Bush's weasel words

Published: Friday, January 17, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 16, 2003 at 10:10 p.m.
President Bush was all righteous indignation when he condemned U.S. Sen. Trent Lott for his indiscrete comment at a social gathering suggesting that America might be better off today if a segregationist had been elected president in 1948.
The comment cost Lott his job as Senate majority leader.
But it was a more cautious Bush who carefully picked his way through a verbal minefield this week as he looked for just the right words to signal his opposition to affirmative action without sounding like a segregationist himself.
In the end, Bush chose weasel words to announce that his administration will urge the United States Supreme Court to declare the University of Michigan's affirmative action admissions program unconstitutional.
Michigan's practice of awarding points to minority students in order to maintain diversity in its enrollment is a "quota system," Bush said. In contrast, the plans that Texas and Florida have adopted prove that "diversity can be achieved without using quotas."
He was kidding, of course. Both brother Jeb Bush's One Florida program and the Texas equivalent are, in reality, affirmative action programs in disguise.
Essentially, they guarantee that the top-scoring students in high schools throughout their respective states can gain admissions to state universities.
In effect, it means that students from poor schools do not have to compete against students from wealthier schools, even if lesser ranked students from wealthier schools have higher scores than the top-ranked students from poor schools.
It is a tacit admission that in America today, black and Hispanic minority enrollments continue to be concentrated - one might even be tempted to use the word "segregated" - in schools that serve poor families.
So what happens if the top 10 percent of students in a poor, largely black high school happen to score lower than students who fail to rank in the top 10 percent of the class in a wealthier, largely white school?
Isn't granting the lower scorers admission preference just a "quota system" of another kind?
At least admissions officials at the University of Michigan are honest about what they are doing. Which is to directly take into account the reality that America remains a racially divisive, and to some extent, a racially segregated society.
The brothers Bush can call their policy "race neutral" if they want, but it sounds an awful lot like affirmative action to us.
The hypocrisy of Bush's comments were duly noted by Julian Bond, chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
"The president complained that black applicants at Michigan were given 20 points toward admission, not because of 'life experience,' he said, but because of race. But life experience in the 21st century is determined by race. Race colors all our lives."
"Coming on the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., this is a sad, sad gift and a poor way to honor his memory," Bond added.
The fight over affirmative action today has become a war of weasel words. The politicians want to condemn "quotas," but they know that they must do something to maintain diversity in college enrollments on pain of being called segregationists
The solution is to implement roundabout affirmative action plans and call them something else.

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