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Can Justice Be Unfair?

You do not take a person who has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race, and then say, 'You are free to compete with all the others,' and still justly believe you have been completely fair." So said President Lyndon B. Johnson, shortly after passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Thirty years later, affirmative action policies are at the center of a national debate over justice and fairness. Where should we go from here? Following are four responses, plus an excerpt from a new book.

A Vision Betrayed: Discrimination Is No Answer to Discrimination


American presidential politics is heating up, which means that serious debate, never in abundance in Washington, will soon disappear altogether. Among the nastiest policy brawls is likely to be the battle over affirmative action. On June 1, California Gov. Pete Wilson signed an executive order eliminating many of that state's race-conscious programs. Activist Jesse Jackson is demanding that Democrats resist any retrenchment. President Clinton is attempting to steer a middle course, agreeing with everyone simultaneously.

That affirmative action will be a political football is unfortunate. Nevertheless, it is a legitimate issue. There is broad support for creating a colorblind society-a vision articulated most eloquently by Martin Luther King, Jr., who told the nation that he dreamed of a time when "little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers." Yet affirmative action, originally established to redress past discrimination against minorities, has become a vehicle for discrimination against whites and disfavored minorities, such as Asian Americans. Moreover, as affirmative action has turned into a racial spoils system, it has stoked rather than eased racial passions, driving us further from King's ideal. We must reject the invidious politics of race, whatever the justification, and ...

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