Playing politics with quotas

Wiley A. Hall 3rd

June 04, 1991|By Wiley A. Hall 3rd

Last fall, Campaigns and Elections, a national magazine that appears to be written for political analysts, consultants and strategists, ran an unsigned article titled, "How to Beat Women and Blacks," in its Political Advisor column.

Be patronizing and condescending toward your black or female opponent, the article advised. Accent people's negative stereotypes, it said. Emphasize "macho, middle-class values."

The article complained that blacks and women have become adept at casting themselves as underdogs and it advised its readers to avoid direct counterattacks.

"They [blacks and women] are unassailable," complained one campaign official quoted in the column. "They're ready, no matter what you say, to respond with accusations that you're racist or sexist. It's impossible to attack a woman or black candidate, even if you're right."

Therefore, the article recommended the indirect attack of innuendo and tone-- a campaign not only designed to activate the public's prejudices but also to egg on the black or female opponent to frustration and anger, thus feeding the conventional notions that both blacks and women have temperaments that are not suitable for political office.

The column in the August/September 1990 edition of Campaign and Elections will give you some idea of the type of campaigns we can look forward to when the next national elections roll around.

Strategists are in such a sweat, I suppose, because black representation in elected offices nationwide ballooned to all of 1.4 percent last year, compared with about 1.37 percent a few years ago, according to a survey by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.

So, you can see why some candidates feel pressed to adopt desperate measures.

And you might also begin to understand why the Bush administration has worked so hard to obstruct the Civil Rights Act of 1991.

"Obstruct" is a good description.

President Bush, raising the specter of quotas as his reason, vetoed a similar civil rights bill last year after a bipartisan committee had hammered out an agreement and after it had garnered overwhelming support in the House. The House, alas, fell just 17 votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to override the president's veto last year, while the Senate failed by just one vote.

The president then scuttled an attempt this year to forge a compromise bill by pressuring businessmen to back out of negotiations with congressmen and civil rights groups.

The businessmen, champions of courage that they are, yielded to the president's pressure tactics, but not before complaining publicly that they felt the talks had been fruitful and that they had been close to an agreement that would have been fair to both sides.

Now, with the House scheduled to vote on the Civil Rights Act today, the president has stepped up his attacks.

He told the graduating class at West Point Saturday that the Civil Rights Act of 1991 would invite people to "litigate, not cooperate, and this is no way to build racial harmony."

He told a group of businessmen yesterday that "Beltway interest groups" had refused to compromise because "they wanted a political win, they wanted to grind me into the political dirt."

But civil rights leaders and House Democrats have accused Bush of playing politics with the quota issue in order to galvanize voters when he and other conservatives run for re-election next year.

I think they're right.

A Civil Rights Act, blessed by the nation's business leaders and passed with bipartisan support, might do wonders for racial harmony in this troubled land of ours, but it would kill a potentially great television commercial for the president.

Remember Sen. Jesse Helms' heart-rending commercial of a forlorn white worker kicked out of his job to make room for a less qualified black? And all because of quotas, terrible quotas, frightening quotas!

It was powerful stuff and it helped the Republican Helms to hold onto his seat in North Carolina.

A similar campaign could cement a Bush victory -- although most observers already believe he has a lock, anyway. But you can never be too sure.

Besides, take away the specter of quotas and the Bush campaign would have to go out and find another Willie Horton to scare voters with.

But that's the problem.

Marauding black rapists who assault white women and are then set free by a Democrat to maraud again are not quite as plentiful or as easy to find as you might have been led to believe.

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