President George W. Bush’s controversial choice to join the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights once dismissed affirmative action as ”racist” and ”a colossal failure.”
The views of Peter Kirsanow, a Cleveland lawyer, are contained in an article titled ”The Affirmative Action Experiment Has Been a Colossal Failure.” The article, written in May 1995, appeared in the National Policy Analysis, a publication of the conservative National Center for Public Policy Research.
”Affirmative action in its current form is racist, demeaning and repugnant to the most fundamental tenets of democracy,” wrote Kirsanow, a Black conservative. After noting that African-Americans have made ”impressive gains over the last 30 years” in corporate America, Kirsanow asserts, ”…Contrary to the claims of its champions, these improvements are not perforce the result of affirmative action. Indeed, as noted by Farrell Bloch, author of Anti-Discriminatory Law and Minority Employment, 30 years of affirmative action has done virtually nothing to improve Black employment and advancement prospects.”
Bush tried to appoint Kirsanow to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in December but a majority of the commissioners, led by Chair Mary Frances Berry, refused to recognize the appointment, saying there are no vacancies to fill on the anti-bias panel. The Bush administration has sued to force the commissioners to accept Kirsanow’s appointment. That suit is still pending.
What Bush should do is withdraw the nomination, which is an affront not only to people of color, women and others who benefit from affirmative action, but to the commission itself. A body charged with defending the rights of the defenseless shouldn’t be saddled with any more commissioners who oppose one of the major tools available to create a more just society. This is further proof that George W. Bush is not a ”compassionate conservative” but is compassionate toward conservatives.
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights was established by Congress in 1957 as an independent, bipartisan agency. It is primarily a fact-finding commission that looks into allegations of discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, age, disability or national origin. The agency exerts influence by submitting reports, findings and recommendations to the president and Congress.
In his article, Bush’s choice to sit on the panel urges his fellow conservatives to be ”pragmatic.” He writes, ”Simply state that that dog won’t hunt. By their own terms, the 30-year multi-billion affirmative action experiments has been a colossal failure.
”And tell them about a program for Black advancement with an astonishing success rate. One proven to increase Black employment prospects by more than 40 percent. One proven to reduce Black poverty rates by 50 percent. One proven to cut the Black high school drop out rate by half. One proven to reduce crime by 60 percent. In short, a program that works – spectacularly. It’s called the two-parent family…”
Of course, it’s a fact that children, both Black and White, are better served when both parents are in the home. But in case Kirsanow hadn’t noticed, the national divorce rate approaches 50 percent-and that’s not just limited to Black families. Furthermore, affirmative action should not be confused with anti-poverty programs. Affirmative action is an anti-discrimination tool, not an anti-poverty program.
An examination of Kirsanow’s writings reveals that in addition to opposing affirmative action, he favors vouchers and opposes raising the minimum wage.
If Bush is able to seat Kirsanow, it would be his second major appointment of a key figure from a Center for New Black Leadership, a group of Black conservatives who receive most of their funding from Right-wing donors such as the Bradley, Olin and Scaife foundations. Kirsanow is chairman of the center’s board of directors, which also includes Shelby Steele, a fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution at Stanford University. Kirsanow is also affiliated with Project 21, another collective of Black conservatives.
Earlier, Bush appointed Gerald Reynolds, president of the center, to be head of the U. S. Department of Education’s office of civil rights, though he had no professional background in education.
In Kirsanow’s case, he writes, ”Seventy-two percent of Fortune 500 companies use affirmative action or quotas in hiring. Federal, state and local governments let contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars only to minorities. Billions of dollars are spent annually on training minority workers and creating job opportunities for them.”
As Ronald Reagan, Kirsanow’s ideological godfather would say, there he goes again.
Kirsanow, an attorney, should know that quotas are not used in corporate America. In fact, they are illegal. Affirmative action is one of many tools used by companies to combat the legacy of institutionalized negative action that excluded qualified people on the basis of their race, gender or national origin. Even with affirmative action, most of the high-paying jobs, choice appointments and management promotions go to White males, who make up less than half of the U.S. population.
It’s one thing to oppose affirmative action. It’s quite another to call it ”racist, demeaning and repugnant.” George W. Bush’s choice to sit on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has demonstrated by his own words that he is unfit to sit on any agency responsible to protecting the rights of oppressed segments of society.
George E. Curry, editor-in-chief of NNPA News Service and BlackPressUSA.com, is former editor of ”Emerge: Black America’s Newsmagazine.”