Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Strategy on Affirmative Action

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Strategy on Affirmative Action

Article excerpt

THE idea will spread like wild fire across a parched prairie on a windy day."

This was how the California Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI), intended to eliminate affirmative action programs, was introduced recently. It would not diminish the force of the 1964 Civil Rights Law, Tom Woods, co-author of the initiative, told those attending the Pacific Research Institute breakfast; on the contrary, it builds on the 1964 law and expands its protection, especially to white males.

The Clinton administration has announced a top-to-bottom review of affirmative action programs in response to the Republican leadership's stated intention of making an issue of them.

But the Republicans are on the offensive. Affirmative action is an issue about which they long have harbored ill feelings. To avoid the label of race-baiting, they will pick their battles, such as the repeal of section 1071 of the Internal Revenue Code. It was under 1071 that Viacom proposed selling its cable television stations to a minority interest and deferring a significant tax levy.

The issue has the same potential to drive a wedge through the heart of the Democratic Party as the abortion issue has for the Republicans.

Bill Clinton understood in 1992 that success depended on his bridging the gap between liberal and mainstream Democrats. This is where the affirmative action debate threatens to drive its wedge today.

The debate has the Democrat Party's back to the wall. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed on behalf of traditional Democratic constituencies and honored the commitment to civil rights of both presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.

Over 30 years, the law has been used to redress discrimination against minorities, notably blacks and women, in employment, schools, and public accommodation. Today, critics say, the law is being wielded to pit the rights of groups against the rights of the individual, regardless of color, race, or creed.

What began as an effort to correct injustices toward blacks, and later women, has turned into a program favoring minority identity as the guiding principle in hiring, university admissions, and awarding of government contracts. …

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