Jewish World Review Jan. 13, 2002/ 10 Shevat, 5763
When life gets tough,
find a hidey hole
When the going gets tough, the tough get going. Unless
things get really tough. Then you run for a hidey hole.
The White House, ignoring
George W.'s campaign tough talk,
has decided to take a pass on the
affirmative-action lawsuit at the
University of Michigan. Or maybe
not. Karl Rove still has a week to
The Justice Department has
prepared a brief supporting the
plaintiffs, a group of students who
were denied admission to the
university because of
"race-conscious measures" - i.e.,
because they're white. They lost in
the lower courts. By taking the
appeal, the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court indicated that
they think the time has finally come to settle once and for all
whether the Constitution really means it when it declares that
all men are equal.
You might think this would be a slam-dunk for a
straight-talking president who boasts that he says what he
means and means what he says. (You could read his lips.) He
was eager to tell us during the campaign about his
"affirmative-access" program when he was the governor of
Texas, guaranteeing the top 10 percent of every high-school
graduating class access to a public college or university,
regardless of race, sex, creed, color or lack thereof. "This
increased diversity based on merit."
The University of Michigan, eager to demonstrate that
merit is not necessarily important, awards American Indian,
black and Hispanic applicants 20 "bonus points" for
admission. This is one of the "race-conscious" practices,
which insult minority students most of all, that the lawsuit
seeks to prohibit.
The final decision will turn on whether the Supreme Court
determines that the Fourteenth Amendment, with its
equal-protection clause, prohibits "bonus points" and
"race-conscious" practices. The court usually asks the
solicitor general to file a brief, to get the government on
record. This time it did not. This could be the convenient
loophole in which the wise men at the White House hide the
"The Lott mess," as one White House aide describes it,
has altered the convictions and adjusted the principles of
certain wise men for whom politics trumps all. They want the
president to be seen as a stand-up guy, but since a president
makes a bigger target standing up than sitting down, they
want George W. to sit down when he stands up (or find a
hole to hide in).
Before "the Lott mess" erupted in Washington - a "mess"
largely of White House making when it first defended Trent
Lott and then threw him over when The Washington Post and
the New York Times urged him to do so - the idea that this
president would cave on affirmative action seemed
far-fetched. Not now.
The White House insisted yesterday that there's still a
week before the Jan. 16 deadline for taking sides. "That's lots
of time," the president's press spokesman said. That seems
unlikely to anyone who has ever employed a lawyer, who can
take a week to clear his throat. Writing a brief to persuade
justices of the Supreme Court is not something to be dashed
off after a big lunch at the Palm on Tuesday afternoon.
Several White House sources insist that the decision has
already been made, that Karl Rove calculates that the
president can escape the wrath of both right and left by
getting out of Dodge. The decision to send the nomination of
Charles Pickering to the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals
back to the Senate, where it was rejected by the
Democrat-controlled Senate, looks like the chicken bone
thrown to the conservatives. The Pickering nomination, victim
of the Democratic smear machine, probably won't fly this
The president can say he tried. This time that won't be
enough. This time George W. has to be the man of conviction
his friends imagined they elected in the year 2000. He has to
tell his political consultants to shut up and leave the room if
they can't take the heat. Political consultants, like heart
surgeons (if heart surgeons will forgive the analogy), are not
chosen for their principles and convictions, but for their skill
with knives. They are expected to keep principles and
convictions, if any, to themselves. They're employed not to
think heavy thoughts, but for tips on how to slice, dice and
Voters sometimes let themselves be manipulated. But
sometimes they won't. The constituents George W. must
count on when the going gets tough regard ending affirmative
action, restricting abortion and cutting taxes as the very
reasons they worked to get him elected.
It may be that we have reached the time and place when
and where we cannot talk about race. Maybe mouthing
meaningless purple platitudes is the only way to stay alive.
But maybe this is an opportunity for the president to use the
bully pulpit to explain why he will do the right thing, and why
it's the right thing. If he can't, maybe it doesn't make much
difference who we elect as president.
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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.
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