Feeding fuel to a fire: Clinton’s attempt to fight racism by enshrining it

by | Dec 31, 1998

On June 14, 1997, after the Rodney King trial, the Los Angeles riots, the O.J. Simpson trial, and the abolishment of affirmative action policies at certain universities in California, Bill Clinton announced “One America in the 21st Century: The President’s Initiative on Race.” This year-long commission was the most comprehensive government study of racial issues […]

On June 14, 1997, after the Rodney King trial, the Los Angeles riots, the O.J. Simpson trial, and the abolishment of affirmative action policies at certain universities in California, Bill Clinton announced “One America in the 21st Century: The President’s Initiative on Race.” This year-long commission was the most comprehensive government study of racial issues in America since Lyndon Johnson’s Kerner commission three decades ago. President Clinton felt he had to prepare Americans for the predicted expansion of the racial diversity of their citizenry, and among the goals of his commission toward this purpose were to promote “national dialogue on race issues,” identify and create plans to calm “racial tension,” and improve the quality of “race relations.”1

In his speech that formally announced the commission, President Clinton said that his preparation required an America based on three ideals: “opportunity for all” — i.e., “equal opportunity” via government-enforced affirmative action policies; “responsibility from all,” — wherein Americans must take “responsibility for themselves and their families,” one requirement of which is “giving back to those around us”; and “an American community of all our citizens” — whereby Americans “must build one American community based on respect for one another and our shared values.” He punctuated his speech with appeals to “shared” values — which he left unspecified. However, he did construct a moral framework: “[I]n the cause of building one America all citizens must serve. As I said at the President’s Summit on Service in Philadelphia, in our new era such acts of service are basic acts of citizenship.”2

He then introduced the members of his commission’s advisory board; among them were Linda Chavez-Thompson, the executive vice president of the AFL-CIO; Reverend Suzan Johnson Cook, the founder of the Bronx Christian Fellowship, a new church plant for the American Baptist Churches of Metropolitan New York; Thomas Kean, former Republican governor of New Jersey and currently the president of Drew University; William Winter, former Democratic governor of Mississippi and currently a private lawyer who is the chairman of the National Commission on the State and Local Public Service; and John Hope Franklin, a (revisionist) historian emeritus at Duke University, who was named the board’s chairman. In an interview with Newsweek, Mr. Franklin said that he didn’t think a conversation on race could occur “without a discussion of the development and perfection of the doctrine of racial superiority.”3 Christopher Edley, a co-director of The Civil Rights Project and a consultant to the board, was assigned to draw up the board’s final report. As an adviser to President Clinton, Mr. Edley wrote his “mend, don’t end” answer to critics of affirmative action policies.4

A plateau in the ongoing controversy over affirmative action was reached in 1995 and 1996, when certain law and medical schools of the University of California were required through ballot initiatives (e.g., Proposition 209) to abolish the admissions of students based on their race, religion, sex, color, ethnicity and national origin.5 Thereafter the admissions of their black applicants fell (considerably so at Berkley and UCLA), but rose accordingly for white and Asian applicants.

Ward Connerly, a University of California regent who led the campaign to abolish his state’s affirmative action policies, wrote in a New York Times editorial (co-authored by Newt Gingrich), “This shamefully underscores how much race and race alone has been used instead of merit in our halls of higher education.” He argued that after it spent trillions of government dollars over three decades, President Johnson’s “Great Society” had done “more harm than good” for public education, “the poor,” and “racial discrimination”; then he asked: “Do we bring the people of this country closer together when we reject one of America’s most basic principles — the notion that people should be judged individually on merit, not collectively by the color of their skin — or do we breed new resentment and doubt?”6 Conversely, each member of the advisory board supports affirmative action in some form. John Hope Franklin had said that he favors affirmative action, but is “not in favor of affirmative action that we’ve had for 300 years; namely affirmative action for whites.”7 Jesse Jackson, who participated in the commission, has likened measures that abolish affirmative action to “segregation” and slavery, the former charge of which President Clinton has upheld.

