Who Needs Civil Rights? Not George Will!

In a syndicated column I saw in the SF Chronicle and which also appears in the online version of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, but which I didn’t see at the WaPo (his home paper), George Will gloats over the conservative majority on the Civil Right Commission, then asks:

…it is tempting to just enjoy the new 6-to-2 conservative ascendancy on the commission and forgo asking a pertinent question: Why not retire the commission?

He continues:

Its $9 million budget — about 60 employees and six field offices — is, as Washington reckons these things, negligible.


But although the monetary savings from closing the commission would be small, two prudential reasons for doing so are large.

One is that someday Democrats will again control the executive branch and may again stock the commission with extremists — [former Commission chair Mary Frances] Berry celebrated Communist China’s educational system in 1977, when she was assistant secretary of education; she made unsubstantiated charges of vast “disenfranchisement” of Florida voters in 2000 — from the wilder shores of racial politics. The second reason for terminating the commission is that civil rights rhetoric has become a crashing bore and, worse, a cause of confusion: Almost everything designated a “civil rights” problem isn’t.

“Crashing bore.” Now there’s a case of the pot, kettle, and blackness — if I may be excused for using that particular expression in a discussion of race and civil rights.

If anything, the fact that the Civil Rights Commission had a $9 million budget is indicative of how little people like Will thought of the goal of people of all races who supported the Selma March 40 years ago this month, the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts, and the people who have fought discrimination in the years since. Will thinks churches — “proper pulpits” — and “barbershops” (apparently the only two venues he imagines adult African-Americans inhabiting, except, perhaps for jails) are the places to address the “cultural crisis” that leads to problems in “crime, welfare, abortion, schools”. The dismantling of a “caste system maintained by law” has been accomplished.

The other side of “law”, though is enforcement. The Commission is supposed to oversee the implementation of civil rights, not just on matters of race but also for “color, religion, sex, age, disability, or national origin.” That includes voting rights, Constitutional protections, federal laws, etc.

Maybe he’s right, maybe it’s not doing its job well considering it’s only got $9 million a year, but I have a hard time imagining it’s completely irrelevant.