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Jewish World Review Feb. 7, 2001 / 15 Shevat, 5761

Michael Medved

Michael Medved
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Consumer Reports

Senate Dems can strike an instant blow for justice and diversity --
THE ASHCROFT confirmation process may not have produced the explosive results that Democrats devoutly hoped to achieve, but the hearings did provide hints of a bold strategy that liberal Senators might employ to advance the noble cause of justice and diversity.

The Washington Post reported that two members of the Judiciary Committee had agreed to "take the lead as political attack dogs" on the two issues which Democrats chose to emphasize. Charles Schumer of New York would focus on Ashcroft's record on reproductive rights, while Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts highlighted his alleged insensitivity on issues of race.

The selection of Senator Kennedy for this role raised an obvious question: why didn't the liberals score public relations points by choosing one of their African-American Senators to confront Ashcroft on his controversial record on civil rights?

The answer, of course, is that there are no Black Senators-no, not one. For all their talk of affirmative action and inclusiveness, the Senate Democratic caucus, except for its two Asian members from Hawaii, remains lily white. As a matter of fact, the only African-American to win a major party nomination for the US Senate in the last election cycle happened to be a Republican-Ted Kennedy's feckless opponent, Jack E. Robinson.

According to the standards that liberals impose on every other institution in the United States, this situation deserves immediate attention. How can the Democrats, so passionately committed to diversity and inclusiveness, sanction the continued "Black out" in the U.S. Senate? This question gains special force in light of the easy availability of an immediate and equitable solution to this appalling crisis.

Senator Kennedy, so passionately committed to representative racial justice and equal rights, must make one final sacrifice in his distinguished career of public service. Let him resign his Senate seat, with the explicit understanding that the governor of Massachusetts, Paul Celluci, will instantly appoint an African American to replace him.

If Senator Kennedy displays the selflessness and courage to undertake this righteous initiative, he may well inspire 12 of his white, male Democratic colleagues to follow his example. At that point, the Senate could achieve appropriate diversity-with 13 newly appointed African American Senators to correspond with the 13% of the national population identified as Black.

Die hard partisans might object that this daring course could shift the delicate balance of the Senate in a Republican direction, since Republican governors in Massachusetts and other states might well appoint Black Republicans to replace the resigning white Democrats. That would, however, constitute a small price to pay for the significant achievement of a truly representative Senate for the first time in American history. After all, the entire concept of affirmative action depends upon the assumption that racial identity matters far more than ideology, partisan affiliation, or any other consideration.

For instance, leading colleges and universities strive mightily for racial representation among the faculty, but never worry over the fact that conservatives have been all-but-excluded from major departments. Similarly, Hollywood faces significant pressure concerning the skin color of its creative personnel or the characters they create, but no one worries about the monochromatic ideological orientation of the entertainment industry.

If Senator Kennedy and colleagues refuse to turn over their Senate seats to deserving and under-represented minorities, doesn't that suggest that they place partisan advantage above the all-important goal of racial justice? Even if this narrow, vulgar attitude prevails, truly dedicated Democrats could still find the thirteen seats that must go to African Americans without risking their party's Senate status. If Senator Kennedy declines to resign because he serves a state with a Republican governor, what about Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, or Fritz Hollings of South Carolina, or Robert Byrd of West Virginia-representing states with Democratic governors who could easily appoint upstanding Black Democrats?. As a matter of fact, if these particular Senators took this heroic step, they might set a glowing example of personal atonement. Senator Byrd, after all, has admitted his own past membership in the KKK, and Senator Hollings initiated the display of the Confederate battle flag at the State Capitol building while he served as Governor of South Carolina.

Even in the face of this opportunity for an inspiring gesture, some selfish Senators may refuse to Do the Right Thing-citing their seniority, their priceless experience, and the inconvenient fact that the voters in their states elected them to office. Nevertheless, consistency demands that they treat such considerations as secondary, if not irrelevant: the drive for diversity, for proportionate representation, must take precedence over such trivialities as length of service or meaningless qualifications. If Democrats truly intend to shake up the old boy network that has, for so long, excluded Blacks from key positions of power, what better place to begin than the U.S. Senate?

If President Bush can give two of fourteen cabinet positions to African Americans, plus making room for one Hispanic and two Asians, then surely the Senate Democrats must equal or exceed him in their commitment to diversity. Let them take the lead in making the concessions they demand of all the rest of us, and take this giant step toward ending racism and oppression. As a result they will, at the very least, avoid future embarrassments such as designating Teddy Kennedy as their indignant poster boy on the issue of racial justice.

JWR contributor, author and film critic Michael Medved, a "survivor" of his own family with three kids, hosts a daily three-hour radio talk show broadcast in more than 120 cities throughout the United States. His latest book, written together with his wife, is Saving Childhood : Protecting Our Children from the National Assault on Innocence . You may contact him by clicking here.


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08/25/99: NAACP attacks the wrong TV target
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© 2000, Michael Medved