It was a beautiful windup.

"If a person is denied employment because of race, national origin or sex," the assistant attorney general for civil rights said, "the consequences may well be so serious as to make other civil rights largely academic. For example, access to equality of housing opportunity has little practical significance if an individual is discriminated against in the job market and cannot earn a wage to purchase decent housing. Similarly, a diploma becomes less valuable if it fails to open doors to positions for which the person was trained."

Then came the delivery: a sweeping curve so wide of the plate as to constitute a wild pitch. Or a bean ball. William Bradford Reynolds, the administration official charged with civil rights enforcement, called for an end to affirmative action as generally understood.

"We no longer will insist upon, or in any respect support, the use of quotas or any other numerical statistical formulae designed to provide to non-victims of discrimination preferential treatment based on race, sex, national origin or religion."

It was a definition calculated to cut the moral ground from under affirmative action. After all, who (except white men, for whom it is a matter of routine) can countenance preferential treatment for "non-victims of discrimination"?

The remarkable thing is that he seems to understand the problem that led to such concepts as "goals and timetables" for correcting racially skewed hiring patterns.

"Affirmative action," as originally promulgated by President Lyndon Johnson, involved expanded recruitment of minority applicants. It quickly became apparent, however, that employers who wished to continue to discriminate could do so, even while casting a wider recruitment net. The question arose as to what might properly be done if such an employer met the Johnson requirement by interviewing impressive numbers of minorities without significantly changing his hiring patterns.

The answer: insist on changed results--or at the very least an explanation of why the results hadn't changed.

Reynolds, naturally, describes it differently. Some, he said, "were impatient with the progress of minorities and began to urge use of new hiring requirements designed to achieve immediate numerical equality among the races in the place of work."

He would handle the recalcitrant employer by supporting suits by applicants who could show they had been discriminated against in the personnel office. Lots of luck. To begin with, the person who is rejected by a large company usually cannot know who got "his" job, let alone whether his qualifications were equal or better. Under the present rules, the rejected applicant could point to the dearth of minorities or females on the employer's work force as evidence of discrimination. If the complaint were upheld, the employer could be required to do something about the makeup of his staff.

Not under the Reynolds rule. To the extent that "doing something" about evident discrimination involved a requirement to hire members of a discriminated-against group --without regard to whether the individuals hired had themselves been discriminated against by the employer--it would amount to preferential treatment at the expense of white potential employees: reverse discrimination.

Where an applicant is able to prove that he has been discriminated against, Reynolds would require that he be hired and--another big windup -- "seek injunctive relief directing the employer to make future employment decisions on a nondiscriminatory, race-neutral and sex-neutral basis." Then:

"To ensure that the injunction is followed, we will require as part of the remedy that the employer make special efforts to reach minority or female workers through comprehensive use of employment recruitment techniques, such as media advertising and visiting high schools and college campuses . . . (and) regularly file records detailing its recruitment efforts and revealing the number of minority and female applicants being attracted." He would even seek, "where appropriate," percentage recruitment goals.

And again the wide-breaking pitch: Reynolds is talking recruitment, not hiring. This whole elaborate scheme of injunctions and follow-up and record-filing deals only with getting minority applicants.

Victims of discrimination could tell him that it doesn't help a lot to require a biased employer to take your application. It's getting the job that counts.