As Congress prepares for a showdown this week over the Civil Rights Bill of 1991, it is important to keep in mind precisely what the bill does and does not do.
* It does not establish quotas, and no amount of incantation by President Bush can change that fact. In fact the bill, redrawn to incorporate administration objections that led to Bush's veto last year, expressly outlaws the use of quotas in hiring practices.
* It does clarify the intent of Congress in a number of previously enacted civil rights bills that have been effectively eviscerated by an activist conservative "Rhenquist Court," which has essentially abandoned the U.S. Supreme Court's role as the protector of the politically powerless.
* It keeps the nation on a steady course toward a society in which one day there will be no need for civil rights laws because people will be hired on the basis of merit, and not excluded because of race, sex or ethnic considerations as has been the case for most of our nation's history.
These are the wholly reasonable goals of the legislation which has been so distorted and demogogued by Republican politicians like David Duke, Jesse Helms and, yes, George Bush.
It is a sad spectacle indeed when the president of the United States aligns himself with the likes of Duke and Helms against a substantial bipartisan majority in both houses of Congress. But that is what has happened.
Congress came within one vote of overriding President Bush's veto of the Civil Rights Bill of 1990, on the spurious grounds that the bill would establish "quotas." Even though this red-herring issue has now been stripped from the bill, Bush nevertheless still opposes the measure. This clearly places him in the Duke-Helms wing of Republican politics.
We hope that when the votes are counted at the end of the present debate, there will be a solid enough margin to make it clear that a veto this year will be swiftly overridden, not sustained by the razor-thin margin of one vote, as was the case in the Senate last year.