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Jewish World Review June 24, 1999 /10 Tamuz 5759

Mort Zuckerman

Mort Zuckerman
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The time has come to hit the brakes on affirmative action --
AFFIRMATIVE ACTION is another one of those well-intentioned government programs that have gone awry. In the 1960s and '70s, it won popular support as a way of redressing the historic grievances, especially in education and employment, of the black community. It worked for a time but was distorted by dubious bureaucratic regulations, court rulings, and the multicultural left. It became an extensive system of antiwhite preferences, double standards, and quotas that are now widely rejected–except by the Clinton administration.

The Supreme Court and other courts have dramatically narrowed the scope of affirmative action, and polls indicate that even a majority of blacks dislike the fact that it is being used to help less qualified people get jobs, promotions, and admission to college. Voters in Washington State and California have approved propositions severely limiting affirmative action, and a similar measure in Florida has strong backing.

The trouble began in 1970 when opportunity and colorblindness, grand ideals, were supplanted by doctrines of diversity. The Supreme Court in 1971 ruled that employers could be prosecuted if the racial composition of the work force did not reflect the composition of the community. Proportional representation rather than social justice became the watchword. The multicultural ethos, promoted on campuses, replaced the spirit of one nation. Identity politics–what Frederick Lynch calls "the diversity machine"–took over, so preference was extended to individuals who had never personally experienced discrimination, and to groups–Hispanics and Asians–who were not here in substantial numbers when discrimination was most virulent. The diversity machine became an engine to punish white males, unless they had a Spanish surname.

Time to stop? Yes. Tell that to the Clinton administration, which now seeks new "protected classes" and is even broadening the definition of existing categories. Under a recent proposal, protection would be granted to parents of children under 18–a staggering 36 percent of the work force. Parents would be able to sue for discrimination if they thought an employer had failed to hire or promote them because of a suspicion that they limited their working hours to spend more time with their children. Two sequels are obvious: Parents who feel they have not had special treatment will also sue, and since employers will be inclined to treat parents preferentially, childless workers or workers with older children will also seek redress in the courts.

What is wrong with equality at a time when the country is changing so rapidly, both socially and economically, that affirmative action becomes unnecessary for one group after another? There is no real evidence or history of major discrimination against parents. Giving them special protection would be a political payoff to working mothers and the pro-family vote–and to the trial lawyers who funnel so much money into the Democratic Party.

New regulations. It gets worse. The administration is trying to broaden the definition of disability to include Americans who have correctable medical problems, such as nearsightedness. And the EEOC wants new regulations so that employees can demand reassignment to different supervisors if they feel stressed under their current supervisors. As it is, the disability bill has been exploited by employees claiming nebulous mental health problems, headaches, and back pains.

When will this craziness end? The more preferences that we have and the longer we have them, the more inequalities we introduce and the more difficult it becomes to eliminate them. It is time to cut back on affirmative action before America turns into a society of endless preferences.

Affirmative action runs against the grain of American history. It is divisive. Why melt into the pot, as generations and generations have done, when you can stand apart and claim preferential treatment? The status to cherish is that of the classic American citizen, free and equal.

JWR contributor Mort Zuckerman is editor-in-chief and publisher of U.S. News and World Report. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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05/04/99: The big game gets bigger
04/30/99: On Kosovo, Russia talked loudly and carried a small stick
04/21/99: No time to go wobbly
04/13/99: The Evil of two lessers

©1999, Mortimer Zuckerman