Clinton, Conservatives Air Differences On Race
From CNN White House Correspondent John King
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Dec. 20) -- President Bill Clinton is pledging to keep his door open to conservatives who have become increasingly critical of his year-long dialogue on race relations.
Conservatives, particularly those opposed to affirmative action, complain that in its first six months, the promised dialogue has become, instead, a monologue, from which those opposed to affirmative action have been excluded.
To counter that perception, Clinton has invited some of those conservative critics to come along in early January when he holds another public town hall meeting on the issue. And in the past week, he met with a group of conservative activists to discuss race relations -- in particular, their differences with him over affirmative action.
Despite their differing viewpoints, some opponents of affirmative action emerged from that White House meeting in a conciliatory mood.
"I must tell you that the president made a believer out of me that he is of good will," said Ward Connerly, a member of the California Board of Regents who has led the fight against affirmative action in that state. "He's interested in this subject. He probably understands race like no other president, living or dead, understands it."
Yet, despite the conciliatory tone of the 90-minute meeting, there was apparently no policy breakthrough, nor were any new bridges built over the sometimes bitter divide that affirmative action creates.
A transcript of the meeting, which was closed to the media and public, shows that both Clinton and Vice President Al Gore defended the practice of using racial preferences to promote diversity in the workplace and on college campuses.
The conservative activists told Clinton that while they would support government programs to help the disadvantaged, benefits should be based on need, not race or gender.
"That is discrimination," said Rep. Charles Canady, R-Fla. "That is inconsistent with fundamental American principles and something that should stop."
One of the members of the president's commission on race, Thomas Keane, the former Republican governor of New Jersey, hailed the meeting between Clinton and the conservatives as breakthrough.
"I hope that this is just step one, that these voices will continue not only to be included but to take leadership," Keane said. "Because if they do, I then think we have a much greater chance to, frankly, have a successful conclusion to this initiative."
However, Republicans in Congress are expected to push ahead with plans to repeal federal affirmative action programs. Conciliatory dialogue notwithstanding, that is sure to provoke a fight with the White House.
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