Civil rights bill: too late

October 31, 1991|By The Morning News Tribune, Tacoma, Wash.

WHAT'S THE price of playing politics with people's civil rights? For America's workers, it comes to two years of lost protection. It was two years ago that the Supreme Court issued a series of rulings stripping minorities and women of legal safeguards against job discrimination -- safeguards they'd taken for granted since 1971. It was two years ago that a majority of the lawmakers on Capitol Hill agreed that those safeguards should be restored.

But it wasn't until last Thursday that the Republican president and the Democratic leaders of the Senate came up with compromise legislation they all could live with.

Why did it take so long? Because neither side could resist trying to put the other in the worst possible light. Bush and his operatives played to white fears of reverse discrimination by claiming the Democrats were trying to foist off a "quota bill" on the nation. For their part, the Democrats repeatedly championed measures Bush had threatened to veto, posturing as crusaders taking on a Republican president hostile to civil rights.

There was much less going on here than met the eye. In reality, the Democrats' "quota bills" and the Republican alternatives favored by the president were remarkably similar. The differences largely consisted of arcane legal technicalities. Once the White House and Senate Democrats decided to compromise, they cut through their disagreements in a single day of negotiations.

This could -- and should -- have happened two years ago. The fact that it didn't shows how easily games of political one-upmanship can distract the country's elected leaders from the needs of the people they supposedly serve.

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