What did these few fundamental indicators reveal about the commission’s approach toward improving “race relations”? That its participants, who champion racial “diversity” policies and statism, represent not merely one side of the controversy over affirmative action, but most significantly the other side of the same racist coin they’re allegedly combating. Nor do they represent Americans who respect one another’s shared freedoms, but rather those who sacrifice and destroy them. That is, they operate from the same foundation that causes racism: the rejection of reason, rational self-interest and individualism for subjectivism, self-sacrifice (i.e., “service” to others) and racial collectivism.

These new tribalists evade how racism is essentially the feeling that each individual’s fundamental or entire character is determined primarily or exclusively by his race or “ethnicity” — not by his independently chosen virtues, values and actions. Instead, they ground racism on its derivatives, such as a man’s feeling that intrinsically his race is morally superior to others, and adopt various premises, such as that it is irrelevant which individual whites were guilty of enslaving or discriminating unjustly against certain individual blacks — today all whites must be penalized and all blacks are entitled to reparations.8 This enables the new tribalists to evade how racial-group guilt, victimization, penalization and reparations are falsehoods and injustices; how anything grounded on race (e.g., affirmative action) in issues where race is irrelevant is racist; and how “equal opportunity” should only mean that all Americans have their individual rights equally upheld so that they may pursue and keep the requirements for their lives.

The advisory board and fellow new tribalists displayed their evasions during the commission’s nationwide town hall “open” meetings that were expected to promote a national “dialogue” on race. “Like much of America’s discussion of race, it was serial monologue, an airing of grievances and personal perspectives,” the New York Times reported on the first meeting in Akron, Ohio, in December. “Two Hispanic women complained about being compared to the sort of character played by Rosie Perez. A biracial student said people perceive only half of who he is.”9 Hillary Clinton hosted the second meeting in Boston, where these monologues continued, as when a black student from a white-majority high school said that “he was stunned when a classmate used a racial slur as he boarded a bus.”10 A meeting in Houston, in April, featured a special eleven-member panel of people involved with sports (professional or otherwise) and was broadcast on ESPN. According to the New York Times, President Clinton used the sports channel in hopes of appealing particularly to the white males who had paid his commission little attention. The issues discussed during this meeting ranged from why so few cornerbacks in football are white to why wealthy black athletes and coaches don’t hire black lawyers, agents, and managers to whether athletes have a special obligation to society (President Clinton said that like all successful people, they do).11

Throughout these meetings the commission heard grievances regarding mis- or under-representation of their racial/ethnic group from Hispanic activists, the Japanese American Citizen League, the European American Issues Forum, a Gypsy activist. Before they entered the theater where the town meeting was held in Denver, in March, American Indians protested by beating drums and shouting. While inside, these activists obstructed the board’s planned discussion on racial stereotypes to protest both the lack of Indians working in the Clinton administration and the diminishing federal money for Indian health care, and to promote tribal sovereignty12 (President Clinton’s administration successfully defeated proposed legislation that sought to end sovereign immunity for Indian tribes).13 Moreover, the chief activists from the American Indian Movement of Colorado challenged the commission’s own racial “diversity” practices: “For this advisory board to go around the country pretending to have a national dialogue on race without having an Indian agenda, without having an Indian member, it’s a charade.”14

What occurred at these town meetings when the few attendants who oppose “diversity” and affirmative action policies asserted their views? During the panel discussion in Denver, the attendants booed Charles King, a professor emeritus from the University of Colorado, when he said: “For every one of those individuals given special preference, a white individual like me suffers.” The Denver Post reported that “A sharp debate followed. When [John Hope] Franklin defended affirmative action, the crowd cheered.”15 When a man at the meeting in Fairfax, Virginia, in December, asked the advisory board if it planned to address the whites and Asians victimized by affirmative action, one panelist, Deborah Meier, said that such issues should be discussed in a way to dispel any notion that “to be white in America is a disadvantage.” 16

