Q U I C K T A K E
While Bill Clinton and Robert Dole have fought over welfare reform, a balanced budget and abortion this spring, affirmative action has been on a back burner. But it remains one of those intractable wedge issues that provokes endless debate.
As he has in other areas, Clinton has made some recent moves to the center, but he has taken a "mend-don't end" position on minority preferences since 1994. This spring, the Clinton Administration announced plans to scale back race-based preferences on federal contracts, and end set-aside programs for two years. For his part, Dole has proposed legislation to end all federal programs that grant preferences based on race or gender.
A hotly debated anti-affirmative action ballot measure is headed toward a vote in California this fall, and some strategists believe a big turnount could give Dole's campaign a needed boost in the Golden State.The Basics Despite periodic grumblings about reverse discrimination, federal affirmative action programs have been an accepted tool of public policy for a quarter of a century. Following their 1994 takeover of Congress, however, Republicans mounted the first serious assaults on preferential policies for women and minorities, which in turn prompted Clinton to promise a complete review of federal affirmative action programs. Conservatives denounce affirmative action programs as government-sanctioned discrimination that establishes quota systems and poisons race relations. Another, more moderate, opposing position is that while affirmative action once served an important purpose, its time has passed. Most Republicans advocate scrapping affirmative action completely, though some favor reforming the law to target economically disadvantaged people, regardless of race and sex. In a break with traditional liberal constituencies, some Democrats agree with these views; their position threatens to divide the party much as abortion divides Republicans. To old-line civil rights activists, these attacks on affirmative action are cynical distortions of the real record. Quotas, they say, are illegal, and legitimate affirmative action programs don't use them. These traditional liberals insist that the wrongs of the past must still be redressed, and that ending affirmative action would sanction a return to past practices of discrimination and even segregation.
R E L A T E D S T O R I E S
Clinton Administration Proposes Limits On Affirmative Action -- May 22, 1996
Dole's Affirmative Action Bill Spurs Debate -- May 1, 1996
Georgia Orders End To University Set-Asides -- April 9, 1996P U B L I C O P I N I O N
If you had to choose, would you rather see the federal government's affirmative action programs mended--that is, changed in certain ways--or ended altogether?
TIME/CNN Poll, conducted July 19-20, 1995.
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