Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action

President Bill Clinton is a Southerner. That fact alone may explain why, given the opportunity to rethink the logic and effect of affirmative action, he failed. In his July speech at the National Archives before a largely black audience, the president floated old platitudes. Several weeks earlier, I was talking to a roomful of black teenagers, most of them street kids or kids from the projects. Only one of them in a room of thirteen had ever heard of anything called affirmative action.

First in line to shake hands with the president after his speech were members of the Congressional Black Caucus. Who among these distinguished representatives could tell Mr. Clinton why, after three decades, affirmative action has had so little effect on the lives of the black poor? Why, despite affirmative action, are black teenagers killing each other a few blocks from the Capitol?

Forty or fifty years ago, in the segregationist South, the strategy of the civil rights movement was clear and it was noble. Where segregation was legally enforced against the entire