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Jewish World Review Sept. 10, 1999 /29 Elul, 5759

Michelle Malkin

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Will George W. work for
a color-blind America? --
I WANT A PRESIDENT who opposes racial discrimination by the government with every fiber of his being.

Yes, it's personal. My future children will be full-blooded Americans of half-Filipino, half-Russian Jewish descent. I want them to grow up, go to school, get jobs, and raise their own children in a country where they will not be penalized for their race or forced to identify their ethnicity in order to achieve their dreams.

In my lifetime, huge strides toward color-blind government have been made. I was in southern California during the early days of the pioneering Prop. 209 movement, which banned statewide race and gender preferences in public contracting, hiring, and admissions. In Washington state, I witnessed the overwhelming passage of an almost identical ballot measure, Initiative 200.

And then there's my cousin, Ann. Our mothers came from a tiny village on the outskirts of Manila. Education was their ticket out of dead-end poverty, and our ticket to success. Ann is a member of the first integrated class of Meyerhoff Scholars at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Funded with both public and private monies, the Meyerhoff program awards a handful of full four-year scholarships for tuition, room and board to gifted math and science students. Until 1996, the prestigious scholarships were available only to black students.

University officials opened the state-operated program to financially disadvantaged students of all races following a Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling. In that precedent-setting decision, the judges outlawed a similar race-conscious scholarship program within the University of Maryland system -- the Benjamin Banneker scholarship -- after freshman Daniel Podberesky brought suit in 1991. Although he had met all the rigorous academic requirements of the program, Podberesky (of Costa Rican descent) was ineligible for the scholarship solely because he was not black.

Defenders of the program rattled off a familiar litany of justifications for racial exclusivity: Black students were "underrepresented." They suffered from "low retention and graduation rates" linked to historical discrimination. Therefore, it was argued, the blacks-only scholarship program was necessary to remedy past wrongs.

Despite strong backing for the race-based scholarships from the Clinton administration, the Fourth Circuit rejected these weak claims. "Mere knowledge" of historical discrimination, the panel wrote, was not enough to justify a race-exclusive remedy that clearly violated equal protection rights. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the University of Maryland's appeal. Podberesky was awarded a check for $32,863 to cover the cost of four years at UM; many public colleges and universities began revamping race-targeted scholarships; and my cousin Ann was allowed to compete - and win - on a level playing field with talented and deserving students of all colors.

If only this were the happy ending of the story.

University officials and politicians across the country continue to cling to the unconstitutional notion that racially exclusive programs can be justified by making vague claims of past discrimination or foggy pleas for "diversity." In response to critics who point out the plain injustice of this absurd scheme, cheerleaders for government-sanctioned discrimination say the issue is "complex."

But what could be more simple than the moral prescription that two wrongs don't make a right?

Apparently, this principle is too politically controversial for GOP presidential front-runner George W. Bush to embrace publicly and unequivocally -- and too complicated for GOP law-enforcement officials in Bush's home state of Texas to defend.

Although Bush claims to oppose racial quotas and preferences, he refuses to take a position on two landmark ballot measures that outlawed racial preferences by popular vote: California's Prop. 209 and Washington state's Initiative 200. More disturbing was Bush's failure to take a position on Prop. A, the 1997 Houston Civil Rights Initiative, which would have outlawed racial preferences in contracting by Houston city government.

If Bush cannot bring himself to support ballot initiatives that abolish government preferences, then his stated opposition to preferences is thin gruel.

Bush's silence sent me sifting through what little scraps of public record exist that might reassure me of his commitment to color-blind government. Yes, his handlers are wonderfully talented at getting the newspapers to run front-page photos of the compassionate Bush hugging inner-city children. Yet, when the Texas-based Campaign for a Color-blind America asked public officials in a survey whether "Congress should enact a law that would ban discrimination and preferences on the basis of race, color, sex, ethnicity and national origin in the operation of public employment and public contracting," Bush answered "No Opinion."

Bush also marked "No Opinion" when asked whether race-based affirmative action should be replaced with class- or need-based affirmative action or a system based on merit only. (Click here to view the complete questionnaire and Bush's responses.)

Bush's own official web site offers no concrete examples of courage or principle on the issue of race. It does give a detailed bean-counting tally of which minority groups supported Bush's gubernatorial campaign in 1994; the site also brags about Bush's role in securing tax dollars for the Texas Rangers baseball stadium.

