.
No Democrat criticized the NAACP’s outrageous ad that year likening Bush’s refusal to support a new hate-crimes law in Texas to the brutal murder of African-American James Byrd.
Last year, even though the White House helped oust then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) after he praised former Sen. Strom Thurmond’s (R-S.C.) 1948 segregationist presidential campaign, Democratic leaders systematically portrayed the GOP as bigoted.
As Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) put it, “If anyone thinks that one person stepping down from a leadership position cleanses the Republican Party of their constant exploitation of race, then I think you’re naive.”
Clinton and other Democrats also repeated stories — which have proved false — that GOP candidates used the Confederate flag as a theme in winning Southern Senate and governorship races last year.
Democrats currently are accusing Bush and his conservative 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals nominee, Charles Pickering, of being “hostile to civil rights,” even though Pickering once fought the Ku Klux Klan and has the support of most black leaders in Mississippi.
And, of course, Democrats are saying that Bush’s opposition to the University of Michigan’s affirmative-action programs proves that he is opposed to helping minorities achieve equality.
Even though some Democrats say they oppose “quotas” in affirmative action, in fact the Michigan programs aim to ensure that a pre-set percentage of students are black, Hispanic or American Indian and create preferences for those groups.
As Bush said, correctly, “Quota systems that use race to include or exclude people from higher education are divisive, unfair and impossible to square with the Constitution.”
It’s inherently unfair to give a preference to the child of a well-to-do black professional and deny a place to a working-class white who may have surmounted hardships to get to college.
Where racial preferences exist, even well-qualified minorities are assumed to be “affirmative action babies” and their achievements are derogated.
Less-qualified students often fail academically, experience resentment and blame their lack of success on racial prejudice.
The result is that programs meant to encourage greater interracial understanding —and, ultimately, a colorblind America — end up fostering racial divisiveness.
Still, as Bush noted, ethnic diversity is a legitimate value to be pursued in academia. In Texas, he fostered it by promoting a program whereby the top 10 percent of every high school class was eligible for admission to state universities.
Such programs seem to be working, too, in California and Florida, other states where traditional affirmative action programs have been outlawed.
Such steps belie the Democratic characterization of Bush as hostile to minorities, but Bush needs to do more to ensure that minority individuals can advance — notably, quit cutting back on funding for public education reform and college aid.
Bush also needs to vigorously prosecute civil rights law violators and go out of his way to cultivate black support the way he has among Hispanics.
One analyst, David Bositis of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, says Bush’s Michigan decision is likely to hurt him among Hispanics, who favor affirmative action by a margin of 80 percent to 15 percent in a recent study.
But another Center study last fall suggests the damage will be marginal. It asked whites, blacks and Hispanics if they agreed with the statement “we should make every possible effort to improve the conditions for blacks and other minorities.”
Huge majorities — 63 percent of whites, 74.5 percent of blacks and 80 percent of Hispanics — said they agreed with the general idea of aiding minorities.
But support fell off precipitously when the Center added the words “even if it means giving them preferred treatment.”
Only 29 percent of whites agreed, 57.2 percent of blacks and just 48.2 percent of Hispanics.
There’s little question that disadvantaged minorities need government help to overcome discrimination and achieve the American dream. Bush and Republicans ought to do more to help them, but Democrats ought to quit playing racial politics.