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The Bush Record on Civil Rights

New York Times Editorial
November 12, 2004

In a rare gesture of transparency, a majority of the eight commissioners on the United States Commission on Civil Rights voted in 2002 to put the agency's staff reports on the Internet as soon as they are completed. That way, the public can read them before the commissioners hold public hearings to discuss the staff's findings.

The latest report - an assessment of President Bush's civil rights record - was put on the agency's Web site in September. But at their October meeting, less than a month before the election, the commissioners declined to discuss it. Objecting to the report's timing, the four commissioners appointed by President Bush and the Congressional Republican leadership managed to put off any discussion until the postelection meeting, scheduled for today.

The commission owes the public a spirited debate, especially if, as the report indicates, the apparent aim of the Bush administration is to break with long-established civil rights tactics and priorities. This question takes on a new urgency with the appointment of the White House counsel, Alberto Gonzales, as the next attorney general because he was deeply involved in the formulation of administration policy on these issues in the first term.

The report, which is still available online, is a scathing 166-page assessment of an administration that has, at best, neglected core civil rights issues. It cites numerous examples of administration attempts to replace affirmative action with "race neutral" alternatives, to focus on voter fraud rather than the more insidious problem of voter disenfranchisement and to recast taxpayers' support for religious institutions as a civil right for people of faith, rather than as a constitutional issue involving the separation of church and state.

In the most telling research into the way that Mr. Bush uses talk of civil rights to promote his own agenda, the report says that of Mr. Bush's public statements on civil rights, only 17 percent have outlined plans of action. Of those, it says, more than half pertained to "faith-based initiatives." It criticizes the president for using the language of civil rights - terms like "remove barriers" and "equal access" - to frame his case.

Earlier this year, the conservative commissioners simply voted down, without explanation, a staff report on language barriers in federal programs. Such disdain - for the very issues the commissioners are supposed to examine - deprives Americans of the dialogue they need and deserve. It is our hope that the conservative commissioners will engage with the issues and their fellow commissioners at today's meeting. In any case, Americans can judge the civil rights report for themselves by going to www.usccr.gov.

 

 
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