After most of the town meetings were conducted board member Angel Oh said that she wanted to discuss such issues as whether Clinton should apologize for slavery, but the board was not permitted to broach the subject. Why? ”I just don’t think we were interested in taking something up that he [Clinton] was not interested in pursuing,” she said.17 Ultimately, these town meetings had no dialogues on the actual essence of racism, nor on how it exists among people of all racial groups (In a roundtable discussion with mostly journalists, President Clinton asked Kay James, dean of the Regent University School of Government, what she thought the roots of racism are, to which she replied: “[N]othing but a very simple and very black and dark heart”).18 That monologues, shoutings and protests prevailed instead — wherein racism was largely equated with how certain whites maltreated non-whites and racial groups complained of being either mis-or under-represented — demonstrated how Americans are increasingly rejecting individualism to seek their fundamental identity in their membership of a racial group not of their choosing.

After his commission was criticized early on for ignoring people who charged it with indoctrinating Americans and advocating quotas that divide them by race, President Clinton met at the White House, in December, with some of his critics. The most principled response to his and Al Gore’s questions that upheld racial quotas came from Republican Charles Canady, who told them that “from the day the Declaration of Independence was promulgated to today, if it tells us anything, it should be that our government has no business dividing the American people into groups based on their race.” Ward Connerly, a conservative who endorses affirmative action programs based on economic “need,” said he supported school choice programs as an alternative to race- based policies. Similarly, Linda Chavez, head of the Civil Rights Commission under Ronald Reagan, said she wouldn’t oppose affirmative action programs if “they’re not raced-based, if they’re aimed at educational disadvantage, social disadvantage, economic disadvantage.” 19 The extent of the support for such alternatives was indicated by a New York Times/CBS News poll which showed, as the Times reported, that even as most Americans criticize quotas based on race and gender, they seem “eager to support affirmative action based on economic class,” and that they “are not so much inclined to abolish affirmative action as to search for a new but elusive middle ground.”20

Some new tribalists adopt this evasive, more broadly accepted scheme of “class-based” affirmative action because it shares the same moral foundation on which both their race-based and welfare-statist economic policies rest: sacrifice. When “preferences,” i.e., unearned values, are to various degrees given only to racial minorities, such as blacks and Hispanics, they are perpetrated at the “exclusion” and expense of the majority, that is, whites. But when they are given according to the broader category of class, that then “includes” both racial minorities and the majority, since the “economic disadvantaged,” i.e., “the poor,” exist among all races. Thus, despite that “class-based” affirmative action infringes on their race-based ends (being that the majority of America’s poor are white and would benefit most from it), the more opportunistic new tribalists nevertheless embrace it because it involves their opponents’ sanction of their fundamental social and economic goals: sacrificing achievers to lesser- or non-achievers.

Among these sanctioners from the Republican-conservative camp are Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia, both of whom oppose racial quotas but uphold their class-based counterparts as Constitutional alternatives.21 Glenn Loury, a prominent conservative professor of economics and Director of the Institution of Race and Social Division at Boston University, wrote in an essay advocating affirmative action “reform”: “I would agree, as a matter of social ethics, that the government should undertake policies to mitigate the economic marginality of those languishing in the ghettos of America. This is not a reparations argument.” 22 But these stances are sanctions of the new tribalists’ reparational policies that are based on both class- and racial-group guilt and victimization. They are stances interwoven with President Clinton’s calls for sacrificial “service.” When California’s governor Pete Wilson, George Bush, William Buckley, and other influential Republicans, supported his servitude summit in Philadelphia last year, it again demonstrated to the new tribalists that they faced no consistent, principled moral opposition to their race- or class-base policies. Policies which sacrifice individual rights to the pseudo “rights” of diverse pressure groups by denying or confiscating from individuals their achievements and opportunities. Policies that ultimately engender hostilities between men.

