It has become a matter of good faith.
Do yourself a favor and sign the civil rights bill.
I don't mean to sound abrupt, but I know you are a busy man, and I wanted to get right to the point. Besides, you've heard most of what I have to say.
You heard it back in May, when you asked the civil rights leadership to sit down with you and talk about this bill, designed to overturn a spate of Supreme Court decisions that make it more difficult for victims of discrimination to obtain relief.
You heard it last week from William T. Coleman, the former secretary of transportation, your friend of 40 years' standing and arguably the most widely respected black Re ublican in America, when he begged you for a meeting (which you granted) to talk about the bill.
You heard it from the National Black Republican Civil Rights Task Force, which expressed its dismay at how much weight you seem to be giving the opinion of those in your administration who oppose the bill -- and how little to those who have experienced the injustice the measure is designed to correct.
You've heard it from editorialists from publications running the gamut from The Washington Post to Business Week; from commentators as diverse as Carl T. Rowan and James J. Kilpatrick.
And yet you profess to see the Civil Rights Act of 1990 as only a "quota" bill.
I took you seriously at first, as did the advocates of the measure. You had a problem with the fact that this bill did not precisely copy the language of Griggs (which was the prevailing interpretation of civil rights law until the recent court decisions, and which did not lead to the quotas you now profess to fear). The language was changed to reflect Griggs.
You objected to a requirement that hiring rules that have disparate impact on minorities be subject to "objective evidence" of their business necessity. That requirement was dropped.
You worried that the evidence required to prove business necessity might still prove too difficult for employers to meet. The language was changed to allow evidence of "prior successful experience."
In all, some 30 amendments (mostly relating to your professed fear of quotas) were adopted, including one stating flatly that "the mere existence of a statistical imbalance in an employer's workforce" is insufficient to establish prima facie evidence of disparate impact, and another saying that nothing in the legislation "shall be construed to require or to encourage an employer to adopt hiring or promotion quotas."
And now that your stated objections have been met -- now that both houses have passed this bill by 65 percent majorities -- you threaten to veto it before the end of the day and offer up a substitute bill.
Well, those who have seen the provisions of the substitute pronounce it worse than anything you've proposed yet.
If I could be so presumptuous, I might suggest a reason why your staff is having such a difficult time producing legislation that would serve the purpose you yourself accepted last May: overturning the impact of the recent Supreme Court decisions:
You want to restore the status quo that existed before the recent decisions. Your staff -- principally Attorney General Richard Thornburgh, White House Counsel C. Boyden Gray and your chief of staff, John Sununu -- wants to ratify those decisions.
And maybe worse than that.
Take a look at the changes proposed by Sununu and Gray just last month. They would allow "community or customer relationship efforts" as a defense of discriminatory hiring and promotion. Here's what the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights says about that proposal:
"This new demand, never before raised during months of discussions on the bill, would set back the civil rights clock more than 25 years. 'Customer relations' was the code word used by airlines to restrict flight attendant jobs to young, single women. The administration's proposal could allow law firms, banks and other employers to bar blacks or Jews or Catholics from certain jobs because customers prefer not to deal with them."
Another proposal from your administration would permit the exclusion of fully qualified women and minorities on the basis of general assumptions about their potential for future promotions.
I can't expect you to side with the Leadership Conference against your own trusted staff. But I do expect you to understand that the debate has come down to a question of good faith. The supporters of the bill on your desk have negotiated earnestly in an effort to meet your stated objections. Your people appear to be playing the game of shifting targets, raising new problems as the old ones are resolved.
And you, sir, appear to be using "quotas" the way you used Willie Horton during your campaign for the presidency: as a coded message to the bigots who oppose the very things you say you want to achieve.
I urge you to turn away from those who are offering you advice that would be disastrous both to the cause of civil rights and to your own interest in changing the anti-civil rights perception of your party.
Mr. President: Sign the bill.