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Salt Lake City Weekly Orrin-Come-Lately

What is affirmative action and why is it driving Utah Senator Orrin Hatch bonkers?

By City Weekly staff

NOVEMBER 24, 1997:  What is affirmative action and why is it driving Sen. Orrin Hatch bonkers?

Ask Hatch or other conservative Republican stalwarts, like Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh or the editorial writers at the Deseret News, what affirmative action is and they will tell you that it's about "preferences" — that affirmative action puts minorities and women ahead of everyone else. It's reverse discrimination, they argue.

For people like Hatch, tailoring affirmative action into "preferences" is a stroke of political genius. It creates a wedge issue they can wield about like a hammer, knowing that Americans, at least philosophically, hate discrimination.

That Hatch can make the argument on national TV, as it pertains to Bill Lann Lee's nomination to the to the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Justice Department, with such righteous indignation is further evidence of his political skills.

Wrapping himself in the Stars and Stripes, Hatch proclaims that preferences aren't American. He then paints the picture of people pulling themselves up by their bootstraps only to be discriminated against. Minorities and women who are completely unqualified are taking the positions of hard-working, well-trained people who rightly deserve their shot.

Gee, that is a nice sentiment: A place where there is no discrimination on the basis of race, creed or gender. But it makes you wonder where Hatch and the boys were when the firehoses of Selma were trained on black civil rights marchers in the 1960s? Or when women sought the Equal Rights Amendment? And where was Hatch when Latinos across the Southwest were fighting for equal protection under the law?

Those struggles continue to this day. But Orrin Hatch is nowhere to be found on those fronts. He appears now as a Johnny-come-lately to the civil rights movement. He seems to care little that a good education and good jobs still elude most women and people of color.

That is what affirmative action is about — helping to remedy continuing discrimination against minorities and women. Not quotas.

It means that a black man or a brown woman with similar qualifications to a white man should be at least considered for a post and not automatically shut out, as has been the case, historically.

For Hatch and his kind to come out at this point with a lot of theatrics for a color-blind society appears to be a little too convenient. The "preferences" argument stands logic and equal rights on its head. Without a guiding philosophy that promotes inclusiveness and diversity, the only preferences will be for white men, and anyone who has a handle on our history should understand that much, including Orrin Hatch.

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