Thus, on Martin Luther King Day, in accordance with his 1994 law the King Holiday and Service Act (which designated the national holiday a day of service)23, President Clinton and members of the advisory board celebrated the holiday by partaking in “community events” that emphasized “the importance of service”24, such as helping to paint schoolrooms. The advisory board held forums wherein labor heads and hundreds of business leaders discussed “the benefits and challenges of racial diversity in the workplace and means for achieving such diversity.”25 And while in San Jose for a town hall meeting, John Hope Franklin listened to a pastor of a local church talk about “a range of programs serving San Francisco’s poor of all races.”26

President Clinton used the recommendations of his advisory board to write the commission’s final report on the status of American “race relations.” In June, a year after the commission began, John Hope Franklin urged President Clinton to use his “considerable powers to shift the tide for those undeserved citizens who suffer from the legacy of racism.” 27 The commission’s summary report revealed that Clinton’s final report would probably proposes to spend billions more of government money on, among other proposals, expanding the power of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission; programs to help Hispanics learn English; construction, improvement, and repair of Native American schools; minority businesses; housing vouchers exclusively for people who “need” “housing assistance to make the transition from welfare to work”; creating a network of local “hate crime” working groups; and on eliminating the health disparities of minority groups.28

Julian Bond, an NAACP Chairman, said of the year-long race commission: ”I’m just not clear what was their charge, what were they supposed to do?”29 But from President Clinton’s speech that announced the commission, pregnant with the appeasement of the new tribalists’ “diversity”-worship and welfare- state programs, their purpose was clear. He and his commission would primarily avoid specifying, downplay, or ignore fundamental, universal conceptual values, and thereby keep any dialogue fundamentally statistical- and concrete- bound and keep the essence of racism hidden. This would allow them not to genuinely improve relations between individuals of different races, but to masquerade as doing so by stressing non-essential similarities and using the anti-conceptual, contextless rallying cry of “diversity.” This would enable them to continue virtually unopposed in championing and instituting as remedies for racism their affirmative action policies in both their race- or class-based forms. But just as the “New Deal,” the “New Frontier,” and the “Great Society” failed to genuinely and justly improve the economic status of Americans, those remedies will only continue to fundamentally erode “race relations.” As historian Keith Windschuttle writes in his book The Killing of History:

“Clearly, any attempt at cultural merger and accommodation is made very difficult if one side identifies itself by ancestry and genealogy, thereby defining itself in terms so exclusive that it forever rules out the inclusion of the other sideSA revival of cultural exclusiveness would mean a return to differentiating between human beings on the basis of genealogical blood lines, in other words, on racial grounds. If the history of the twentieth century has taught anything it is that the attempt to establish societies based on the latter is a sure road to catastrophe.”30

This “cultural exclusiveness” that Mr. Windshuttle speaks of must at least be challenged by the belief that explicitly holds man as essentially an individual, rational being. This knowledge makes possible a foundation for a genuine amity between men of different races. That hostilities will continue to exist between them is due not, for example, to their different racial biology allegedly being deterministic sources of friction. They will continue for the same reasons they exist between individuals of the same race: the subversion of rational values for the irrational. The only foundation for eradicating racism is a philosophy based not on faith in one’s alleged intrinsic racial emotions (e.g., “black” or “white” pride) — but on objective reality and reason; not on one’s fundamental identification with their racial group (e.g., biology, tradition, language) — but on individualism; not on one’s concrete-bound racial group values (e.g. Kwanza’s “collective work” principle, wherein the individual must sacrifice for his race’s demands and needs) — but on such values as rationality, independence, self-interest, honesty, productiveness, trade and justice. Individuals “loyal” to their race and its demands, whether it is in Rwanda, Bosnia, or Hitler’s Germany, thereby subordinate the truth of these and other values that are timeless and universal — that is, applicable to men of all races — for the accident or non-choice of being born into a certain tribe.

