THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release December 19, 1997 2:43 P.M. EST
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
IN OUTREACH MEETING
The Oval Office
THE PRESIDENT: First, let me thank you for coming in what must be a busy time for all of you. What I think may be the most productive thing to do, although Governor Kean, since -- (inaudible) -- may interject something here. I think what I'd like to do, to begin is just to hear from you. I'd like to -- on the question of, do you believe that race still matters in America and is still a problem in some ways. And if so, instead of our getting into a big fight about affirmative action -- although if you want to discuss it, we can -- what bothers me is that even I, who think it works in some ways, believe it works only when people -- it works predominantly for people who are at least in a position for it work. A lot of the people that I care most about are totally unaffected by it one way or the other.
So what I'd like to talk about today is that I thought that we could at least begin by just getting a feel for where you are and if you thinks it's still a problem, and if so, what do you think we ought to do about it. And if you want to talk about affirmative action -- (inaudible) -- but I'm happy to do that.
MR. CONNERLY: I appreciate very much so to be here, and somewhat ironical that, after raising and giving -- (inaudible) -- to Republicans, I'm here at the request of a Democratic President. So I'm grateful to you for the invitation, sir.
I don't -- (inaudible) -- talking about what we call preferences, because that is central to the discussion about race. Yes, there is a problem in America. It's a serious problem. It's one that's complex, multidimensional. It doesn't lend itself to government solution in many cases. But we can't get to the problem of moving this nation forward with respect to the issue of race unless we deal with the perception by a large number of people that there are preferences that are being given to people simply because they check a box and then benefits are conferred on the basis of checking that box.
And the language here is very important. You said in June of this year that we need to have an honest dialogue. Well, up until this point, frankly, many of us think the dialogue has been less than honest from some of those who try to defend what they call affirmative action. I don't want to end all affirmative action, but I want to end every preference that I can find that's based on some trait over which I have no control. And if I want that for myself, I want it for other people as well.
So I don't think, sir, that we can have this dialogue today, which is perhaps one of our best shots at getting our point of view across, without talking about the --
THE PRESIDENT: What do you think we should do? Since there are -- since various racial minorities are represented in groups of people that are at least not doing very well in this society, in numbers disproportionate to their numbers in the country as a whole, how should we respond to that?
MR. CONNERLY: I think that choice -- school choice is one way to respond to it. I think if we overhaul the K-12 system, which is one way to respond to it. They're trying to do that in California by lowering classroom sizes. We're looking at testing. We're looking at the quality of the teachers. We also have to start looking at ourselves. Are we telling our kids as parents that education is as important as it should be? So I think that there is a major change that needs to take place. But even if we don't make those changes, there is never, in my view, a rationale for discriminating against somebody on the basis of their skin color, regardless of what we want the outcome to be. That's my perspective, and I think it's a perspective that our nation has to hold true to.
DR. GARRETT: Mr. President, let me just say this. As a fifth-generation Republican and as one who has worked in this very house under three Republican Presidents, I have a little concern about how my party and how conservatives function around this question. I would hope that we would not be bogged down today in a discussion of affirmative action, per se. Many of those programs and plans will be resolved by the court anyway.
When you said you wanted a conversation on race, we ought to -- not just this group -- but we all ought to talk about race and race relations. Affirmative action and mechanical programs will mean not a whit if we don't start changing attitudes. We don't know each other in this country. We don't know who lives next door to us in condominium buildings, let alone know about their concerns. And we have to, for a while, talk about race and not be bogged down by affirmative action discussion and debate.
Again, the courts will resolve that pretty much in part, but it just seems to me that the moral leadership that can be provided from this room and from all of us needs to be amplified. And one problem I have with my Republican and conservative brothers and sisters, no one ever wants to talk about race. No one ever wants to talk about the things that the people in Akron, my home town, talked about -- the attitudes. You don't know what it's like to stand on a street corner dressed like this and a car comes up -- cluck, and locks the door. These are things that people need to resolve in their minds.
That boy in Akron who said, he's friendly and all the rest, but when he sees a black man dressed a certain way -- this is the kind of leadership government leaders, ministers, college presidents, and many others, can provide. If we continue to allow affirmative action plans to divide us and to serve as a wall, we're not going to get anywhere.
THE PRESIDENT: Maybe you can -- (inaudible) -- and say. let's assume we abolished them all tomorrow and we just had to start all over, what would you do?
MS. CHAVEZ: I'd like to offer some suggestions, Mr. President, because I came here with a notion that you do want affirmative action, that you do understand -- -- (inaudible) --affirmative action preferences are part of this debate is because there's a whole world of people out there who believe that they're wrong and that they send the wrong signal from government; that so long as you've got government picking winners and losers on the basis of the color of their skin, that you can't get beyond racism, you can't to the color-blind society.
I think that there are a lot of things we can do to reach those disadvantaged persons that you were talking about -- people who are socially, economically, and educationally disadvantaged -- because that's who those programs were initially aimed at. And I think it can be done in race -- (inaudible) -- ways.
I work at college admissions, for example, Mr. President, and I brought you some studies that my organization has done that shows not only that there are preferences in place in admissions, but that those preferences hurt black and Hispanic students, because kids who are admitted to schools under separate standards or the double standards, and who then are just allowed to sink or swim -- a lot of them sink. About 50 percent of them don't graduate from those college programs.
