A curmudgeonly truth -- but it's still the truth

February 05, 2005|By Gregory Kane

THAT DELIGHTFUL curmudgeon William Donald Schaefer, Baltimore's former mayor, Maryland's former governor, the state's current comptroller and a permanent thorn in the side of the politically correct, is at it again.

No doubt fast becoming "Don the Coot" to Maryland's liberals, Schaefer's first salvo came last May, when he dared suggest that immigrants who come to this country and work in fast-food restaurants might want to learn at least a little English. Later in the year, he made some unkind remarks about those suffering from HIV and AIDS. Both those remarks came at state Board of Public Works meetings, which of late have become Don the Coot's forum for truth in politicking.

At Wednesday's Board of Public Works meeting, Schaefer dared question that holy of holies: the racial preferences that liberals, with straight faces, call "affirmative action." The specific type of affirmative action is Maryland's Minority Business Enterprise program, under which minority-owned businesses are awarded 25 percent of state procurement contracts.

"When does MBE end - E.N.D.?" Schaefer asked. "When does discrimination like this end?"

The question was put to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who, inside, might have been saying "Oh, yeah, like I need this headache right about now," but instead answered, "Do you want the legal answer, or the political answer?"

After Schaefer had broached an ugly truth - that the MBE program is, in fact, discrimination, Ehrlich added another truth.

"Race politics," the governor noted, "is ugly."

Oh, ain't it ever.

Also ugly are ethnic and victim politics, as Schaefer learned when he dared suggest that immigrants should learn English and that some people spreading the HIV/AIDS virus might not be the most upstanding of citizens. But because Schaefer is the only elected official willing to bring up subjects none of the others want to even think about, much less talk about, what's the comptroller's score on the three topics of immigrants learning English, HIV/AIDS patients and affirmative action?

He was absolutely right about the immigrants, half right about HIV/AIDS victims and dead on target about the MBE program.

When I was in Panama - strictly as a tourist, mind you - my first order of business was to learn the words "DM-snde estM-a el baM-qo?" I wanted to make certain that if I needed a restroom in a hurry, there'd be no problems in translation. When I went to a Kentucky Fried Chicken joint in Panama City, I made sure I knew enough Spanish to place my order in Spanish. And I suspect if I'd gone to the manager of that KFC and asked for a job and told him, "No, I don't speak any Spanish," I wouldn't have gotten it. Nor should I have.

When I was in Salvador da Bahia, Brazilians seemed thrilled when I said "thank you" using the Portuguese obrigado. Everybody, it seems, is expected to learn the language of their adopted country - unless that country happens to be called the United States of America.

HIV is still primarily transmitted by people who engage in sexual conduct or drug use that puts them at risk for getting it. Schaefer suggested that anyone who knowingly transmits that virus is a menace to society. Unfortunately, he didn't make that clear in his initial remarks.

No such problem exists with the question "When does MBE E.N.D.?" It's straightforward, honest and is probably the same query many whites in their early 30s might be asking.

How long do whites who had nothing to do with Jim Crow, segregation, discrimination or any of those nasty things done to black folks by previous generations of whites have to pay for the sins of their fathers?

For all the torrent of criticism hurled at Schaefer and Ehrlich since Wednesday, you'll notice no one has said that either man was wrong when they pointed out that the MBE program wasn't meant to be permanent. There was, instead, some grumbling and grousing about how the procurement process wasn't fair to minorities, which led to the need for the MBE program.

It sounds suspiciously like the critics of Ehrlich and Schaefer are saying black businesses can't make it without being given a boost by government. The irony is they made those statements during Black History Month and totally ignored the history of how black businesses survived in the Jim Crow era not only without government help, but in racist environments that were downright hostile.

The black neighborhood of Greenwood in Tulsa, Okla., had a thriving business district. Auburn Avenue in Atlanta had another. Both survived race riots and rebounded, but went out of business again through black neglect, not white racism.

Perhaps these observations can be added to the discussion about when awarding race-based contracts will end, but there's a problem with that.

Only Ehrlich and Schaefer seem to be having the discussion.

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