American Civil Rights Policy from Truman to Clinton: The Role of Presidential Leadership

By Steven A. Shull | Go to book overview
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even expanded on it. Bush blamed the 1992 Los Angeles riot in part on social programs of the 1960s and 1970S.7 His more modest proposals reveal diminishing support for civil rights in the political environment. By playing on the fear and frustration of lower-class whites, particularly, both Presidents Reagan and Bush left a substantial civil rights legacy, but it was not a kinder, gentler one.

The robust economy of the late 1990s appeared to mute some of the actual and apparent differences in the races. With the economic good times came much lower unemployment and poverty rates. Although Clinton and congressional Republicans who crafted the Welfare Reform Act in 1996 touted its success, the strong economy no doubt delayed any potential ill effects of welfare reform. Certainly all policies are related, and other positive signs near century's end were lower crime rates (especially violent street crimes) and improvements in dropout and graduation rates, especially among vulnerable young African American males. The old cliché seemed like an apt one: "A rising tide raises all ships."

However, not all of the news on the civil rights front was so encouraging. Research showed that white welfare recipients were much more successful at finding employment than were blacks and, especially, Hispanics. In addition, the gap in health actually widened in some categories in the 1990s, prompting President Clinton to push for elimination of these disparities within twelve years. Further, black children were over three times as likely to live with a single parent as were white children, and minority education performance continued to lag behind that of whites. Despite some improvements in the lives of many Americans at the millennium, continuing disparities by race and class revealed that programs to ensure equality of opportunities often fail to guarantee equality of results.

The civil rights policy process, as is true in any policy area, is often messy. Sometimes we observe an inverse relationship among statements, actions, and results. There was no policy making on civil rights during most of U.S. history. Dramatic changes occurred during the 1960s and 1970s, but legislation, if not administration, slowed subsequently until the late 1980s and early 1990s. Government effort diminished thereafter (e.g., expenditures as a proportion of the total federal budget have declined).
A likely explanation for Clinton's low assertiveness legislatively is that he


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American Civil Rights Policy from Truman to Clinton: The Role of Presidential Leadership


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