What's not mentioned was the governor's patently offensive, race-based sales pitch. As reported in the June 1999 issue of Texas Monthly, the awarding of minority-earmarked government contracts was instrumental to the stadium measure's passage. Black and Latino leaders attacked the deal until Bush assuaged them with the promise of government giveaway goodies. Bush "spoke from the pulpit of the Mount Olive Baptist Church in Arlington," Texas Monthly reported, where he declared, "A vote for the tax would be a vote for contracts for African American businesses."

Egad. If this is the voice of compassionate conservatism, Democrats have nothing to fear.

Bush's legislative record is depressing. This year he signed laws supporting minority contracting set-asides; directing electric utilities to develop diversit y and set-aside plans; and creating race-tar geted, scholarship-matching programs run by the state higher education coordinating board.

Some prominent conservatives including Prop. 209 heroes Ward Connerly and Tom Wood of California have endorsed Bush despite his reticence on racial preferences. Others, including Fred Barnes and Paul Gigot, focus on the anemic hope that Bush will appoint rigorous, conservative intellectuals to do the heavy lifting on the U.S. Supreme Court. California State University professor Glynn Custred, another Prop. 209 hero who casts a more skeptical eye toward Bush noted recently, "These tidbits, of course, tantalize conservatives, but they don't really tell us anything, and that's exactly the way George W. intends to keep it."

Unless, of course, grass-roots conservatives demand he unbutton his lips and use them to produce something more than poll-tested pablum.

Bush could convince doubters of his convictions by stating whether he agrees with the Republican attorney general of his home state, John Cornyn, who last week withdrew a legal opinion that had banned race-based financial aid in Texas.

The original opinion, authored by Cornyn's Democrat predecessor Dan Morales, asserted in 1997 that the famous Hopwood decision prohibited color-coded college scholarships. Morales had bravely bucked tribal politics in issuing his interpretation of Hopwood; fellow Latino leaders and black activists denounced his sound decision to outlaw race-exclusive aid.

A little background: Hopwood v. Texas held that race-based preferences in higher education are permissible only as a narrow remedy for the continuing effects of specific past discrimination. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the University of Texas School of Law failed to demonstrate the need for remedial preferences. The court also said "diversity" was an unacceptable rationale for imposing racially discriminatory preferences. (Click here to read the ruling and here for more information.)

As Ed Blum and Marc Levin of the Texas-based Campaign for a Colorblind America point out, the court made no distinction between race-based admissions and race-based financial aid. Indeed, the ruling relies in large part on the Podberesky ruling in the Fourth Circuit the same decision that struck down color-conscious aid in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, and my cousin Ann's home state of Maryland.

Moreover, the Hopwood ruling which applies to public universities in Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi states that "any consideration of race or ethnicity by the law school for the purposes of achieving a diverse student body is not a compelling interest under the Fourteenth Amendment." What part of "any" doesn't Cornyn understand? Blum and Levin conclude: "The movement to restore race-based financial aid is nothing more than an attempt to divert public funds from truly needy students of all backgrounds to minority students who come from families who are more than able to afford full tuition."

So is Gov. Bush for a racial spoils system that awards college scholarships based on skin color or is he against it? Linda Edwards, a spokeswoman for the Bush campaign, told me "the governor has not specifically been asked" about Cornyn's decision. When I specifically asked the question, she said her boss had "stated his position on affirmative action clearly. He has answered the questions over and over again."

Sigh. I remain extremely queasy about trusting my future children's future to Bush's verbal safety net. The pretty words keep flowing. "As we head into the 21st century," Gov. Bush said in his inaugural address earlier this year, "we should have one big box - American. Texans can show America how to unite around issues that are larger than race or party."

We're waiting.

JWR contributor Michelle Malkin can be reached by clicking here.


09/03/99: Feminization of gun debate drowns out sober analysis
08/27/99: America is abundant land of equal-opportunity insult
08/10/99: Protect the next generation from diversity do-goodism
08/04/99: Sweepstakes vs. state lottery: double standards on gambling
07/21/99: "True-life tales from the Thin Red Line" (or "Honor those who sacrificed their lives for peace")
07/21/99: Reading, 'Riting, and Raunchiness?
07/14/99: Journalists' group-think is not unity
06/30/99: July Fourth programming for the Springer generation
06/25/99: Speechless in Seattle
06/15/99: Making a biblical argument against federal death taxes

©1999, Michelle Malkin