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A California Renewal of Civil Rights' Goal : Vote: The state can lead the way in affirming equal opportunity, not equal results.

November 19, 1995|BOB DOLE | Bob Dole is Senate majority leader and a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination

Next November, the voters of California can strike a blow for the principle of equal opportunity by passing the California civil rights initiative.

The initiative is a direct descendant of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed employment discrimination throughout the United States. As a member of the House, I was proud to support the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Today, as Senate majority leader, I am proud to support the California initiative.

Both measures stand for the simple proposition that Americans should be judged as individuals, on the basis of their own unique talents and abilities and not on the basis of skin color or gender. In a single sentence, the initiative captures the spirit of this vital principle: "The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education or public contracting." In other words: In the eyes of the government, it is the individual who is of paramount importance, not the group to which the individual happens to belong.

The overwhelming majority of Americans and Californians believe, as I do, that one of the purposes of our public policy should be to promote equal opportunity for all without regard to factors such as race or gender. We must work to ensure that no one is shut out, that all Americans are given a chance to compete for life's opportunities.

We can promote opportunity through welfare reform that strengthens the two-parent family, by giving low-income parents the option to choose the school--public or private--that best serves their children's needs, and by confronting the scourge of violence that is literally killing off our inner cities. We must also remain committed to the traditional form of affirmative action--recruitment and outreach to give qualified minorities and women the chance to compete.

At the same time, it is wrong and ultimately self-defeating to try to rig the results of this competition through the use of quotas, set-asides and other preferences that serve only to pit American against American, group against group. Promoting equal opportunity does not mean guaranteeing equal results. As Democratic consultant Ted Van Dyk has put it: "The objective of a generation of civil rights fighters of all races and colors had been to give every American an equal chance at the starting line--but not a guaranteed outcome at the finish line."

Guaranteeing equal access to opportunity, not equal results, was the motivating principle behind the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In fact, one of the act's most prominent champions, Sen. Hubert Humphrey, promised to "eat the pages" of the bill if it contained "any language which provides that an employer will have to hire on the basis of percentage or quota relating to color." No doubt if Sen. Humphrey were alive today, he would be suffering from an acute case of indigestion.

Those of us who may once have supported some preferences as a remedy for past discrimination never believed that these preferences would become a seemingly permanent fixture on the American social landscape. Instead, we always viewed affirmative action in the form of preferences as a temporary, transitional measure. Certainly, we never expected that the preference mentality would get so out-of-hand that the President of the United States would seek to appoint members of his own Cabinet by quota.

Of course, we cannot ignore the fact that discrimination continues to exist in our country. That's why we must conscientiously enforce our anti-discrimination laws. Wherever discrimination occurs, we must condemn it, and those who violate the law must be punished. But at the same time, we must ask ourselves: Should fighting discrimination become an excuse to abandon the color-blind ideal? Can we really cure the evil of discrimination with more discrimination? In my view, the answer to both of these questions is a straightforward no.

That's why I recently joined with Rep. Charles T. Canady (R-Fla.) in introducing the Equal Opportunity Act of 1995. This legislation, which closely parallels the California initiative at the federal level, would get the federal government out of the preference business altogether. If we truly want to build a color-blind society, then the federal government ought to lay the foundation by adopting policies that are consistent with this goal.

The critics of the California civil rights initiative, like the critics of the Equal Opportunity Act, now charge that those who oppose quotas, set-asides and other preferences are seeking to exploit racial tensions and divide the American people. But the real dividers are the purveyors of preferences themselves, who view every social problem through a racial prism. If we are to break the cycle of racial distrust that now grips America, we must remove the group-think blinders and begin to view one another not as blacks or whites, Asians or Latinos, but as fellow citizens: as Americans.

Californians can help lead the way by passing the civil rights initiative next year.

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