Democrats: Right on Rights

May 28, 1991

Does George Bush want a civil rights bill, as he says, or does he want an issue? Last Tuesday, Democrats on Capitol Hill announced they would rewrite the controversial "quotas bill," as the White House keeps calling it, to meet objections expressed by the administration. A White House spokesman immediately called the rewrite unacceptable. This was before he or the president had read the new version. Sounds like they want an issue.

Some hardliners in the administration think race is just another political issue. It isn't. Telling whites that blacks are taking jobs that are rightly theirs -- when that is not the case -- is too dangerous a ploy to be considered just another campaign tactic. It is despicable. Republicans like George Bush (and his father Sen. Prescott Bush before him) used to lead the chorus in criticizing this sort of politics when it was practiced by the unabashed racists of another day.

It may have been possible to argue that the earlier versions of the civil rights bill required quotas. That is hardly so now. The new version (co-authored by a Republican) not only says specifically that it does not "require" or "encourage" quotas, it makes it clear that it does not "allow" quotas.

The new version forbids adjusting the scores of a standard Labor Department placement test to help minorities even though the department has learned from experience that unadjusted test scores do not accurately predict job performance. The new version of the bill also gives employers more latitude in deciding what to require of job applicants. It also limits punitive damages for certain forms of job discrimination.

The Democrats, sacrificing the felt needs of major elements of their constituency, have gone at least an extra mile in the president's direction since they started work on this legislation in the last Congress. Mr. Bush ought to be president enough and man enough to go a few feet in their direction. It might even be good politics. He's got the conservative white vote locked up anyway. His and his party's growth opportunities are among moderate and conservative blacks.

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