OCTOBER 10, 1996
Is affirmative action on its way out? Is race relations still an issue that is in the American political radar? Following excerpts on these topics from the Vice-Presidential debate, Elizabeth Farnsworth is joined by a panel of experts.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Affirmative action and race relations were two issues raised in last night's vice presidential debate. For Al Gore and Jack Kemp, it was an opportunity to draw political and philosophical distinctions between the two campaigns. Here are some excerpts.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Vice President, should federal government affirmative action programs be continued?
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: (Last Night) Yes. President Clinton addressed this issue when he said, Mend it; don't end it. Diversity is a great strength in America. We ought to be very proud in our country, as most Americans are, that we've made tremendous progress, but we ought to recognize that we have more work to do. Now, the first thing that we are trying to do is to create a million new jobs in the inner cities of this country, with tax credits for employers who hire people who are now unemployed. We are seeking to have vigorous enforcement of the laws that bar discrimination. Now I want to congratulate Mr. Kemp for being a lonely voice in the Republican Party over the years on this question. It is, it is with some sadness that I refer to the fact that the day after he joined Sen. Dole's ticket, he announced that he was changing his position and was hereto--thereafter going to adopt Sen. Dole's position to end all affirmative action. That's not good for our country.
JACK KEMP: Affirmative action should be predicated upon need, not equality of reward, not equality of outcome. Quotas have always been against the American ideal. We should promote diversity, and we should do it the way, uh, Bob Dole has been talking about, with a new civil rights agenda based upon expanding access to credit and capital, job opportunities, educational choice in our inner cities for a young, urban mother who can't get the type of an education she wants for her child, and ultimately the type of ownership and entrepreneurship for public housing residents in D.C., to Nickerson Gardens in Watts, Los Angeles. People need to own, and that's what Abraham Lincoln believed. And when people own something, they have a stake in the American dream, that is affirmative action in America.
MR. LEHRER: Mr. Kemp, do we have a serious race problem in the United States right now?
JACK KEMP: Yeah, we really do. Our country, as the Kerner Commission report suggested a number of years ago, is being split, but they said between white and black. I think it's being split, Jim, not so much between white and black, although that's still a very serious problem. We really have two economies. Our general economy, our national economy, our mainstream economy is, uh, democratic, is based on incentives, a small d, Al, it's capitalism and incentives for working and saving and investing and producing, and families, and the things that really lead to progress up that ladder that we call the American dream, but what is really universal. But unfortunately, in urban America, there is a socialist economy; there's no private housing, there's mostly public housing. You're told where to go to school. You're told what to buy with food stamps. It is a welfare system that is more like a third world socialist country than what we would expect from the world's greatest democratic, free enterprise system. That must change, and it will, under Bob Dole and Jack Kemp.
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: The problems between races in America must be addressed. The good news is we're making progress. We've seen 10 ½ million new jobs created in the last four years. We've seen the unemployment rate come down dramatically. We've seen the African-American unemployment rate go below double digits for the first time in 25 years, and it's stayed below for 25 months in a row. We have empowerment zones and enterprise communities, 105 of them in communities all across the United States of America.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Now a broader look at race relations and how it affects our politics and our communities. With us are four experts. Robert Woodson is the founder of the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, a non-profit group whose goal is to help low-income people achieve self-sufficiency. Roger Wilkins is professor of American History at George Mason University, a writer and civil rights activist, he was from 1966 to 69 the principal adviser on race relations in Lyndon Johnson's Justice Department. Ralph Reed is the director of the Christian Coalition and Robert Borosage is co-director of the Campaign for America's Future, a progressive advocacy group. Thank you all for being with us. Roger Wilkins, I'm going to put the same question to you that Jim Lehrer put to the candidates last night. Do we have a serious race problem in the United States right now?
ROGER WILKINS, Historian: Of course we do. Anybody who thinks we don't is in very deep denial. In virtually every area of life and education, to access to health to access to good housing, to access to employment, wealth to income, blacks are lagging far behind whites. It is hideous in the inner cities. I wouldn't describe it exactly as Jack Kemp does, but whether you describe it as Jack Kemp does, or whether you describe it the way William Julius Wilson has done in his new book when work disappears. The fact is that joblessness is savaging the inner cities. And despite my respect to the vice president, all of that progress that he's talking about has not touched the inner cities, nor indeed in any significant way have programs of this administration. But if you listen to Jack Kemp for whom I have a great affection, you have to say that the problems that he described in the inner cities were like that through the Reagan years, through the Bush years, through the Nixon years, and the problems have been exacerbated by politicians who, as Jack Kemp correctly says, were following the southern strategy.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Woodson, what would you say? How would you answer that question that Jim put last night?
ROBERT WOODSON, National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise: I would say it's a problem, but I think we need to bring new questions to the remedies. And those new questions have to go to whether or not some of the remedies that we have been advancing over the past 30 years are contributing to the problem of race. We've got to ask ourselves--you cannot generalize about the black community, say blacks are lagging behind whites. Roger Wilkins and Bob Woodson are not lagging behind whites. Our children are better educated. Our incomes are probably higher than most whites and blacks. So you can't generalize. You've got to begin to ask yourself what are remedies that will go to the issue of those in need. One other--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Before we get into the remedies, let me ask you this. Are you seeing the same kinds of things? You have an organization which has affiliates all through the country. Are you seeing the same kinds of problems that Mary Frances Berry described with more segregation in schools and that sort of thing?
