The counterrevolutionary philosophers of the Reagan administration are back: attacking the remedy and ignoring the disease.
In their most recent clock-reversing actions, they have 1)gone out of their way to interfere in a settlement worked out between the city of Omaha and a group of black police officers and 2)granted tax-exempt status to a Virginia school that came into existence as a means of thwarting the Supreme Court's 1954 desegregation decision.
In the Omaha case, the black officers, disappointed that a new pool of 170 candidates for the police academy included only five blacks, took the matter to federal court. U.S. District Judge C. Arlen Beam did not say how many blacks, if any, must be hired, but he did order the city to add 27 to 35 black applicants to the pool.
That was enough to start the Justice Department counterrevolutionaries screaming "Quotas!" Department lawyers have asked Judge Beam to strike that part of his order calling for adding blacks to the pool.
Deputy City Attorney Jim Fellows is asking the feds to butt out. The city considers the matter settled and would prefer to get on with training the new officers it needs.
Prince Edward County, Va., became a national symbol of "massive resistance" when, rather than bow to the Supreme Court's 1954 desegregation decree, county officials simply shut down the public school system. Black children in that economically depressed area either were taught at home for the next five years, without any official support or concern, or else shipped off to live with relatives. Whites, meanwhile, pooled their resources and opened the whites-only Prince Edward Academy.
There had been some limited consolation n the fact that the Internal Revenue Service had disallowed tax- exempt status for the school (as counter to public policy), meaning that the school would at least be subject to federal taxes and that contributions to it would not be tax deductible.
Now the Reagan administration has reversed that policy and given the academy its tax-exempt blessing. It turns out that (according to its application to the IRS) the academy's board adopted an open-admissions policy last year. It still has no black students, mind you, but that is because none has applied. It does, its statement boasted, have American Indian, Vietnamese, Spanish, German and French students.
As James Ghee, the state NAACP president and a resident of Farmville, understated it, "I am surprised to see that the academy, by merely making a statement that it doesn't discriminate, would be granted its tax-exempt status back. Nothing has changed in the policies or procedures of Prince Edward Academy."
Ghee's remark undrlines the most striking aspect of the Reagan administration's approach to racial discrimination: its obsession with process and its lack of interest in results.
An administration seriously concerned about segregation, discrimination and other impediments to equal opportunity would want some concrete evidence that Prince Edward Academy had mended its ways. The presence of black students would be persuasive, but so would signs of a serious effort to recruit black students. But for the counterrevolutionaries, who are more comfortable with racism than race-specific remedies, the plain statement of open admissions is enough.
An administration that understood -- and cared about -- the importance of the appearance of racial fairness would want to know why Omaha, with a black population of upwards of 12 percent, would have a police recruit class of less than 3 percent. It would be open to the possibility of a reasonable explanation (and also open to the possibility that the numbers were symptomatic of a wider problem), but it would ask the question.
But for those in this administration who believe the wrong side won the civil rights revolution, real-world results are a side issue. Given the choice between an ideologically pure approach and a reasonable outcome, they'll take ideological purity every time.