Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Clinton Ignores Costs of Affirmative Action

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Clinton Ignores Costs of Affirmative Action

Article excerpt

There is a rule in journalism that if you get criticized by both sides in a dispute you must be doing something right. By that measure, Bill Clinton's speech on race relations in San Diego was a roaring success. But before the president takes any satisfaction from that rule of thumb, he ought to consider something: This time the critics are right.

First, of course, comes the mandatory praise of the president for just broaching the subject. It can't hurt to talk about such matters but talk, as Clinton himself noted, "won't be enough." Yes. What is needed are ideas, and in this area Clinton's speech was the rhetorical equivalent of an empty suit.

Take, for instance, a seemingly minor point. Toward the end of his speech, the president noted that he was a "Scotch-Irish Southern Baptist - and I'm proud of it." But then he proceeded to say that his life had also been enriched by the "power of the Torah, the beauty of the Koran. . . ." His mention of the Torah is a redundancy. It is the Hebrew name for the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. As a Southern Baptist, the president already knew them - unless, of course, he had read them in Hebrew on a sacred scroll. This is feel-good language, soothing to the ear, just plain puzzling to the eye - and meaningless. Clinton drew applause from a line asserting that "many" opponents of affirmative action - those who argue that only scores on standardized tests should be the basis of college admissions - "would not apply the same standard to the children of alumni or those with athletic ability." Cheap shot. Athletic ability, like musical ability, is still ability - unique to an individual - and not the same as race. As for the children of alumni, at more and more schools they stand no better chance of admission than anyone else. For people like me - reluctantly opposed to affirmative action and looking to see the errors of our ways - the president's speech was no help. When he decries the very dramatic decline in minority admissions at schools that have abandoned affirmative action, he identifies a real problem - maybe even a tragedy. …

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