MR. WOODSON: The people--my constituents say--most of them are being educated in all black school systems, by black superintendents, and black teachers. The housing programs run by other blacks, and yet, their children are failing in record numbers, and so if race were the problem, they're asking me that why are our children failing when their systems are being run by our own people, therefore, they say, we must look deeper to some remedies that go beyond race, and we must have a dialogue about that to ask why are our young people achieving from these bad schools and sports but not in the computer lab?
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. Good. We're going to get into remedies in a minute, but just on the diagnosis of the problem, Ralph Reed, how serious is the problem, in your view?
RALPH REED, Christian Coalition: (Virginia Beach) Well--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: This is something you've been dealing with, I know, as--and talk to us about that too.
MR. REED: Well, have been at the Christian Coalition. As you know, we were one of the first organizations really stepped out before a number of the traditional civil rights organizations in February of this year and called on the Justice Department and the FBI to make the investigation of the acts of terror and bombings and firings of African-American churches not only in the South but across the country a major priority. Uh, we have launched a major fund-raising drive to raise a million dollars to help rebuild those churches that have been the victims of terror and arson, and we're going to be having a meeting of African-American pastors in Richmond, Virginia, later this month to begin to distribute some of that money. I think speaking as someone who is involved in this issue as a person of faith, as a conservative that someone with a deep sensitivity to the issue of racial reconciliation, I think what we have to do, Elizabeth, is acknowledge that we've made a lot of progress. We have come a long way as a nation. The dreaded legacy of Jim Crow, I think, is drawing to a close. We no longer have at least the legal regime of segregation, even though it is still going on in many areas. We've clearly made a lot of progress. We have a vibrant and active African-American middle class. And there is more opportunity, but we have a long way to go. And I agree with Bob Woodson that while we need to redress the traditional questions and answers of the civil rights agenda, we need to move beyond issues of legal discrimination and talk about issues such as school choice, welfare reform, tougher laws against crime and drugs because if you are able to repeal the traditional legal discrimination of days gone by, but a young African-American or Latino child in a rural area or in an inner city can't go to a safe school, doesn't have an intact family, can't walk through their neighborhood without fear of being cut down by drug dealers, if 60 to 80 percent of the births in the inner city, our out of wedlock, and if the African-American Church isn't the vibrant institution that it's been really for centuries to sustain the spiritual and moral life of that community, but not only are those in those areas suffering, but we all suffer as a nation. So I think we've got to broaden the number of questions that we're asking. But speaking as someone who heads a traditionally white evangelical organization, we as whites must repent of past racism and must move this issue to the top of our agenda and not just the back burner.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Should it be on the top the agenda, Bob Borosage? Are we still two nations in the sense that the Kerner Commission in 1968 said we are?
ROBERT BOROSAGE, Campaign for America's Future: Sadly, we're--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: I'm talking about two nations racially here.
MR. BOROSAGE: Sadly, in some ways we're even worse. In the North, school segregation is worse than it was two days ago. Housing segregation patterns are worse than they were two decades ago in the North. With the end of--we're only three decades after we ended legal segregation in this country, and enormous progress has been made. African-American children graduated from high school at rates that are quite similar to white children now, so that once the doors were open, many people could begin to walk through them, but the segregated living patterns, education patterns, schooling patterns are still deep, and the opinions are very deep. In addition to that, you have an economy that is producing declining wages and increasing insecurity for more and more Americans. And in that condition, then race baiting and racial tensions often become a distraction that people use to avoid dealing with those kinds of questions.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: But--yes, go ahead.
MR. WOODSON: But there are two--we have to be honest and say that there are two so-called social reforms that wreaked havoc in the black community. One was urban renewal that wiped out more commercial centers in the black community in two years than all the night rides of the Ku Klux Klan did, just decimated those centers. The other one was forced busing for integration. Judge Garrety in 74 asked the people who were most affected by it what did they want, grassroots people, they said, we want quality education, and sitting next to white kids was not our goal. The civil rights leadership said, the hell with what they want, bus them. And for 30 years, we have been busing, a program that repeatedly has been rejected by the majority in the black community, and yet, the elite in the civil rights establishment continue to press it, and we have what we have now, whites fleeing, and the inner city schools totally in despair.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So you're--go ahead.
MR. WILKINS: We've been running against the civil rights leadership for years, and it doesn't get us anywhere. The issue really is, um, granted that we've made an extraordinary amount of progress in the last 50 years--the issue is where do we go from here? The first step is to acknowledge that we still have an awful lot of problems. And the second step is to understand that an awful lot of black kids are being destroyed. Right now, black people--I'm talking--now the issue is how do you educate those kids, how do you get good medical care to their mothers, how do you put their fathers to work, when the people talk, when politicians talk about family values, they have to talk about jobs. You can't have families without jobs.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So in the argument about what is causing this, would you say people talk about attitude? Mr. Woodson just brought up a whole series of reasons, and the economy is the other reason. Would you think that the economy is the crucial factor at this point?