Through the rational acceptance and practice of these values within a capitalist government, individuals can peacefully and enduringly associate with others — which requires that individual rights be upheld so that they may freely and genuinely choose their associates. The subordination of reason, individualism and rational self-interest to the faith, collectivism and self- sacrifice that is at the root of President Clinton’s commission confirms that he and his new tribalist comrades are not only destroying the values that are essential to achieve these ends, they are securing the foundation that generates, harbors and sustains racism.


1Bill Clinton, “The Advisory Board“.

2 Bill Clinton, “Initiative Announcement,” June 14, 1997.

3 Karen Breslau, “America’s ‘Own Holocaust’,” Newsweek, December 8, 1997.

4 James Carney, “Why Talk Is Not Cheap,” Time, December 22, 1997.

5 Stephan Thernston, “Farewell to Preferences,” The Public Interest, p.34, Winter 1998.

6 Newt Gingrich and Ward Connerly, “Face the Failure of Racial Preferences” New York Times, July15, 1997.

7 Karen Breslau, “America’s ‘Own Holocaust’,” Newsweek, December 8, 1997 (Same as #3)

8 A variation on a sentence by Peter Schwartz, “The Supreme Court vs. Rights,” The Intellectual Activist, p.2, August 20, 1986 (Vol. IV, Number 8).

9 Felicia R. Lee, “The Honest Dialogue That Is Neither,” New York Times, December 7, 1997.

10 Paul Leavitt, “First Lady, students talk about race,” USA Today, December 10, 1997.

11 James Bennet, “Clinton Leads TV Discussion on Role of Race in Sports,” New York Times, April 15, 1998.

12 Patricia Callahan, “Race panel blasted,” Denver Post, March 24, 1998

13 “One America: Summary of Major Events,” see http://www.whitehouse.gov/Initiatives/OneAmerica/accompreport.htm

14 Patricia Callahan, “Race panel blasted,” Denver Post, March 24, 1998 (Same as # 12).

15 Sheba H.Wheeler, “Audience seeks equal time in Race discussion,” Denver Post March 25, 1998

16 James Lubinskas, “We try to liven up the President’s initiative on race,” American Renaissance, p.7, February 1998.

17 Ann Scales, “Year dialogue on race ending with a whisper,” Boston Globe, July, 14, 1998

18 “News Hour With Jim Lehrer,” July 8, 1998

19 Transcript of Dec. 19, 1997 meeting between President Clinton, Vice President Gore and several opponents of affirmative action, Washington Post

20 Sam Howe Verhovek, “Poll Shows Many Americans Reject Diversity’s Means, Not Its Ends,” New York Times, December 14, 1997.

21 Robert Tracinski, “Class-Based Affirmative Action: A Conservative Idea,” The American Republic, p.7, October, 1995.

22 Glenn Loury, “How To Mend Affirmative Action,” The Public Interest, p. 36, Spring 1997.

23 “One America: Summary of Major Events” (See # 13)

24 “One America On the Move“.

25 Ibid.

26 Louis Freedberg, “Race Panel Gets an Earful In San Jose,” San Francisco Chronicle, February 11, 1998.

27 “Clinton’s Adviser On Race Urges Aggressive Actions In Letters To The President” Philadelphia Inquirer(Author Unknow AP), July, 13, 1998

28 “One America: Summary of Major Events,” (See # 13)

29 Ann Scales, “Year dialogue on race ending with a whisper,” Boston Globe, July, 14, 1998 (Same as # 19)

30 Keith Winshuttle, The Killing of History, Free Press,1996, p. 279 – 280.

Joseph Kellard is a journalist living in New York. To read more of Mr. Kellard's commentary, visit his website The American Individualist at americanindividualist.blogspot.com.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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