I work at a place like the University of Maryland, which has in place a program not aimed at race, but aimed at students who are the first in their family to attend college. I would have been able to qualify for such a program. A lot of disadvantaged kids out there would. And once those children are identified, they're brought in a summer program; they're given tutoring and special classes in reading, writing and mathematics; they're given study skills; they're given counseling. They're told what courses they should take their first year; they attend a very structured first year. Those kinds of programs would benefit people who are truly educationally and economically disadvantaged -- and more than just giving them a little badge and getting them to school, would help make sure that they get out of school, that they actually get that bachelor's degree, which is what none of the preference programs do.
And I have other examples -- and left you information on them. Because I think all of us in this room want to improve opportunity for blacks and Hispanics and other disadvantaged people in this society. We are committed to that. Where we come to debate is the best means to achieve that.
MR. CONNERLY: I just want to say also, I hope you haven't invited me here as a conservative. I'm here as an American who has a profound interest in the subject. I don't think you appointed people to your race panel because they were liberal or anything else. You appointed them because you thought they had something to contribute. I didn't come here I don't know how many miles to be here as a voice of a conservative. I left my party label and my ideology outside of this room.
THE PRESIDENT: Okay. Let me just say this, first of all. I think, if you imagine -- forget about -- think about what the world would look like 30 years from now if things go well -- that is, if all the threats to our collective security -- (inaudible) -- restrained, and trade develops as we hope it should, and we develop a decent education system that embraces virtually everybody -- (inaudible) -- The fact that the United States is -- (inaudible) -- multiethnic country that at some point in the next generation, in the next 50 years will, for the first time in its history, not have a majority of people of European origin, I think will make it an even more fascinating, even more interesting, and even more prosperous and successful place if we're not consumed or limited or handicapped in some ways because of our racial differences.
So, to me, this -- I'm looking at this through the perspective of the future that I want to see our country make for itself. And I don't think anyone has all the answers about how we should make that future.
If you look at -- there is no question that -- if you just African American kids in -- (inaudible) -- the middle class is growing and a lot of good things have happened. But there is also no question that there are still pockets where crime is greater, incarceration rates are horrendous, that education systems are not working. And even the people who do have some level, who are highly industrious and are dying to get into business very often don't have access to credit and don't have access to the networks.
Affirmative action originally I think on the economic side was a kind of networking thing, and on the education side it was designed to do what -- the Maryland program you just described. I think if there was ever a -- (inaudible) -- in college education -- we ought to be focusing on people who are educationally disadvantaged without -- -- (inaudible) -- preparation and continuing support that they need. The schools that have done that are much better.
MR. THERNSTROM: Mr. President, I think Mr. Garrett made two comments, and while I do think we may not know each other in some absolute sense, but we know each other across racial lines much more than we did a generation ago. I mean, the data is really quite stunning. A generation ago, only one-fifth of white people said they had any black friends; today 87 percent do. Eighty-seven percent of blacks say they have white friends. The rate of interracial dating has gone up spectacularly. The rate of interracial marriage, though still low, has gone up dramatically. So I do think there is much more positive change than is often thought.
And second, I do have to say that the Akron dialogue that Mr. Garrett speaks so favorably of I found very troubling and very one-sided. And I think very few American whites would have been deeply moved by that, because it involved the recitation by a series of blacks, Hispanics of painful experiences. There was no opportunity to question those experiences and say, hey, are you sure that was racism; maybe it was X, Y, or Z.
And then in one case where a white student talked about a racial concern, a racial fear, it was immediately reduced to, you know, was that your personal experience? Have you ever been mugged? If not, then you must have been watching too much television.
Now, Reverend Jackson, years ago, made a very powerful statement about precisely this when he said, walking down the street late at night, and I turn around and see over my shoulder and see they are whites following me, I'm relieved. There's a very powerful statement. It is a reality that certain neighborhoods, predominantly black neighborhoods in inner cities are very dangerous places at night. And they are very dangerous places largely because there are black criminals who are committing criminal acts. And I don't think we can begin to discuss race relations honestly unless we in fact express -- whites express those fears and they can be dealt with, they can be discussed, but they shouldn't be dismissed.
And just one other point, which picks up on something Angela Oh said I gather at a race relations meeting long ago -- we do have to think of this as a multiracial or multiethnic problem, not just black and white. And it's often assumed, mistakenly, that the problem is white prejudice against blacks, Asians and Hispanics. In fact, some careful studies show that blacks have stronger negative stereotypes about both Hispanics and Asians than whites do, but Asians have stronger negative stereotypes about both groups than whites do, and that Hispanics have stronger negative stereotypes. And as those population elements grow, we're going to have a larger problem that will have to be addressed. It isn't just a matter of white racism that has to be combatted.
THE PRESIDENT: But if what you say is true -- you say the crime problem is disproportionately African American; that's like saying the college population is disproportionately white or the business population is disproportionately white. That doesn't justify an affirmative action program to -- (inaudible) -- like Section VIII of the SBA program.
The other day we had a group of African American journalists in here. Every man in the crowd, to a person -- there were, like, 20 of them here -- every man in that office, every single, solitary one, had been stopped by the police when he was doing nothing, for no reason other than the fact that he was black. And you say that's because there's a rational fear because of the fact that what occurs in some neighborhoods. Nonetheless, that is a race-based public policy. I'm just saying, it's not as simple as -- MS. THERNSTROM: No, we agree with that. We agree with that. It's unacceptable to me.
MR. THERNSTROM: But doesn't it happen in Detroit, in Atlanta, in other states where --
THE PRESIDENT: All I'm saying is it's very difficult to get these things out of our society. And you just made one reason why. Let me give you another example. Because of the -- a lot of work that's been done by a lot of people, there's been a dramatic increase in the capacity of the United States to limit the inflow of drugs into the country from the South by land and sea. But the consequence of that -- Mexico, which is a big, open country, has had enormous amounts of money invested there to try to undermine what little infrastructure there was to deter the influx of drugs. Five hundred million dollars was spent last year alone trying to bribe Mexican police.
