Wednesday, January 22, 2003

Quota unquota

When was the last time we heard a Bush talking about "quotas"?

It was back in when Bush Sr. was vetoing the Civil Rights Act of 1990. His reasons for doing so were built upon the phony argument that the legislation was a "quota bill": "As presented to me, S. 2104 would lead employers to adopt quotas for hiring and promotion, and it would prevent or discourage some victims of illegal quotas from seeking legal redress."

Two years later, desperate to repair the damage from that decision (and the subsequent ascent of David Duke), Bush signed the Civil Rights Act of 1992, which was not appreciably different from the 1990 version.

Here's an excerpt from Joseph Aistrup's insightful The Southern Strategy Revisited: Republican Top-Down Advancement (University of Kentucky Press, 1996), which is mostly a strategist's guide for other Republicans. This is from pp. 52-53:

Using the basics of Reagan’s rhetoric, and mimicking the Reagan administration’s attack on civil rights, Bush vetoed the first version of the Civil Rights Act (1990) on the basis that it represented a “quota” bill. This strategy most likely would have succeeded, except for the emergence of Louisiana Republican and former Klansman, David Duke. David Duke's emergence as a Republican is an unintended consequence of the Southern Strategy’s race issue orientation (Page 1991, B7). Although Republican strategists are fully aware that the Southern Strategy entices voters of the same mold as David Duke (Evans and Novak 1991, A27), they find it extremely disateful when a racial reactionary leader becomes a Republican candidate, wins a state legislative seat as a Republican, and is one of two finalists in the Louisiana U.S. Senate (1990) and governor (1991) contests. White House press spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said of Duke: “He’s not a Republican, he never will be a Republican ... We don’t like him.”

Aside from Duke’s overt racism, the Duke affair is distasteful to Republicans because candidates like Duke expose how the Southern Strategy’s conservative message can be racially interpreted by many Southern whites, lending credence to Democrats’ claims concerning the racially divisive nature of the Southern Strategy’s issues (McQueen and Birnbaum 1991, A18). However, the most disturbing aspect of David Duke for the Republicans and Bush was that he elicited rhetoric straight from the Bush campaign: Opposing “quotas,” affirmative action, and any type of minority preference; assailing those who are on welfare; and blaming government and special interests for the poor state of Louisiana’s economy.

However, it was the actions of a Republican senator that effectively undermined the use of race-based issues in the 1992 presidential campaign. In the furor engulfing President Bush’s veto of the Civil Rights Act of 1990, several moderate Republican senators led by Senate John Danforth (R-Mo.) attempted to forge a compromise civil rights bill. After numerous meetings with administration negotiators, Danforth lamented that the administration were more interested in using race and quota issues in the 1992 presidential election than constructing a compromise (Overdorfer and Schwartz 1991, A21). With the political backdrop of David Duke winning a spot in the 1991 Louisiana runoff election for governor as a Republican, and Bush’s appointment of Clarence Thomas to fill Thurgood Marshall’s vacant Supreme Court seat (Thomas is from Missouri, Danforth’s state), Bush cut a deal that led to the passage of the 1991 extension of the Civil Rights Act. Importantly, the 1991 version was not substantially different from the previously vetoed version (McQueen and Birnbaum 1991, A18).

With the race pillar suddenly gone from the Southern Strategy, Aistrup contends, Bush was forced to shore up his Southern base by making naked appeals to religious conservatives: “Consequently the Republican National Convention was transformed into another edition of the ‘700 Club.’” This drew him too far to the right and spelled his doom in the general election.

Junior may be following in his footsteps -- zigging to disavow the racial neo-Confederate wing of the party, then zagging back right again, hoping to repair the damage with the attacks on affirmative action.

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