Grandmom Thompson was a thoughtful, methodical person. Growing up, I often watched her make quilts like the prize-winners I see these days at craft shows. Being the impressionable youngster I was, I was always excited over some new bit of information and wanted to find out what she thought.
I'd burst in, dying to discuss what I had learned, to be shushed and then quietly debriefed. Watching the latest congressional attempt to pass a civil rights law, I thought back to what she would have said about the political jockeying over it.
''Grandmom, Grandmom! The House of Representatives just passed a new civil rights bill! President Bush said it was a 'quota bill,' but they passed it anyway. He might veto it, but the news says the Democrats don't have enough support to override it.''
-- Hold on, son. Hand me that piece over there. Thank you. Now, what's this about a civil rights bill?
''It's a new law to overturn somebad Supreme Court decisions, Grandmom. The decisions made it harder to prove a person was a victim of discrimination in hiring, blocked taking someone to court for racial harassment, and . . .
-- Hand me those scissors, please. And don't talk so fast. Now, why would the president go against a law that would undo such mischief?
''He doesn't like the part about damages, Grandmom. He says companies might have to hire unqualified people because of quotas.''
''Yes, Ma'am. Mr. Bush says companies would go out and hire black people, or Hispanics or maybe Asians or women who were not qualified for their jobs, just to satisfy numerical quotas that the courts would accept. He says that would be discrimination against white people who were better qualified.''
-- Now child, you're talking nonsense. Your grandfather can tell you that as long as we can remember, he had to know twice as much as a white man even to get a job. Your father, too. What quota's going to put them first? And if it did, how are the few million black people going to take all the jobs from white people?
''Thirty million, Grandmom. We're a big number now.''
-- Thirty million, then. You always were good in school. Now, how many white people do you think there are?
''Oh, more than 200 million, Grandmom. But don't forget, the Hispanics and Asians are in this, too.''
-- And do you think that's enough to push 200 million whites out of all their jobs?
''Gosh, no, Grandmom. That'll never happen in a million years!''
-- Hush up, child. Watch your mouth. Now, don't step on those pieces over there, you'll mess up my pattern. What do you think the president is talking about, then?
''He says if Congress makes a new law that's too tough, it'll make people go to court to get jobs they aren't qualified for, and that'll keep the courts in an uproar and make companies have to hire by quotas even if the law doesn't allow it.''
-- That doesn't make a lot of sense, son. Didn't he say his own bill would overturn most of those decisions? Besides, the country has a lot of problems these days, with the recession and all. What's he going to do about that? Hand me those two pieces over there.
''The economy is bad, Grandmom. Three years ago, a foundation study said U.S. industry had lost 1.7 million jobs since 1979. Now they're selling more products, but less people make 'em. And the government says critical industries will be taken over by foreign competition if we don't do something . . .''
-- Get me that pin cushion, son. And the thimble next to it. That's good. Wasn't something in the newspaper about some new job training that was needed?
''Yes, Grandmom. All the big studies say vocational schools need new courses to teach people how to work with computers and high technology. They say on the news that American kids aren't keeping up in math and science, either . . .''
-- Watch where you're stepping, son. Reach over there and get me that blue thread. What is Mr. Bush going to do about that? Didn't he say he was the 'education president'?
''He's worrying about quotas just now, Ma'am.''
-- 'Quotas'? He ought to come up with some quotas to fix that Lloyd Street bridge that can't handle big trucks any more. Your uncle has to take his tractor-trailers all the way around it. Didn't the newspaper say something about that?
''Yes, Ma'am. Four years ago, the Thomas Dewey Thruway bridge in New York fell down, and another bridge fell down in Connecticut before that. The paper said this country had 576,000 bridges and three-quarters of 'em are older than 50 years old. Lots of 'em need to be fixed or replaced.''
-- But the president is going on about quotas? Somebody ought to tell him to tend to what's important. Now, didn't you tell me you read a story about how many people are fallin' into poverty?
''That's right, Grandmom. Most of the poor people work, but they don't make much money. And the poorest people are kids. People think their mothers are inner-city Welfare Queens, but most of 'em turned out to be whites in the suburbs and the country. They don't have that many babies, but they can't get jobs good enough to support them.
-- Hmph. And the president is worrying the people about 'quotas'? Looks like he's making a pretty good quilt himself, to pull over somebody's eyes. Hand me that piece over there, son. That's right, the one with the patch over one part . . .
Garland L. Thompson writes editorials for The Sun.