Race panel sets bad example

November 24, 1997|By Mona Charen

PRESIDENT Clinton's advisory panel on race has decided that it will not hear from opponents of preferences like Ward Connerly when it takes up the matter of achieving ''diversity on college campuses.'' Such people would not, in the words of panel chairman John Hope Franklin, ''contribute to this discussion.''

Translation: Such people would not tell us what we want to hear. Such people would ask uncomfortable questions and challenge our smug self-assurance.

Breathtaking decision

What is most breathtaking about this decision is that it comes from the Clinton administration, which is constantly receiving fawning praise for its race sensitivity. One political reporter after another has proclaimed: ''If there is one subject on which President Clinton has proven his bona fides, it is race.''

Bunk. Like other politicians, Mr. Clinton has used race for less than noble purposes when it suited him. In the 1992 primary campaign, he was trailing his Democratic opponents until he attacked Sister Souljah in the presence of the Rev. Jesse Jackson, thus humbling Mr. Jackson and improving Mr. Clinton's own poll numbers. Have no doubt that if one of his Republican opponents had tried something similar, Mr. Clinton would have been first out of the box to decry such tactics as ''divisive.''

During his term thus far, the president made one very fine speech to a black audience in which he imagined Martin Luther King Jr. saying that he had not given his life so that black teen-agers could shoot each other over tennis shoes. But beyond that, he has done very little to advance the cause of improving race relations, nor to advance the life prospects of poor blacks.

While he claimed to want to mend affirmative action programs, not end them, his administration has done nothing to implement the Supreme Court's recent rulings on affirmative action. Rather than apply the law as the Supreme Court has interpreted it, this administration is fighting a rear-guard action to protect every last preference. Mr. Clinton has appointed -- or attempted to appoint -- to the civil rights division of the Justice Department lawyers who take an absolutist view on preferences, quotas and the other contentious issues in the civil rights area.

What the president has done is what he loves to do on every subject -- talk. He has ostentatiously called for a ''national conversation'' on race, when we seem to talk of little else. And his advisory panel now makes clear by shunning the testimony of Ward Connerly, the black California businessman who practically single-handedly ended preferences in California, that this administration does not want a ''conversation'' at all. It wants a soliloquy.

If Mr. Clinton were sincere in wanting to improve the lives of black Americans, instead of just trying to make the right noises to placate traditional Democratic constituencies, would he have blocked efforts to implement school choice in Washington.

Wouldn't it have been wonderful if the man who sent his own daughter to private school rather than entrust her education to the public schools had said, ''It isn't fair that only the wealthy have choices in where to send their kids to school. It's time to end the public monopoly in education.''

Public school tragedy

The tragedy of the public schools is well-illustrated by Sol Stern's recent memoir of his own boys' experience at P.S. 87 in New York City. In the City Journal, Mr. Stern recalls his early enthusiasm for public education and his delight in finding a racially integrated, mixed-income group school on the Upper West Side. His hopes were soon dashed as the rigidities of the bureaucracy (for example, the inability to fire incompetent teachers) and the educational fads hatched at places like Columbia's Teachers' College undermined the education of his children.

Perhaps Clinton should hire an advisory board to address that. Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist.

Pub Date: 11/24/97

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