Now, as a result, over half of the cocaine in the country comes across the Mexican border. So, all right, fast forward. What do you do if you're a local police officer with a drug problem? That's what this whole profiling is about -- (inaudible) -- people who are Hispanic if they're driving through town. That's an affirmative action program. That's a race-based affirmative action program. So how do you --
MS. CHAVEZ: But, Mr. President, some of us are opposed to that. I mean, Randall Kennedy has written, I think, very eloquently on exactly that issue. And those of us who oppose race preferences when they benefit groups are also opposed to them when they harm groups.
THE PRESIDENT: If you were running a police force, and you were trying to figure out how to deal with the drug problem, and you had a lot of people who were coming through your town on an interstate, and you had a limited amount of resources, and you couldn't stop every car, which cars would you stop?
MS. THERNSTROM: Every third car and come up with some of the criminals that way. I mean, I think police departments have to be held to the same standard that I want to see employers and universities and everybody else. I don't think we can make exceptions.
MR,. CANADY: And it is inherently pernicious for our government to classify people on the basis of their race. And that sends a powerful message from the government to the people that we should judge one another on that basis. That's exactly the wrong thing for us to be saying. And that is the sort of government policy that reinforces a prejudice in our society and keeps us -- instead of going in the right direction toward unity, it keeps us caught in this dilemma that we are in now.
Our suggestion is that we've just got to get the government out of this business. Racial classifications in certain contexts were established with good intentions. And I think all of us would recognize that. We recognize that they were established in an attempt to overcome a history of discrimination and an attempt to come up with an effective means of combatting discrimination.
But our experience tells us that whenever the government gets involved in this business of classifying people based on race, the government is doing something harmful. And if our history as Americans, from the very beginning of this country, from the day the Declaration of Independence was promulgated to today, if it tells us anything, it should be that our government has no business dividing the American people into groups based on their race. It is something that is contrary to our fundamental ideals -- ideals we've never fully lived up to, but ideals that are the core of what it means to be American.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Could I ask a question, Mr. President? If you lived in a community that was 50 percent white, 50 percent black, and for a variety of historic reasons the level of income, educational attainment, and so forth was lower among the blacks in that community, and the police force was 100 percent white, and the problems of the kind that we all deplore took place and other problems took place, and the community decided that the police force would be better able to do its job if blacks were much more represented on the police force, because then the police force would have a much greater ability to relate to the community effectively and to do its job -- under those circumstances, do you think that the community would be justified in making affirmative action efforts to open up a lot more positions on the police force for blacks?
MR. CANADY: Let me say two things in response to that. Number one, I believe in community policing. I actually supported the President's crime bill back in the first Congress I was here And I believe that the concept of community policing is important. One thing that you can do to have affective community policing is require that the people who are involved in that live in the communities they police. Now, that's the kind of policy I can support. You don't have to classify people based on their race to do that and to be affective in community policing.
But this idea that we should hire people because they're going to be more -- based on their race because they're going to be more sensitive to certain -- and more acceptable to certain people that they're serving can be replicated in our history in the south when people -- employers said, well, I'd like to hire some black people, but my customers wouldn't accept that. That is offensive. It was more than offensive, it was morally wrong. And I would suggest to you for the government to classify people -- even in such a context as that -- simply based on their race is morally offensive and inconsistent with our constitutional traditions.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, if I could just follow up briefly. Of course, I strongly disagree with you. And it seems to me that the case that I've described there presents a really obvious example of how the community as a whole would be better off and the effectiveness of the police force would be enhanced. And to say that it's -- that's there's nothing to the idea that a police force with black representation on the force would have an easier time relating to the black community is, I think, to deny the obvious, with all due respect.
MR. CANADY: Let me give you another example that's directly related to the sort of thing you're talking about. There are some people that contend that you have to take race into account in undercover police work. The theory is that you need black people to serve as undercover agents, and that's the only effective way that can be carried out. Well, you know, it's very interesting that the Drug Enforcement Administration actually had a policy of doing that. And the black drug enforcement agent sued the Drug Enforcement Agency over that very policy because it was discriminating against them. It was putting them in contexts where they were at greater risk, and it was limiting their opportunities for advancement. So what may start out as making some sense from one perspective can end up harming the very people that supposedly will benefit.
THE PRESIDENT: Let me ask you this. You don't quarrel with the fact -- because I think this is very important. This is the problem we have to deal with all the time. You don't quarrel with the fact that, other things being equal, in cities that had a racially diverse -- it would be a good thing if it could be done without race preferences to have a diverse police department.
MR. CANADY: Absolutely. I think we ought to have a police department that can work with --
THE PRESIDENT: But you just said that you like this whole idea of -- that's what we're doing now at HUD. We're actually encouraging police officers to go out and live in the neighborhoods where -- (inaudible) -- let them buy houses for half price if they'll serve in the neighborhoods where they live.
I've thought of that, and every time I go to New York, or any other big city, I always look at the police and see. So let me just say, I'm Irish -- Irish immigrants -- (inaudible) -- many of them, in urban police departments. And many of their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren are still in urban police departments. And I think -- what I think we have to do is to figure out -- I think part of this problem will go away if we ask ourselves, are the criteria by which we are making this decision, whatever this decision is, really relevant. Are we really -- whether it's college admission -- are we keeping score in the right way here.
But it seems to me that we have a vested interest in the objectives. If we agree that we need an integrated police department, and that it would be better --
MR. THERNSTROM: We'd like to have an integrated police department.