MR. WILKINS: I'd say jobs and education are, are central, and the politicians put it backwards. They started talking about welfare reform, both parties, and then they really just ripped up the program, and not jobs. Now that they've put this awful bill into place, now they're talking about jobs. Let me just say one other thing. I think that Jack Kemp has been terrific by going into these black communities and saying we were wrong to run on the southern strategy. But it's not just up to the politicians. Business leaders, church leaders, private leaders all across the country were active in the civil rights movement, and people like to say, Woodson among them, what's wrong with the civil rights movement, they're flunking, and what's wrong with the civil rights leaders, they're flunking. I say, okay, they don't have all the answers, but what's wrong with the white leadership in this country? Where are the business leaders, the church leaders and the other leaders who could put this on the national agenda where it belongs?
MR. WOODSON: Look, my point is that many of the reforms that really could move us in the direction of changing it, such as engaging the institutions that affect the kind of moral decisions that people in the inner cities make, we support a lot of faith-based organizations that have transformed thousands of drug addicts, prostitutes, and, and so that people then could change their behavior so that opportunity, they could take advantage of opportunity, but the--precisely the kind of policies such as choice in education or ending the hostility towards faith-based organizations has been resisted by people who say they are in support of the poor. So I think we need to have a dialogue inside of the black community about--to answer some of these questions that are not on the agenda, just as there need to be dialogue in the white community to address the kind of issues that Rob was talking about. But right now, we always look the other way. Somehow, we look to white America for the answers for our problems, and not do what Dr. King said, and that self-inquiry is the highest form of maturity.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Ralph Reed, let me just ask you this. What do you think should be done specifically now about these problems?
MR. REED: Well, I think Dr. Wilkins has a very good point, and that is that both races and leaders not just in the political realm but in the spiritual and the religious life of our communities and the business community and the civic leadership have got a step forward. I think again here there are some optimistic signs. We've got a long way to go but when the Southern Baptist Convention gets up at its national convention as it did this year and repudiates past racism and apologizes for its past complicity, when the Christian Coalition did what it did on the issue of the burning of black churches, when the Promise Keepers Movement, which is filling football stadiums across the country, calling men to be better husbands and fathers, makes as one of the key promises that predominantly whites are being asked to make is a promise and a pledge of racial reconciliation. I don't suggest in any way that we're breaking the tape at the finish line, but we've begun the race. The question is where do we go from here, and I think there are three things that we feel we ought to do. First of all, we didn't make racial reconciliation and racial dialogue one of our top priorities. It can't be just something we pay lip service to but we've got to put money and manpower there. And that's why we've done what we've done. The second thing I think we need to do is we need to move towards a pro civil rights agenda in education because without a high school diploma, without an education, without getting on that bottom rung, you can't move up, and that's why we support school choice to give predominantly minority young people a chance at the American dream to attend a safe school that works. And thirdly, we need talk enforcement of existing civil rights laws. If the report that came out this week from the Commission on Civil Rights is accurate, then we need the Justice Department to move into some areas and enforce the laws that are already on the books and make an example out of those who are violating them.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Bob Borosage, what do you think needs to be done specifically?
MR. BOROSAGE: Go back to what Dr. Wilkins says, that the inner cities need jobs desperately. You can't keep families together without jobs.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: For the first time in the 20th century actually a majority of adults in many inner cities do not have jobs.
MR. BOROSAGE: Right. And young African-American males have unemployment rates that go up to 50-60 percent. At that point, you're stuffing out all opportunity and all hope. And we have to make a commitment, not just a moral commitment, but a real commitment to rebuild these cities.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: More than the campaigns are doing?
MR. BOROSAGE: I don't think either campaign has begun to, to address this problem in the scope that it needs, and that requires both public investment, private incentives. It requires both informal and private efforts, as well as public efforts, and to assume that anything less than that will be adequate I think is fooling people.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What do you think about that, Mr. Woodson?
MR. WOODSON: I think at issue isn't what. The question is, how do you do it, and I think we really need reform, do we really need to go to the drawing board and come up with new remedies. But if we continue to look at these problems through the prism of race, through the prism of top-down, government first, if we continue to look through, with hostility towards faith-based organizations and use church-state as a means of keeping a Berlin Wall between the resources that people need, then we're going to continue the way we are going. Finally, I just think we really need a dialogue within the black community to address problems that are internal, just as Ralph Reed said they are doing in the white community; we need the same things that are always looking outside for the remedies that are inside.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: We just have a few seconds, Mr. Wilkins.
MR. WILKINS: For a change, I would agree with Bob. We blacks need to have that conversation. I'd also say that I agree there's a lot of blacks--when Ralph Reed says the things that he said--a lot of blacks say, oh, the Christian Coalition, I'm not going to talk to them. I welcome that. I thank him for it, and I tell him that there are those of us who want to meet him and work with him and any time, the same with the Southern Baptists. I welcomed what they said, and we should work with them.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, thank you all very much for being with us.