Clinton woos blacks with fudge over quotas

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The Independent Online
After months of hesitation, President Bill Clinton has decided to stand by existing government affirmative action schemes - a choice that may avert a possible White House run by Reverend Jesse Jackson, the civil rights leader, but which ensures that the issue will be at the heart of the 1996 campaign.

"I know it works," declared the President in a keynote speech yesterday, after the release of a 96-page White House report on the future of affirmative action, federal policies originating 30 years ago at the height of the civil rights movement, aimed at fighting job discrimination against women, blacks and other minorities.

For more than a year now affirmative action has come under fierce fire, not only from leading Republicans but also in a series of Supreme Court rulings to the effect that government action should be limited to the redress of specific injustices. It moreover fuelled resentment among the now celebrated "angry white males" whose votes are widely credited with bringing about the Republican sweep of Congress in November 1994.

Instead, the report praises the achievements of affirmative action, concluding that "federal programmes are fair and do not unduly burden non-beneficiaries" - in other words so-called "reverse discrimination" against whites is not the problem its foes crack it up to be.

America, said the President, had made "enormous strides" towards eliminating inequality and racial barriers in the workplace, "but the job is not complete". Some limited reforms will be made, to eliminate schemes with fixed hiring quotas favouring unqualified individuals, and to stamp out abuses.

The counterattack from Republicans was swift and predictable, led by California's Governor Pete Wilson, who has made abolition of affirmative action a cornerstone of his campaign for the White House. Mr Clinton, he said, had done a "real disservice" by keeping in place a system which "tribalises" America, "dividing the country by race and gender".

In fact the President has engaged in a classic Clinton balancing act, promising reforms to assuage white middle-class voters, but keeping the existing structure. To win a second term in 1996, Mr Clinton must retain the votes of blacks, minorities and women. But blacks would flock to an independent run by Mr Jackson, who has based his decision on the President's attitude to affirmative action.