Affirming cowardice

Just a thought, but President Bush might want to consider abandoning ship on this race issue right quick before someone notices he doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing.

Oopsie. Too late already? Oh, well. Guess it’s time to buckle up.

Here’s the deal: Before the president made up his mind to tackle the University of Michigan’s affirmative action policy, labeling it a quota program, Bush should have first gotten his facts straight. For example, there are no quota programs at the University of Michigan. None. Affirmative action, which uses race-based solutions as a factor in an admissions process designed to improve cultural diversity on campus, and quotas, which are essentially set-aside programs protecting a pre-established number of slots for a particular group, are two different things. It would have been helpful if Bush — or Bush’s people — had done a little research on this before proceeding. Otherwise, someone could accuse him of lying, and that wouldn’t look too good.

Secondly, before leading his troops into battle, Bush might have considered checking first to make sure his troops were with him. For example, somebody should have told National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice exactly what her position on the issue was supposed to be before leaking that position to the Washington Post two weeks ago. That was the story that played up her tête-à-têtes with the boss and implied that she had coached him on how to blather incoherently about diversity while dismissing affirmative action as a means to achieve it. At least if the poor woman had known what she was supposed to have said, she wouldn’t have felt compelled to go straight to the press complaining that the Post had it all wrong. She told the Post she, in fact, supports considering race in college admissions, though she’s had a hard time explaining how she can say that and still support Bush’s position in the U-M case. With a little advance notice and some common courtesy, Ms. Rice could have played the role of the supportive Negro staffer that some anonymous white staffer had apparently assigned to her without her knowledge.

Instead, Condi just got pissed off and wound up inadvertently exposing the racial cowardice of the Bush administration. Why do I say cowardice? When the administration couldn’t hide behind the blackness of Gen. Colin Powell to dismantle a civil rights cornerstone (Powell made his support of affirmative action known early on), they figured they could at least hide behind the blackness of Condi. Why the blackness of Education Secretary Rod Paige, who openly supported the president’s position, wasn’t sufficient is anybody’s guess. Maybe because nobody’s heard of the guy.

Thirdly, Bush should think long and hard about how he managed to get into Yale University before attacking affirmative action as unconstitutional. Bush’s father was a very good student as well as a sports hero during his days at Yale. Bush II was a C student who loved to party, had a drinking problem, and wasn’t much good at sports. His high school record was similarly mediocre. The likelihood of a slacker like him getting into Yale without the “affirmative action” of his father’s alumni influence and connections is somewhere between slim and none. Bush got in on daddy’s coattails, the same way he got to be president. Nothing else qualified him to stumble amiably around campus; he was probably taking up space that could have gone to a perfectly well-qualified minority candidate. Damn that affirmative action!

Fourthly, and to screw up matters even worse, Bush made the announcement that he wanted to abolish affirmative action during the Martin Luther King holiday, which was interpreted — surprise, surprise — as a slap in the face to African-Americans. Has anybody coached this guy on timing? It hasn’t even been a month since he publicly rebuked Sen. Trent Lott for wishing segregation was back in style, a move which was supposed to earn him some points from African-Americans. But then what does he do? Naturally, he decides to once again push for Senate confirmation of one of Lott’s good ol’ boys from Mississippi — Judge Charles W. Pickering — who has a racist past to rival Lott’s. Oh, yeah. That makes sense.

And let’s not forget that this president is the former candidate who, when faced with a strong challenge from Sen. John McCain, trekked to Bob Jones University, where God fundamentally believes the races need to keep their dating time — and, of course, their gene pools — to themselves. (Not that the South Carolina school’s bigotry is limited to black folk. It’s also where the pope is considered the Antichrist and leader of a satanic cult.)

But wait! Maybe Bush really is starting to get it. Several days after announcing his decision to try and abolish affirmative action, Bush showed up at a black church on the King holiday to let the congregation know that “there is still work to do” in America to realize Dr. King’s dream, and that “there is still prejudice.”

That message came not a moment too soon. What would those poor hopeless members of the congregation done without such a divinely inspired revelation? No doubt until that very moment they just knew they’d been living in the Promised Land.

“It is fitting that we honor Martin Luther King in a church because I believe, like you, that the power of his words, the clarity of his vision, the courage of his leadership, occurred because he put his faith in the Almighty,” said Bush. “It is fitting that we honor this great American in a church because out of church comes the notion of equality and justice.”

Later that day, the White House announced that the president will propose increasing spending by 5 percent for grants to historically black colleges, universities, graduate programs and Hispanic education institutions.

What Bush doesn’t know is that one of the biggest reasons why black folks have historically put their faith in the Almighty is because we knew we couldn’t count on getting a damned thing from elected leaders like Bush. Bush, like so many who came before him, wants us to look to the skies so we don’t see him when he snatches the rug out from under our feet.

Praise the Lord …?

I always have, but always with my eyes wide open.

Keith A. Owens is a Detroit-area writer and musician. E-mail [email protected]
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