THE PRESIDENT: -- that we would like to have one, and that our society would function better if we had one, then we should ask ourselves, okay, how are we going to get there.
MS. CHAVEZ: But, Mr. President, with all due respect to the Vice President, the example he gave, I don't think you could find me a concrete example of such a place in urban America today. I've looked at the statistics. I don't have them off the top of my head, but I've written columns on this and I have looked them up, and statistics show that there are significant numbers of black and Hispanic police officers.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Partly because of affirmative action.
MS. CHAVEZ: It may not be proportional representation, but it is close to proportional. What I would look at is first and foremost, are you discriminating in that police department. And I think every person in this room is adamantly in favor of vigorous enforcement of the civil rights law. And sure, there are employers out there, including public employers, who discriminate And we have to root out that kind of discrimination.
And then you do engage in outreach. You do create training programs. You do go into high schools and try and recruit people and get them ready so that they will be able to be prepared to take the test to become a police officer. Those are all things that you can do. And they are all things we approve of.
MR. THERNSTROM: But I do question the need for diversity defined narrowly in terms of skin color. I mean, I live in an almost all white community, so are we saying that the people of Lexington feel more comfortable being policed by whites, and there's some terrific black Africans for the police force, sorry, you go back to Roxbury, or something, we don't like your color? And I can think of communities with large numbers of Asians, but where Asian families are very strongly oriented turning out physicists and physicians, and the like, and not very interested in law enforcement.
Now, the notion that some large element of the population have no one in that kind of position is perhaps repellent, but once we start thinking of, well, 28 percent Asians -- got to be pretty close to 28 percent -- I think that -- and for that matter, I mean, after all, half the population is female. Should half of all our police forces be female?
GOVERNOR KEAN: No, I was just going to say a couple of things. One is, I think it is a goal of this country, and should be a goal, that if we're going to be successful in the next century, with the amount of immigration we have coming in now and being assimilated, that we've got to get to know each other as people.
As a college president, I can tell you the largest scholarship program in our state is based, not actually on race, but on poverty. But, in effect, because so many people who are Hispanic or African American who live in the poor areas it becomes a program where we take into our colleges -- (inaudible) -- people who we would not -- (inaudible) -- and then we mentor all the way through. I can tell you from the point of view of Drew University -- (inaudible) --very high standards that we admit a number of those people who would have no chance for admittance under normal standards. And a number of them -- most of them get through. Almost of them get through. And a number of them graduate with high honors and go on to top graduate schools in the country. Those are the people who wouldn't have a chance otherwise.
So there's something -- the other thing we want to do is establish -- get to know each other better. We've got in my state too many segregated schools because of neighborhoods and too many colleges -- people from different races and groups for their own choice for whatever reason don't get together. As college presidents we found two things -- I think there's a lesson here -- two areas where race disappears as a criteria for friendship. One is athletics -- play together on a team for a couple of years and you see the dining room and you see the people in different places, friendly, inviting each other to their homes, eating together. The other is -- (inaudible) -- those kind of things. Again, people are away from their --
And the lessons I get from them are, first of all, that our criteria for creating opportunity in this country -- (inaudible) -- a lot of people of ability are not getting into the system of higher education and should be, and many of them happen to be -- (inaudible) -- because they are poor -- (inaudible) -- The second is that if we could find ways of getting people to work on common projects that racial division seem to disappear and friendships occur. And once that happens, people -- (inaudible) --
DR. GARRETT: Mr. President, I totally agree. One of the things I'm doing -- and I'm based here in Washington and just stepped down as the Chairman of the Board of Howard University, and this semester have been teaching a course at Harvard University in the Kennedy School on the politics of race. One of the things, though, I'm going to do in Akron, where I go to on weekends, is build a $2 million family life center in the heart of the ghetto, and get Jewish rabbis and Jewish synagogues to come in with me on this project, so that on the black side we can try to work on this ill feeling toward Jews. This is not being done in Washington. It's not being done with federal money. It's being done in the locality -- Just to do what you just said. We have to get to know each other.
If you don't know each other, if you don't know about each other -- if you're white and you're not going to go see Amistad, if you're white and you're not going to see Roots -- which is why Alex Haley wrote it -- he didn't write it for my benefit, he wanted to show a lot of white people the reason I'm this color is something that they ought to understand, that a tenth generation ago, a white man could be my cousin. These are the kinds of things that we simply must do in terms of attitude and atmosphere.
And then let me just finally say, I know the government -- we all know the government cannot impose upon the media in this country. But one of the things you're Advisory Council may want to do is convene some meetings in a very nice and positive way with media people and remind them that they are a great part of this attitude, effect. A woman out in Virginia six months ago had six black babies, sextuplets. Never got mentioned anywhere. Didn't get a dime from any corporation, diapers or anything. Then this woman out in Iowa has seven and she's in more magazines than you are.
Now, you're going to tell me that there's not something inherently wrong with that? And it wasn't until some of us ministers kicked up a fuss that now some of the corporations are starting. These are the kinds of things that affect people's attitudes.
MR. CONNERLY: The threshold is seven. (Laughter.)
DR. GARRETT: Because it was close.
MS. THERNSTROM: But, you know, there isn't anybody in this room who would deny that we've got a long ways to go down the road to racial equality. And there's nobody in this room who would deny that there's a lot of racism still in this society. I mean, the question from me is the trend lines. Have we been walking in the right direction, and do we continue to walk in the right direction. And those trend lines look very good. And I think that one of the things we need to do in having a decent racial dialogue is not only to get beyond race, but also to get beyond emoting over race. And there is much too much emoting and there is much too much name-calling as well.
