Civil rights adviser accuses White House conservatives of inaction on plan


WASHINGTON -- An influential conservative adviser on civil rights to the Bush administration has issued a manifesto castigating hard-line conservatives in the White House for failing to promote in Congress a "bold new strategy" that President Bush approved two months ago.

Clint Bolick, director of the Washington-based Landmark Center for Civil Rights, has written in a revealing 15-page paper that advocates of the new strategy -- including advisers such as himself who have "worked closely" with the Bush administration -- have been "puzzled and disappointed" by the administration's lack of action on the plan.

"The White House in fact acts in a manner to suggest that it will place no political muscle behind [the strategy] and spend no political capital on [it]," Mr. Bolick wrote. "Indeed, White House actions suggest a lack of commitment."

The essence of the new strategy, as Mr. Bolick described it, would be to create an "omnibus" civil rights bill by linking the Bush administration's version of a bill to the concept of "empowerment," under which minority and otherwise disadvantaged individuals would gain new "civil rights" by having "a greater degree of control over their own destinies."

Individuals would be able, for example, to choose the public schools their children attend, to manage and perhaps own their own public housing units and to seek new economic opportunities through job-creating "enterprise zones" in the inner city.

Empowerment "is not a new idea," Mr. Bolick acknowledged, noting that Housing and Urban Development Secretary Jack F. Kemp has "pioneered" the concept for years.

But one of Mr. Bolick's principal complaints was that Mr. Kemp, "the most experienced and effective empowerment proponent in the [Bush] administration, has not been assigned a significant role in promoting the legislative package."

Mr. Bolick wrote the paper as a "backgrounder" for the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington, which began to distribute it Tuesday.

The paper carried the Heritage Foundation's usual disclaimer of the views expressed in it. But the foundation provides a near-instant, widespread distribution service to Washington's network of conservatives, including key conservative members of Congress, who are in a toe-to-toe battle with Democrats and some moderate Republicans over a 1992 civil rights bill.

The struggle over the bill shows signs of reaching an impasse. Mr. Bush has threatened to veto it on the same grounds that he used to veto last year's bill -- that it would entice employers into using racial hiring quotas as a means of avoiding discrimination suits.

Last year's veto was sustained by a margin of only one vote in the Senate, giving Democrats hope that they could garner sufficient support for this year's bill to render it veto-proof. But there are signs of slippage in the Senate's support for their bill; incumbents up for election next year, for example, are worried they will be stamped by their campaign opponents as "pro-quota."

Meanwhile, the administration's no-quotas bill appears to have little chance of getting through a Congress with Democratic majorities in both chambers.

"American civil rights policy is at a crossroads," Mr. Bolick wrote in his paper. He urged the Bush administration to "take the offensive on civil rights and empowerment."

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad