The chairman of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission told President Reagan yesterday that the panel has succeeded in making racial and similar quotas a "dead issue," and replaced the public debate over increasing preferential treatment for minorities and women with a vision of a "colorblind society."
Chairman Clarence M. Pendleton Jr. said he told the president that since the commission was reconstituted a year ago with a majority of Reagan appointees, it had shifted public concern from a "preference society to an opportunity society."
"I told him we've pushed the argument to the point where quotas are a dead issue and we're working on a colorblind society that has opportunities for all and guarantees success for none," Pendleton said. "He agreed and said there is a need to show people there is opportunity out there . . . .
"He used as an example that when college teams in the North used to come south, the southern college teams wouldn't play a team with colored players," Pendleton added. "The president said that's all changed. The opportunity is there to get on the field and play for all Americans and that's what he wants to protect.
"He said he was sorry he couldn't get that across to black leaders," the chairman added, "but it was important for us to stay the course with our programs."
Commission Vice Chairman Morris B. Abram and staff director Linda Chavez joined Pendleton for the half-hour meeting with Reagan and two White House advisers, John A. Svahn, assistant to the president for policy development, and Craig L. Fuller, assistant to the president for Cabinet affairs.
Abram said he told the president that the realigned Civil Rights Commission had "halted an express train taking us to preferences for every special interest group."
"We feel good -- we feel we are the right and moral side of the debate and we feel doubly good that the election outcome and polls show we are consonant with the feelings of most of the American public on quotas and other race preference," Abram said.
"My impression is that he is delighted that a commission which previously raised certain expectations and supported preference based on race has now halted that express train and redirected our studies," Abram added. "We're heading to equal opportunity for all and special opportunity for none. That means equal chances and no guarantees of equal results for all."
Pendleton, who is black, said he briefly discussed the president's recent remarks to the effect that black leaders as a group have ignored black progress and "stirred up" black Americans in order to protect "some rather good positions."
"I told him he was right," Pendleton said. "I think a lot of black leaders are part of a race industry and that's a problem for black progress . . . ."
Pendleton said he and Reagan discussed the Bob Jones University case, in which the administration sided with the school when it argued that it should retain its tax-exempt status, even though it had been found to discriminate against blacks. The Supreme Court later ruled that the Internal Revenue Service had acted properly in revoking the school's tax exemption.
Pendleton said he told Reagan he thought the "press had been a little unfair about that one." Pendleton said he and Reagan agreed the issue in the Bob Jones University case was not civil rights, but rather whether the IRS had the authority to act against the school.
Pendleton said he also told the president that the commission hopes to continue to reshape the debate over civil rights by holding hearings on affirmative action in higher education and by releasing a report in early spring on comparable worth.