And there's a distortion of information that for me is absolutely mindboggling. I mean, I was on the Jesse Jackson show the Sunday before last. Jesse Jackson says to me, Abigail, black graduates of Harvard College still can't get jobs. And I said, Jesse, Jesse -- I think that this whole conversation could come together to a much greater degree if we can move off the anecdotes, the pain, and on to the landscape of what do we know.
And a lot of what we know is simply denied about how far we have come. If you can get the landscape right, then you can say, look, we have the following problems still: 27 percent of black families still in poverty. That's not much different than 1970. That's a catastrophic problem. We still have -- we have a racial gap in academic performance such that black kids in 12th grade are reading on the average four years behind white and Asian kids. That stacks the deck against those kids for the rest of their lives.
The solution to that isn't preferences; the solution -- and the solution to the police force -- we'll have a diverse police force tomorrow if we can close that gap in academic performance such that you've got -- so that you give police exams and there is no racial disparity.
I think, Mr. President, you've said some wonderful things on education. I'd like to push you further on them. But to me, that is absolutely the key. I think it's a national scandal that we are even one kid fall through the cracks.
THE PRESIDENT: I do, too. I think what Chicago has done, tells everybody that you've got to go summer school if you don't measure up and if you don't measure up a second time, you can't go ahead -- your self-esteem will be hurt more when you're 50 and you can't read than when you're 16 and you have to stay back another year. I think that's great.
But let me just say, first of all, I think what you generally just said is absolutely right. The reason I wanted you to come here today is that I hope there will be another series of meetings where we'll get even more diverse group -- I mean, diverse by opinion. Because what I'm trying to get to is -- here's my theory about this -- I think if we could ever get to the point where we would ask ourselves, can we agree on the objective, and then talk about what means will work, and then look at the things we don't like and say, well, do they do any good; and what harm did it do.
For example, what I think about affirmative action, a lot of these economic -- let's just take economic affirmative action. What I honestly believe is that it did a profound amount of good for the people who got into the programs who might never have had a chance to be successful business men or women. But I believe the problems with it are twofold. Number one is, once you get in and you start doing it, it's hard to graduate out. This whole theory about graduating out and moving through, going out into the private sector -- that theory never really worked very well. And we ought to fess up; those of us who were for it ought to say that's one of the problems that didn't work.
The other problem is it doesn't reach the vast majority of the people who have a problem because it doesn't reach down into basically the isolated urban areas with people in the economic underclass.
So if we say, okay -- you know, we can all say, okay, here are the facts -- it was a pretty good thing, but it didn't do everything it was supposed to do, so should we argue about getting rid of it, should be argue about doing something else, should we argue about what's going to happen to these people? I mean, I think there's a lot to be said for that.
Let me go back to what Steve said about the composition of the police force when you got into the tete-a-tete with the Vice President. Let me just mention three things because Governor Kean mentioned this. The seven white septuplets were delivered by two African American women doctors. Two days later, two black kids were rescued in a Chicago fire by a white fireman. Nobody feels anything but good about that. Why is that? Or why do all these rich white Republicans pay to go down and watch some black guys play basketball at the MCI Center? I would argue there is something that all these things share in common that don't necessarily get answered in the police -- (inaudible) --
One is, in the case pro basketball, here I am, I don't have a doubt in the world that if I'd been good enough I could have played pro basketball. I know it. If I'd been good enough, by God, I could have played. I was short, fat, and slow by today's standards. (Laughter.) I couldn't play. Doesn't have anything to do with my race. I don't have a doubt in the world. If I have a child, I don't have a doubt in the world that my child can play if he or she is good enough. So that's the first threshold. Without regard to race -- I think we could all agree with that. In whatever setting, people have to know, if they're good enough, they can play. And if they need a hand up to prepare themselves, they can get it.
The second thing is, in the case of the black women doctors who delivered the septuplets -- which is not always the case in the case of police -- which is why I agree with the Vice President -- the community, which was of a different race -- there was no question about whether they could do their job in a way that would be fair to everybody. In the case of the white fireman who risked his life to go in an get the last two black kids in the Chicago fire -- he made a statement that was louder than any words I will every utter, that he was in tune with the people in that community. He was in tune enough that he was willing to lay his life down to save those two little children. Nobody will every care again whether that guy is on their fire or sitting idly out in front of the fire station, as I hope he will be.
So there's two criteria. One is can you play if you're good enough, whatever the thing is. Two is, does everybody in the community have confidence that the people in the position, whatever they are, have sufficient concern about them, are consistently involved with them, that whatever is supposed to be done is going to get done.
I think in the case of the fireman, and the doctors and the basketball players, the answer is yes. I think in the case -- huge numbers of urban police departments, huge numbers of the business sector, huge sections of higher education -- you can't say that the answer is yes. That's why I'm hung up about it. But I don't think that -- I think the reason that I'd get frustrated if the debate is only about affirmative action is, if we win 100 percent of the debate, we're talking about 10 percent of the people. If you win 100 percent of the debate, we're still just talking about 10 percent of the people. What about everybody else?
MS. CHAVEZ: That has been our argument.
MS. THERNSTROM: But, why don't you have confidence that we can train policemen the way we train firemen so that when a policeman show up at the door, it doesn't matter what the race of that policeman is?
THE PRESIDENT: What I don't have confidence in is that in the police department's where there is not affirmative action that there is a selection process that is not race-based.
MS. THERNSTROM: Why not go after the problem instead -- it's like college admissions -- instead of going after the problem of the failure of our schools in the K-12 years, we say, okay, we're going to shut our eyes to that problem and we're going to preferentially admit them in hope something --
THE PRESIDENT: What about all the people who are sitting around waiting for that to happen? Are we just going to let them drift away?
