The Clinton Administration's Great Racial Divide

by Arturo Silva

A New Visions Commentary paper published April 1997 by The National Center for Public Policy Research, 501 Capitol Court, N.E., Washington, D.C. 20002, 202/543-4110, Fax (202) 543-5975, E-Mail [email protected], Web http://www.nationalcenter.org. Reprints permitted provided source is credited.

 

President Clinton is in a funny mood these days. On June 23 he gave a gloomy speech complaining that official Washington is: gloomy. Saying "You listen to some of these people talk in the nation's capital, you'd think that they spent the whole morning sucking lemons," the President boasted of his own unifying influence: "I have done everything I can as president to heal the kind of divisive, destructive political climate that has come to dominate too much of the discourse in Washington."

But has he? Nine days before his "gloomy" speech the President's topic du jour was race, and his tactic was the race card.

Speaking at the University of California at San Diego, ostensibly to proclaim the need for racial reconciliation, the President chose to focus on defending racial preferences. Never mind that racial preferences are a divisive issue that drives the races apart. Never mind that preferences aren't even supported by a majority of black Americans (a June 17 poll by the liberal Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, African-Americans disapproved of "preferential treatment" by 49.8% to 42.5%). Never mind that most black Americans aren't helped by preferences, and many are actually harmed by them.

Insisting that the prosperity of black Americans is severely dependent on racial preferences also diverts public discussion away from the real reforms that communities need. Instead of being divisive, why doesn't the president insist that public schools do a better job so disadvantaged students can obtain the scores needed to gain admissions to better educational institutions? Why doesn't the president embrace school choice as an incentive to force public schools to compete with private schools that do a better job? Why doesn't the president embrace proposed legislation like the American Community Renewal Act that would increase investment in urban communities and create employment opportunities for people living there?

The answer is simple. The President prefers Americans divided. When Americans are divided he can make a case that there are "good guys" and "bad guys," and submit himself as the top "good guy." This hot air strategy is a lot easier than submitting real proposals to Congress and working with Congress to build a sounder, stronger, more unified American future.

So the president is addicted to division, and sees the race card as a good hand. Noting this, the African-American leadership group Project 21 recently decided upon the "Top Ten Acts of the Clinton Administration To Divide Americans By Race and Ethnicity." Their difficulty came not only in ranking the acts, but in limiting them to ten. Some of their "Top Ten" acts include:

* As Texas state universities sought to comply with a Fifth Circuit Court ruling in Hopwood v. Texas that different admissions policies by race were unconstitutional, Norma Cantu, chief of the Education Department's Office of Civil Rights, mailed letters to the universities threatening to cut off federal funding if the court ruling -- the law of the land -- was followed. Cantu later backed down on her threat.

* After the Administration's fundraising scandal broke, a Commerce Department memo recommended defending Clinton and Gore by attacking critics of the scandal as "anti-Asian." In his state of the Union speech the President played the race card by implying that critics of his fundraising techniques harbored anti-Asian sentiments.

* Despite the Adarand Supreme Court ruling finding most of the federal government's set-aside programs unconstitutional, the Administration refuses to eliminate them. A memo written by two White House aides entitled "Affirmative Action Review: A Report to the President," did not recommend eliminating even one of the 171 existing federal affirmative action programs.

* The Administration's Justice Department filed an amicus curiae brief against California's Proposition 209 arguing that the proposition -- which would do no more than bar California state government agencies from discriminating on the basis of race and sex -- was unconstitutional.

The contradictions between the rhetoric and actions of the Clinton Administration on the issue of race are neverending. On May 16, President Clinton formally apologized on behalf of the U.S. government for experiments conducted on black victims of syphilis starting in the 1930s without their knowledge. Yet two years earlier he nominated Dr. Henry Foster for Surgeon General. Foster had been vice-president of a medical society that endorsed the continuation of the syphilis study in 1969.

The Clinton Administration has flip-flopped twice on whether a New Jersey school board should be allowed to use race as a factor in deciding which teachers to lay-off.

As Governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton sent a letter of praise to Wisconsin legislator Polly Williams for her school choice bill to help minority children escape from substandard public schools. As President, Bill Clinton opposed a more limited school choice bill for children in Washington D.C. on the grounds that federal funds shouldn't be used for private schools.

President Clinton is a man of many contradictions. No wonder he -- and the nation's capital -- is so gloomy.

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Note: New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author and not necessarily those of Project 21.

 


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