Bush Takes Low Road

IT'S hard to escape the conclusion that President Bush, probably on the advice of his political gurus, simply has no intention of signing a civil rights bill that attacks discrimination in the workplace.That's not what the president says, of course. Ever since he vetoed the bill last year, Mr. Bush has insisted that he positively yearns to sign such legislation, if only a few wrinkles could be ironed out. Democrats and moderate Republicans have labored mightily to smooth the wrinkles, but the president keeps finding hairline flaws. Until recently, the White House based its opposition to the bill on the contention that it will produce quotas in hiring and promotions. The bill would facilitate job-discrimination lawsuits when seemingly neutral job requirements, like tests or educational attainments, disproportionately bar minority applicants; employers would have to justify such requirements on grounds of business necessity. Conservatives claim that employers, fearful of losing job-discrimination lawsuits even when no intentional bia s can be proved, will "hire by the numbers employ and advance members of minority groups in strict proportion to their numbers in the work force. Backers of the bill have made many concessions to eliminate - successfully, we think - the prospect of race, ethnic, or gender quotas in the American workplace. When the White House continued to balk at anti-quota revisions proposed by the congressional Democratic leadership, moderate Republican senators tried to strike a compromise with the administration. Sen. John Danforth of Missouri, in particular, has devoted months to negotiating an agreement. But now there's a new development. In a letter to Senator Danforth released last week, Bush said that employers must be allowed to establish minimum education standards - such as requiring every employee to have a high school diploma - even if they are not needed for a job. Otherwise, the president wrote, the administration's education-reform program will be undermined. Danforth openly scoffed at this disingenuous claim. Every young person in America hoping for a future above minimum-wage jobs has plenty of incentives to get a good education; more and more jobs in a high-tech age demand education as a bona fide qualification. But unnecessary educational requirements are a time-honored way for some employers to keep minorities off of jobs rolls, just as for years they were used to keep blacks off of voter-registration rolls. Sad to say, Bush appears to be playing racial politics with the civil rights bill.

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