Jewish World Review August 3, 2001 / 14 Menachem-Av, 5761

Jeff Jacoby

Jeff Jacoby
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Consumer Reports

A colorblind nominee -- HIS nomination isn't even official yet, but the knives are already out for Gerald Reynolds, the former president of the Center for New Black Leadership whom President Bush has tapped to run the Education Department's Office of Civil Rights. His crime? He opposes racial double standards. Like Martin Luther King, he wants Americans to be judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin.

For this, Julian Bond, the chairman of the NAACP, blasts him as a "staunch opponent of fairness programs." William Taylor of the left-wing Leadership Conference on Civil Rights pronounces it "quite extraordinary that Mr. Bush, who says he cares about education, uses the Education Department as a dumping ground for ideological zealots." An editorial in the St. Louis Post Dispatch, the largest paper in Reynolds's home state, gasps that he "doesn't just oppose affirmative action; he abhors it." What's more, the paper says, he "does not merely differ from mainstream civil rights groups like the NAACP, he repudiates them." A black man who thinks for himself? Intolerable!

All but one of Bush's Education Department nominees to date have been readily confirmed, but Ted Kennedy -- who chairs the Senate Labor and Education Committee -- signaled last month that Reynolds won't be so fortunate. He has "serious concerns" about Reynolds, he said, since "many civil rights groups and education groups have raised questions about his serious lack of education policy experience, as well as his views on affirmative action."

The lack-of-experience charge is a red herring. Lack of experience didn't keep Kennedy out of the Senate when he was a 30-year-old with no background in public life. The fact that Reynolds (who is 38) has not worked for a university or an education lobby shouldn't keep him out of the Education Department. What qualifies him for the job are the cogency of his views on education and civil rights. That is why the president wants him in the government -- and why his detractors don't.

By profession Reynolds is a lawyer; he is currently chief regulatory counsel at Kansas City Power and Light Co. But he is better known as an activist for colorblind equal opportunity. He has been affiliated with two think tanks, the Center for New Black Leadership and the Center for Equal Opportunity, both of which share his opposition to racial preferences, phony "diversity," and the whole ugly mentality that believes in assigning rights and benefits on the basis of color. Time and again he has argued that color-consciousness is bad not just for the nation but for black Americans in particular.

Abolishing "racial preferences and set-asides," he wrote in 1997, "will return us to affirmative action as it was first proposed in the late 1960s -- aggressive and affirmative outreach to increase the participation of minorities in education settings and the workplaces. Racial preferences and set-asides, which amount to nothing more than quotas, are exacerbating racial tension in America and ... discouraging rather than promoting the achievement of minorities.... Equality of opportunity is what black America demands, not the false achievement of mandated equality of outcome."

Anathama to the NAACP, maybe, but it makes perfect sense to most Americans -- and most black Americans. In a nationwide poll commissioned earlier this year by Harvard, The Washington Post, and the Kaiser Foundation, a majority of respondents approved of employers and colleges "making an extra effort to find and recruit qualified minorities." But an even larger majority, including 86 percent of black respondents, said "hiring, promotions, and college admissions should be based strictly on merit and qualifications other than race or ethnicity." If Reynolds is an "ideological zealot," he has a lot of company.

Reynolds's critics worry -- they say -- that if he is installed at the Office of Civil Rights, his personal ideology will keep him from enforcing the law. Yet they never voiced that concern about Norma Cantu, who headed OCR during the Clinton administration and routinely made demands that flouted the law. In 1997, for example, after the 5th Circuit US Court of Appeals ordered an end to racial quotas in university admissions, she threatened to punish any school that complied. Two years later she wanted to penalize any university using SAT scores as a leading criterion in admissions.

Perhaps what really worries the civil rights-industry industry is not that Reynolds will ignore the law, but that he won't. Perhaps they fear that he will take seriously the OCR's mission, which is to enforce the laws that bar discrimination in education. Everything about Reynolds's career to date suggests he would perform that job admirably. He ought to be allowed to do it, and with as little delay as possible.

Jeff Jacoby is a Boston Globe columnist. Comment by clicking here.

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