WASHINGTON. — Washington -- George Bush postured for years as a friend of civil rights, affirmative action, racial justice. But he learned in 1988 that the route to electoral victory was to pander to the fears, resentments, paranoia and hatreds of white males in particular and the middle class in general.
HTC Now, in what will be a futile effort to appease the David Dukes and Pat Buchanans of America, Mr. Bush has embraced the unconscionable tactic of pretending to be a friend of civil rights while at the same time declaring all-out war on the rules and laws that have produced the great civil-rights gains of the last 40 years.
He appealed to the far right by ranting against and vetoing the innocuous civil-rights bill of 1990. He fought the 1991 compromise until it became obvious that another veto would damage him. So on the eve of Thursday's White House ceremony at which he was to sign the new civil-rights bill, the president tried a shameful gambit. He would sign the civil-rights bill with one hand while using the other to promulgate an executive order that would render not only that civil-rights bill meaningless, but would in effect ''repeal'' all the laws and regulations of the last generation that were designed to provide fairness in hirings, promotions, federal contracts, educational opportunities.
To understand the venality of this Bush caper, you have to understand the circumstances that led to the creation of affirmative-action and equal-opportunity offices in all federal agencies and in most enlightened corporations in America.
In 1961 the State Department and its Foreign Service were veritable plantations, run by elitists, many of whom harbored Old South attitudes. The Pentagon was still under the yoke of belief that a racially segregated military was the best fighting machine possible. Harry Truman's fight against this absurdity came to fruition in the 1960s. The White House itself was staffed in ways reflecting the white-supremacy attitudes that pervaded Washington.
Lyndon Johnson knew that this had to be changed for the good of America. He pushed through the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in which the Congress mandated steps and programs to give women, blacks, Hispanics and other long-cheated Americans a decent break.
What a cruel lapse into perverse racism that Mr. Bush should try to cite the 1964 law as a basis for forbidding actions to fight the discrimination against women and racial minorities that has re-emerged.
He will try to assure us that David Duke and Pat Buchanan aren't messing with his brain or his heart. But soon we'll see other outrageous concessions to the bigots by a president whose advisers are telling him that he must run with the hate mob or lose the race.
Unless Mr. Bush discovers, somewhere, some principles by
which both he and America can live.
Carl T. Rowan is a syndicated columnist.