MS. CHAO: -- very complicated, and there is really a problem on both sides. I think you and the Vice President obviously have demonstrated you care deeply about this problem. And I think you should be applauded, from my point of view, in terms of showing that you care, offering some leadership, and talking about this issue. I think it's enormously complicated. But I do want to say you, as the President of this country, have an enormous opportunity to really lead this country on a new millennium, as you put it, of race relations, and that is that people are judged by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin.
What has bothered me so far about the debate is that it's very much a monochromatic kind of debate. It has been about African Americans, and it's been about whites. And certainly there has been a great deal that has contributed to the current status of these two races, but if we really talk about a diversified nation, in which there is richness and diversity, we have to talk about other people.
And I'm not pushing for Asian Americans or Latino-Hispanic Americans, but that's what you get pretty much into when you start talking about color -- will it be white or black, then it's Asian Americans, and then it's Hispanic Americans. And actually, most of the time Asian Americans don't even rate. They don't even get into the debate. It's primarily whites, African Americans, Latinos, and that's it.
I'm very concerned about this whole issue about who gets to be let in to whatever program there is. And affirmative action, as enunciated by you and the Vice President speaks of compassion and good intentions and you care, and you want good things to happen. But what happens when good programs in the process hurt other people? And I just think about Asian Americans. I came here as an immigrant. I didn't speak a word of English. I came when I was 8 years old. My father held three jobs. I learned English at night, after 11:00 p.m., when he came back from work. And that's how I learned English.
And imagine what it's like not to speak English, and then arriving here and two months later having all these little monsters and goblins ring at your door bell -- (laughter) -- and stick something in your face to get candy. It was Halloween. We didn't know that. (Laughter.)
But what kept us through those days was -- what kept us through those days, you know, was a sense of empowerment that I think you and the Vice President want for Americans, and that you want to empower people, but you can't empower people by these artificial programs that occur too late.
What held my family and me together during those very, very hard times is we just knew we would never be in this condition forever. And that hope sustained us, incredibly so, through all those years. And then, also, we just knew that if we worked hard and that if we are together as a family that we would indeed be all right.
And so that's only my personal example and my personal experience, but I think it's applicable to many others. And there's stories upon stories of immigrants who come to this country with no experience of being an American, who don't speak the language, who don't understand the culture, and what they really want is just an equal opportunity. And what happens when that equal opportunity is no longer a level playing field, but with the best of intentions it's being turned into something that is unfair to them?
Right now, for example, your administration is talking a great deal about changing standards -- college admission standards because -- (inaudible) -- where test scores don't really matter. You don't really need test scores to succeed -- which is true. On the other hand, you can't neglect it altogether.
I went to Harvard, and I was kicked off of the Harvard Alumni Board. And for an Asian American that's a big admission. We don't get kicked very many -- at least we don't admit it. (Laughter.) But at Harvard, Asian Americans are an over-represented minority as they are in many, many college and universities.
MS. THERNSTROM: Eighteen percent --
MS. CHAO: And if you are to -- that's still an over-representation because we're only two percent of the population. So we're way over. And what happens is if you're a white child going to Harvard, you have 17 percent chance; if you are African American, you have almost 30 percent chance; if you are a Latino American, 25 percent chance; if you're an Asian American child, you have an 11 percent.
And so for all those new immigrants who come here and work so hard, they find that the rules are being changed all the time. First of all, you have to get involved in extracurricular activities. Oh, great -- okay. So now Asian American parents have caught on and they're getting all their kids to be yearbook editors, doing all this -- now, they're changing it to where they need leadership qualities. What does that mean -- leadership qualities?
I'm on this very large corporation's scholarship program, and we fund scholarships -- $16,000 a year -- to high school students. These kids -- Asian American kids -- don't do well because they don't excel under this new category called leadership. They're not outspoken. I listened for a long time before I jumped in here myself. But they're not aggressive. They're not voluble, and so that's all taken against them.
So our world is very complicated. There are cultural differences. And I want people to understand cultural differences. And we should relish and delight and celebrate in each other's cultural background. That's what it means to be an American.
But when programs like affirmative action are set up -- and there again, we're not against it. I'm not against outreach. I think we've got to do more aggressive outreach. But when the standards were lowered, that's a real problem. I think the things that we must be focusing on, you as a President have so much authority in this. We've got to emphasize education. Asian American families are not any smarter. They just emphasize education so much more.
When Korean -- I'm going to digress a little bit -- when Korean grocers are being harassed by African American activists , no white politician, no politician came to their defense. And I think we have to somehow think about how do we structure family and make it stronger so that the family can sustain and develop the kind of nurturing background we want for all Americans.
And so I think we've got to work on families, we got to work on education -- there's a whole slew of new initiatives that I hope we can take a look at. But this land is a land of opportunity. Somehow we've become victims also. A lot of times there's emoting, as Abigail says, and there's a lot of blaming. And we've become in many ways a nation of whiners, we whine a lot. And some of these programs I think cater to -- (inaudible) --
But again, I think it's a great opportunity for you to direct the path for the next millennium. And it's one in which we ought to really, all Americans, focus on issues of opportunity, economic opportunity -- these are the things that we should --
MR. CONNERLY: I suspect that the time does not equal the supply of ideas we wanted to give you, and I just wanted to share with you some things that you can read to cure insomnia.
But there are some specific things I want to suggest to you. The one hopeful thing that I wanted from this dialogue about race was structure. We've been talking about it, certainly my state now, for about four years, in a very intense way, the University of California and with Proposition 209. But all too often there is no structure to it. It's ad hominem attacks. It's questioning the motives of people.
