Of the United States ought to be "it all depends...

THE MOTTO

May 24, 1993|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

THE MOTTO of the United States ought to be "it all depends on whose ox is gored," a character in the novel "Advise and Consent" says. How true.

Consider the cases of Kenneth Ryskamp and Webster Hubbell.

Two years ago the Senate Judiciary Committee voted down U.S. District Court Judge Ryskamp's nomination to be a judge on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Why? Because, said Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, the judge showed unacceptable insensitivity by remaining in a whites-only country club till the eve of his confirmation hearings. His 11th-hour resignation looked to be hypocrisy.

For the record, Judge Ryskamp is a Republican. Senator Biden and most members of the Judiciary Committee are Democrats.

So last week Webster Hubbell, a Democrat, came before the committee. He has been nominated to be associate attorney general. The Judiciary Committee rule on club memberships applies to Justice Department nominees as well as to judicial ones. On the eve of his hearing, Hubbell was still a member of the all-white County Club of Little Rock since 1978. He announced he was resigning at the hearing.

Senator Biden and other Democrats praised him and indicated he would be confirmed when the committee votes, probably tomorrow. Why? Because he has been "actively engaged in bona fide efforts to eliminate the discriminatory practices."

Oh, brother. Oh, please. He's been a member of the club since 1978. He finally got one black guy in the club last December after his Little Rock buddy was elected president of the United States, focusing attention on the situation.

Now, let's hope Hubbell is a hypocrite and until it became politically necessary after last year's election, never really tried to integrate the club (1990: Hubbell: "Beauregard, don't you think we oughta get a black fella in this club?" Beauregard: "Hell, no, Bubba!" Hubbell: "Okay, Bo. Fore!") Otherwise, the nation is stuck with a man overseeing the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department who could get exactly one token black in his club after years of trying -- and wasn't ashamed of that until his own advancement was imperiled.

So if he isn't a hypocrite, he is inept in this field. Before he's through at Justice we may see separate but equal return.

There is an interesting twist to this. Three White House aides who are members of the Country Club of Little Rock, including Chief of Staff Mack McLarty, also announced last week that they will resign to avoid the appearance of insensitivity. But one member of the administration did not resign from the club.

That is Howard Curtis Reed. He's the black man who joined the club in December and is now in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. He'll be able to get Hubbell and McLarty back in the C.C. of L.R. when this administration leaves office, which now appears likely to be Jan. 20, 1997, at the latest.

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