AS EXPECTED, President Bush restored affirmative action programs for white people. ''Racial prejudice is a reality in America,'' Bush declared Wednesday in his landmark speech from the White House. ''It hurts many of our citizens.... America's long experience with the segregation we have put behind us, and the racial discrimination we still struggle to overcome requires a special effort to make real the promise of equal opportunity for all.''
Bush's effort is so special that this may very well be the first Martin Luther King. Jr. birthday during which the loudest celebrations come not from black churches and integrated downtown breakfasts but from the hallways of segregated suburbia to the romantic enclaves of the Confederacy. Finally for them, this is the day to shout ''We Have Overcome.'' This is the day that a lot of God's white people - Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics - are holding hands and singing in the words of their new spiritual, ''Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, we are free at last!''
A half-century ago the civil rights movement began in earnest when a black woman, Rosa Parks, refused to give up her seat for a white passenger. Bush now says, through his actions, that the citizens most hurt by racial prejudice are white. He will throw the monumental weight of a White House brief behind white women who have sued all the way to Supreme Court to destroy the University of Michigan's affirmative action program.
In standing with the white women, Bush blasted Michigan's program, which awards bonus points to African-American, Native American, and some Latino students in order to account for historical disadvantages. Bush called it a ''quota system.'' He said: ''students are being selected or rejected primarily on the color of their skin. The motivation for such an admissions policy may be very good, but its result is discrimination, and that discrimination is wrong.''
Bush lied. Yes, Michigan gives bonus points. But the school has no quotas. The school, even with affirmative action, is not yet close to racial parity. The state's population is 14 percent African-American. The undergraduate college and the law school, the two targets of the lawsuit, are currently 8.4 percent and 6.7 percent African-American. The law school says that without affirmative action the percentage of African-Americans and Latinos would drop to 4 percent each.
At best, affirmative action was keeping Michigan, one of the nation's top public universities, from becoming lily white. Bush's claim that students of color are being selected ''primarily on the color of their skin'' is as divisive as the explosive 1990 Jesse Helms ad that said, ''You needed that job, and you were the best qualified. But they had to give it to a minority because of a racial quota.'' By using the word ''primarily,'' Bush implies that illiterate applicants of color are trampling over white geniuses.
Lying is all Bush can do now that he has decided to make the White House the national headquarters of the NAACP - the National Association for the Advancement of Caucasian People. Contrary to his lofty words, this remains an America in need of remedial tools. Despite the progress that has been made, studies, particularly those from Harvard University's Civil Rights Project, are showing that public schools are resegregating back to the levels of 30 years ago.
Bush decries bonus points for black people, but in the two years of his presidency he has said nothing about bonus points for white people. Just this week The Wall Street Journal did a feature on ''legacy'' admissions to colleges, which disproportionately benefit the children of alumni. The acceptance rate of children of alumni - alumni who are assumed to be more likely to give money to colleges where their children are accepted - towers over other applicants. The rate of acceptance of ''legacies'' is twice as high as it is for other students at Penn, three times as high at Princeton, and four times as high at Harvard.
Bush has said nothing about bonus points for white people in job interviews. Studies show over and over again that African-Americans and Latinos with the same resume as white applicants are rejected far more often than white applicants. The silent bonus point system is so pernicious that a recent study by researchers at the University of Chicago and MIT found that job applicants in Chicago and Boston with ''white sounding'' names received 50 percent more callbacks than ''black sounding'' names.
Under the white bonus point system, too many people of color are rejected primarily on the color of their skin. By standing with three white women to take bonus points away from black and brown folks while white Americans continue to collect points for simply being white, the party of Lincoln has come a long way in civil rights. Lincoln was called the Great Emancipator. President Bush has become the Great Eraser.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company