And, Chris, I want to talk to you a little later, because there is something on a Web page there that calls me a counter-revolutionary, a minority counter-revolutionary. And they had it attributed it to you.
And I think that for us to get beyond where we are now, there need to be some structure to the dialogue. And we've got to stop playing the race card. We have to stop calling each other names, stop questioning motives. And I submit to you, sir, that one thing that might help move this panel forward is to take the whole subject of affirmative action off their plate. Let them deal with the broader subject of race absent the issue of preferences, because we're not going to solve that one anyway. And as a result of the belief that many of us have that the panel is not objectively constructed, to be candid with you, it's fun to pollute all of the other things that they might do. So my suggestion, respectfully, is to just take that out of their hands.
The second thing is I think that the time frame that is self-imposed ought to be extended because the ball has been fumbled a little bit, candidly, until now, and the discussion is just now getting -- beginning to happen in earnest. And if it comes to an end on June 4th, I think that's going to be premature, candidly. So I would strongly suggest that you extend it another six months or so, so that the debate can unfold in the fullness of time as it seems not to be unfolding.
MS. THERNSTROM: But the board itself is so monolithic in its voice, and as far as I can tell -- I mean, yes, Lisa Graham Keegan was there yesterday and William Bennett was there yesterday, but those were exceptions. And for instance Gary Orfield was there saying, once again that schools are more segregated than ever before, which I regard as junk social science. I mean, it's just not sustained by the data.
MR. THERNSTROM: He defines a segregated school as one that's 25 percent Asian, 25 percent black, 25 percent Hispanic, 25 percent white -- you need a white majority school for it to be not segregated. And that's backwards. The tables of his latest report are all defined in terms of --
GOVERNOR KEAN: -- offensive yesterday -- whenever it was, the day before yesterday -- that was a good meeting, and it was not monolithic.
MS. THERNSTROM: But there needs to be -- there are two camps, there needs to be a spectrum of scholarly voices --
GOVERNOR KEAN: Where do you put Deb Myer?
MS. THERNSTROM: Deborah Myer?
GOVERNOR KEAN: Yes.
MS. THERNSTROM: Well, I think that you're right; she's a very complicated -- you know, I'm a big admirer of hers.
GOVERNOR KEAN: So am I. People like that were on the panel.
MS. THERNSTROM: That's good. I didn't realize she was there, because in general -- I didn't realize she was at that meeting
MR. THERNSTROM: This last case seems to have been more diverse than --
DR. GARRETT: But, Abigail, you're sitting in the Oval Office of the land with the President listening to you. Now, what I would like to know, as a lifelong Republican conservative -- some days, some days not -- if you want to use those silly terms -- what are you going to do? Don't tell me about studies and figures. Fine. Let us all acknowledge those. But it doesn't help one bit to write books, to write studies, and the people are still milling around suffering.
This President deserves to have the concrete recommendations. Asian Americans, what's to keep them from having dialogue and building centers with blacks and Jews and others? You see, you talk about this, but I have seen precious few who are against affirmative action get out there and start something.
MS. THERNSTROM: If we can describe properly the racial landscape, including the problems -- of course, the fact that 85 percent of black children who are in poverty are in single-parent households, for instance -- if we can describe the racial landscape and agree on what it looks like, then we can move forward on that basis. But I have to tell you that social scientists are no better than the man on the street in recommending policies. They are very good at analyzing what the picture looks like. Saying what we should do is a different mountain to climb, and I don't think --
THE PRESIDENT: Go ahead. Lynn, you haven't talked enough.
MS. MARTIN: As I age, I'm less able to speak for groups of people, especially before I went back to teaching. Now I find I'm not as sure of anything -- (inaudible) -- but I do think it's true that a majority of Americans -- you talk about the man in the street -- I think they're already a lot farther along than I think anybody has given them credit. I think most blacks, most whites, most Asians, most -- everyone, men and women want it, which gives a President, this President enormous opportunities. And it also, I think, from some of my experiences over the last two years, indicates that there should be a couple of smaller things that we can all enjoy successfully. But that's very important to people -- some of the more complex things that one has to do.
But there have to be some measurable successes that everybody agrees that, hey, that's a good thing, and we all did it. I've worked a little more with gender, but if you get a group of women together and a group of men, they can look at exactly the same thing -- (inaudible) -- the difference is phenomenal. It doesn't mean facts are different, but it does mean perceptions are different. And we have to work part of the time at perception. We have to keep moving beyond -- the more times you can make people know their thinking the same, the better. And I came to a different conclusion -- it's almost opposed to the anti-anecdote. I decided to check over the last 10 years what had happened to me, because I'm older, I believe, than I think almost everybody in this room.
MS. THERNSTROM: I doubt it.
Q I look older. At least I will say that. But I grew up as a northerner thinking you all were the bad guys, which was a very nice way to grow up. I mean, in fact, I didn't know any blacks and Hispanics, never crossed by brain that many -- you know, that somehow there was something a little strange here. It was the southerners -- it was very comfortable -- (inaudible) -- intellectually, you didn't have to challenge anything. The last few years, and this is late in may life, just as in my 30s I got male friends -- not dates, friends, for the first time, very different thing. I now have, mostly acquaintances, but some friends, and my God, they've added to my life. And maybe we don't say that often enough.
The reason most American businesses are supporting affirmative action has nothing -- well, one hopes it has something to do with they want to feel good -- the reason they want to do it has to do with they think it's a business imperative and business is going to be better than global enterprise -- (inaudible) -- that I think -- enjoying the idea of how much better -- (inaudible) -- because of this. So that, sure, there's some tough stuff, and sure there's some other things -- I think people still write checklists, to an extent. And if we can check off a couple of things in the next few years -- the only thing I would ask now is don't set a goal -- I mean Abraham Lincoln didn't get -- Martin Luther King didn't -- don't have small dreams but have some reasonable goals.
