Clinton's Race Views Anachronistic Gore's Worse
"I graduated from a segregated high school seven years after President Dwight Eisenhower integrated Little Rock Central High School," President Clinton said in a July 1995 speech. "My experiences with discrimination are rooted in the South and in the legacy slavery left."
As the White House orchestrates its National Initiative on Race, those sentences explain much about Bill Clinton's vision of government's role in fostering race relations in America. Clinton's view was born at the end of Jim Crow, at a time in which Southern liberals, black and white, offered an integrationist vision that saw us all living in a single, interracial community, with the federal government fostering that goal by actively breaking down state and local segregationist policies.
Clinton's vision is unfortunately frozen in the Arkansas of the 1950s, when the barriers black Americans faced in the South were overtsegregated schools, workplaces, restaurants and parks. Much has improved since then, especially for the burgeoning black middle and upper classes.
Still, many African-Americans must overcome more subtle obstacleswretched public schools, welfare dependency, a tax and regulatory system (and a failed drug war) that make it tempting for young persons to live on the fringes of everyday life. Scholars such as Richard Epstein, Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams have convincingly argued that many of the remaining barriers black Americans face were erected by the same government that was perceived as a liberating force not so long ago.
Nevertheless, the president's outlook is optimistic, and it offers opportunities for honest discussions with his critics. Another, far less
optimistic vision of race relations is on display in the White House,
however. It comes from Vice President Al Gore. At a recent "outreach" meeting with opponents of racial preferences, Gore proposed this scenario:
"If you lived in a community that was 50 percent white, 50 percent black, and for a variety of historic reasons, the level of income, educational attainment and so forth was lower among the blacks in that community, and the police force was 100 percent white, do you think that the community would be justified in making affirmative-action efforts to open up a lot more positions on the police force?"
The vice president invoked an extreme case of racial exclusion in a local police department, one that may have been common a few decades ago but is certainly nonexistent now (because of both changing attitudes and affirmative-action programs).
Most people would consider the type of situation Gore suggests intolerable or, at least, a curious way to promote confidence in a law enforcement agency. But notice how Gore engages in his own brand of racial classification, suggesting that individuals (in this case, police officers) are merely cogs in a wheel who exist to fill slots in some grand social scheme.
Gore's view of enforcing "diversity" dominates the civil rights
establishment these days, and when diversity trumps all other values, there's no room for pluralism, individualism or personal choice.
Gore's vision of race relations, like Clinton's, is rooted in the civil rights past. Butas Gore has stated repeatedlyhe views racism as an intractable aspect of human nature that will always lead to subjugation of a minority group. Yet he believes an elite class of planners is immune from this taint and should therefore be trusted with the power to enforce racial categories and allocate privileges accordingly.
In the minds of diversity advocates, since racism can never be eradicated, its consequences must be managed through a mind-boggling array of preferences, set-asides and quotas. Gore's belief in endless head-counting and ever more complicated plans to move people into the "correct" racial combinations ignores the dynamic processes by which racial and ethnic groups have historically been assimilated into the American community.
Unlike the hopeful (if anachronistic) liberal-integrationist view held by Clinton, Gore's "diversity" vision leads to perpetual meddling by social planners, ceaseless resentment by those who feel cheated by the system and a never-ending divisiveness between individuals from different racial backgrounds.
Clinton's particular vision is very much a bottom-up view, generated from his lower-middle-class childhood in Arkansas and the grass-roots vitality of the original civil rights movement. Such factors as rising interracial-marriage rates and the increasing equality of income levels among individuals of all races who have similar education levels strongly suggest we've advanced a great deal along that integrationist path since Bill Clinton was a boy.
The diversity vision, by contrast, is top-down, much more consistent with Al Gore's upbringing within the corridors of power in Washington. This vision is exemplified by acting Assistant Attorney General Bill Lann Lee's position thatin defiance of federal court decisionshe would not enforce the California Civil Rights Initiative.
The diversity enforcers are less concerned about expanding access so that individuals can pursue their own dreams than they are about directing persons from above to fill boxes in some societal organization chart.
A more hopeful approach to race relations acknowledges the evils of the past, appreciates how far we've come and pushes us to look at people as human beings rather than members of arbitrary groups. It also recognizes that when government sorts individuals by skin color, it merely maintains and supports the type of prejudice the diversity crowd ostensibly abhors.