President Bush is beginning to sound distressingly like those old Southern politicians who for tactical purposes played race politics that in their hearts they did not believe. They did so to protect their right flank. As George Wallace once put it after losing a race to a stronger segregationist, "They'll never out-seg me again."
All last year Mr. Bush refused to negotiate in good faith with Democrats on a civil rights bill. Every concession he asked for he got, yet he still called the bill a quota bill and opposed it. It passed, but he "won" because several loyal Republicans held their noses and voted to uphold his veto.
Okay, he was fighting the Democratic left led by Sen. Edward Kennedy then. Senator Kennedy seems to bring out the worst in Republicans. But this year Sen. Jack Danforth, a Missouri Republican (and chief advocate of Judge Clarence Thomas), has crafted a new version of the bill. He and other moderate Republican senators worked out a bill that restored the law on employment discrimination to where it was after a unanimous decision by the Supreme Court in 1971.
(That decision was subsequently upset by the court, which is why new law is needed. It was not about "preference" or "affirmative action," much less "quotas," but structural racial discrimination. It provided a way to overcome that without unfairness to white male workers or to employers. It did it so well that it is widely used in Europe now as a basis for anti-discrimination laws.)
The White House rejected the Danforth version, too. So this week that senator walked one more mile. He essentially changed his bill into a copycat of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Discrimination charges by blacks would be subject to the same tests as discrimination charges by the disabled.
Again, Mr. Bush rejected it out of hand. Yet of the ADA, the president's own Equal Employment Opportunities Commission chairman, Evan Kemp, said last year: "For all the rancor over a civil rights bill, we should take some lessons from the ADA, a civil rights bill [that] does not require, encourage or permit preferences or quotas. Proponents of civil rights bills of the future should look to the ADA."
President Bush, himself, said, "I know there have been concerns that the ADA may be vague or costly or may lead endlessly to litigation. I want to reassure you right now that my administration and Congress have carefully crafted this act."
Now faced with Senator Danforth's carefully crafted act, which is a direct response to Chairman Kemp's invitation, the White House retreats. Why? George Bush doesn't want to get out-segged? That is preposterous. George Bush is not vulnerable on his right flank. This is pandering to the worst element in his political coalition. This is just Willie Hortonism of another kind -- and beneath the dignity of a president of the United States.