In the otherwise-uneventful March 1 debate in Los Angeles, Bill Bradley returned to the subject of Al Gore’s congressional votes against an IRS crackdown on racial discrimination in private schools. Once again, Bradley suggested the 20-year-old votes had something to do with Bob Jones University. As readers of Chatterbox’s earlier item on this topic know, they didn’t. But once again, Gore mischaracterized these as “anti-quota” votes. They weren’t.
Bradley’s twisting of the truth will be of little interest after March 7, when Gore almost certainly will eliminate him from the race. But Gore’s twisting of the truth will continue to matter through the general election. Admittedly, George W. “Bob Jones” Bush may find it awkward to use this particular weapon against Gore. But the press will likely give these congressional votes close attention. When they do, Gore should be more forthright about what they were. Chatterbox doesn’t think Gore will go to hell for having cast them–as his campaign points out, his fellow sinners included prominent liberals like Mo Udall, Henry Waxman, and Claude Pepper. But Gore’s insistence on defending himself with half-truths is starting to grate.
Here is what Gore said in the Los Angeles debate:
I’m sorry you brought that up again. I disposed of that in the last debate by pointing out to you that Bob Jones University still doesn’t have its tax exemption because it lost its tax exemption under the law that I supported. [This part is true.] And that was a vote on quotas. Now, those of us who support affirmative action have to oppose quotas. There is a fundamental difference. [This part isn’t true.]
In fact, the 1979 proposed IRS regulation that Gore voted to block was explicitly targeted at private schools formed or expanded “at the time of public school desegregation in the community,” thereby casting doubt “on the existence of a bona fide racially nondiscriminatory policy.” In other words, it was targeted at the segregated private academies (“segs”) that bloomed throughout the south after the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown school-desegregation decision. The proposed reg included all sorts of fairly precise ways to judge whether a school was a seg–i.e., formed to let parents evade desegregation orders in the public schools–as opposed to a private school with regrettably low minority enrollment. (For example: If the school were “a member of an organization which practices or advocates racial segregation in schools,” that probably indicated it was a seg.)
OK, the IRS wasn’t trying to impose quotas on private schools. Was it was trying to impose quotas on the segs?
No. As Chatterbox explained in his earlier item, the proposed reg imposed a “soft” quota of the kind that Democrats like Gore, rightly, have long regarded as benign (and that they consistently decline to call “quotas” at all). Now that Chatterbox has eyeballed the reg’s text, he sees that it’s even softer than he explained in his previous item, which was based on an interview with the Carter-era IRS commissioner, Jerome Kurtz. Chatterbox misunderstood Kurtz to be saying that the reg worked this way: If minority enrollment in a given school were below 20 percent, the school would have to explain to the IRS why this was so. In fact, the tripwire was minority enrollment below 20 percent of the percentage of the minority school age population in the community served by the school. Here is how the reg explained it:
For example, if 50 percent of the school age population in the community is minority, and the school enrolls 200 students, a school would not be “reviewable” if it had at least 20 minority students. (20 percent x 50 percent = 10 percent. 10 percent x 200 students = 20 students.)
OK, so the tripwire wasn’t 20 percent, it was 20 percent of whatever the local percentage of blacks happened to be. Isn’t that still a quota?
No, because if a suspected seg had a black enrollment below 20 percent of the local proportion of blacks–say, below the 20 students in the previous example–it wouldn’t automatically be in violation of the IRS reg. It would merely become a “reviewable” case, which meant the school would have to explain its low proportion of blacks to the IRS. The school could get out of the hot seat by saying it had “an emphasis on special programs or special curricula which by their nature are of interest only to identifiable groups which are not composed of a significant number of minority students, so long as such programs or curricula are not offered for the purpose of excluding minorities.” (No schools devoted to appreciation of the Confederate flag!) It could also dodge the bullet by pledging to initiate “active and vigorous minority recruitment programs” or by merging some after-school activities with those of integrated schools.
In other words, the suspected seg could hang onto its tax exemption by offering either a common-sense explanation for why minority enrollment was low or by pledging a good-faith effort to bring it up in the future. That’s hardly a “quota” as the term is commonly understood, and Gore should stop saying that it was.