Stuck in the mud

October 24, 1990

There's a lot of history behind President Bush's veto this week of the Civil Rights Act of 1990, but it is not a pretty chapter. It goes back more than 25 years, to the time when Alabama's segregationist governor, George Wallace, first ran for president exclusively on opposition to the Civil Rights bill of 1964; the Republican Party's presidential nominee, Barry Goldwater, blew Wallace out of the race by announcing that he opposed the civil rights bill just as much as Wallace. Four years later, Richard Nixon turned back the Wallace challenge once more by devising his notorious "Southern strategy" -- giving an aura of respectability to the mudball resistance to civil rights that had brought Wallace to the forefront. It only remained for Ronald Reagan to "make us feel comfortable with our prejudices," to use the stinging words of Rosalynn Carter.

Now, a quarter of a century later, George Bush, who ought to know better, is still stuck with the "Southern strategy" -- never mind that this strategy only recently very nearly saddled the Republican Party with David Duke, the young Nazi sympathizer, as a United States senator from Louisiana.

President Bush has vetoed the legislation with a spurious incantation that "this is a quota bill." That is exactly what Wallace said of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when he predicted the law would force businesses to structure their work forces along strict racial and ethnic lines. Of course, nothing of the kind came to pass; the bill simply opened employment opportunities to minorities and women which had been closed for decades. Yet George Bush still feels obliged to carry on the Republican flirtation with the mud of Wallaceism.

The 1990 bill passed by a comfortable bipartisan margin in both houses of Congress. Only a few more votes were necessary to override the president's veto of this worthy legislation, which is intended simply to rectify a string of Supreme Court misinterpretations of previous laws. Unfortunately, in its vote just after noon today, the Senate failed by just one vote to override the veto.

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