THE PRESIDENT: One thing -- let me just ask you all to think about this because I agree -- one of the things I do agree with what Ward said is that I -- before you came in here I was holding my head saying, oh my God, those people are coming in here and we've got to stay here for four hours -- but let me -- nearly everybody agrees that the laws that are on the books against discrimination based on race against individuals should be enforced.
MS. THERNSTROM: Everybody agrees with that.
MS. CHAVEZ: Everybody in this room.
THE PRESIDENT: We are grossly under -- we have never properly funded the EEOC, but to be fair, we also need to look at --and this may be kind of a bridge between what we've been arguing about and what we agree on -- there's a lot of interest -- and Chris is getting me some information on this -- about trying to develop some sort of way the EEOC can get rid of its backlog in part by drawing up consent orders that would go beyond litigation and would change the way people treat their employees. Not necessarily on a race, not a race-based treatment, but the way you develop, the way you recruit, the way you reach out -- and one of the -- to go back to Lynn's checklist -- one of the things we would like to get everybody to agree to is a certain approach on that -- on kind of a comprehensive approach and getting rid of the accumulated back log of race claims and where you go from there.
The other think I would just like to say, because I know we're going to have to wrap up pretty soon, is I agree with you, we need a structure for the discussion which permits us to continue to talk, sharply identify in a non-rhetorical way our differences and ask if there is some way to build on this so we can actually get something done.
I talked to J.C. Watson -- he called me last night and I was out of pocket and I called him this morning and we talked for 20 or 30 minutes because he was -- (inaudible) -- and it was an interesting conversation. I just think if you're willing, I'm willing to make this not a one-shot deal, but to continue to work on this. I really sympathize with how the immigrant -- Asian immigrant -- particularly first generation Asians feel with the shift in --
MS. CHAO: We're just learning rules and goddamn it, they change them on us. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: The real issue here is, if you go back there's a lot of thought been given in the private schools -- (inaudible) -- great one to talk about -- that a lot of these private universities are thinking, okay, now, what if the colleges, if all the public institutions end affirmative action in their admission process, and they don't really -- and the state doesn't come up with a comprehensive alternative they'd like, where you've got all the colleges maybe taking over public schools, in effect, in terms of their college prep. So you get to -- you maintain the diversity of student body population with non-race-based policies. Then will the private institution basically have to carry the burden of educating a more diverse student body, or unless we're going to resegregate higher education like we once had.
So there's a reexamination on about whether -- I'm not saying that what you said is how you described it, that that's the right way to do it, but there is a genuine, I think, reassessment about whether test scores plus grades should be the only predictor of success in college and success -- the only definer of merit, and whether we can assume that there is somehow an absolute character to that. As a matter of fact, the test scores were -- -- (inaudible) -- pretty good rough indicator.
But, you know, look at what Texas is doing. I mean, it's this desperate attempt, I think -- I don't mean it's -- desperate sounds critical, I'm not being critical. But people are looking around and trying to find a way to honor America, be fair, and still have a society where everybody's got a chance. Keep in mind, go back to basketball and our view of the doctors in Iowa, the people have got to believe everybody had a chance.
MS. CHAVEZ: But, Mr. President, whatever the criteria that you come up with, I don't believe that it is good public policy or fair to say you're going to have different rules for different groups. And I think that's -- you know, I'm not saying SAT scores are the end all, or SAT and GPAs, but when you come up with a criteria, that criteria has to be equally applied to every individual, and that you can't decide that if your name is Chavez and you go to apply, or one of your children does, you get judged under a different criteria. That's what we have now. And I think that was what --
THE PRESIDENT: You wouldn't be opposed to affirmative efforts that were not race-based, would you?
MS. CHAVEZ: That's right. I wouldn't be because --
THE PRESIDENT: And if they're not race-based, they --
MS. CHAVEZ: If they're not raced-based, if they're aimed at educational disadvantage, social disadvantage, economic disadvantage, and if they are aimed at that, they have to be more than just letting people in the door, because there is a reason why we use test scores and GPAs to let people into higher education. It is because they are good predictors of success.
And one of the things, and, Thad, this is where I disagree with you -- one of the things I've been most adamant about opposing racial preferences for is that they allow us to sweep under the rug the kind of skills differences that Abby and Steve -- (inaudible) -- they allow us the easy out. They allow the companies -- oh, sure, oh, yes, we have 80 percent Hispanics and 12 percent blacks and other in proportion group represented here. What they don't tell you is that they're shuffled off to the EEO offices of human resources or someplace else, and in colleges they flunk out, or they end up being bounced down to a school that they probably would have done well in if they had gotten in on their own merit.
I mean, this is the problem and it sends a terrible message to my children. I have to tell you, I resent it deeply as a Mexican American woman that -- as the mother of three sons, that my children are assumed not to be able to make it under the same standards as your children. And I just don't think that it is right. And it does something that is very corrosive to minorities to be telling them we don't expect you to meet the same standards.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I'd like to say something else, Mr. President. I disagree with what I've heard here, but it's a great learning opportunity and I think the dialogue validates the President's decision to invite all of you to come into the Oval Office.
Mr. Connerly began by talking about traits over which we have no control. I think that what the debate really is about is traits over which we do have control. Specifically, I think there is a vulnerability in human nature to prejudice. I think we have the ability to overcome it. But I think that it is naive in the extreme. And I don't say that pejoratively; I'm just saying that this is my personal view. I think it is naive in the extreme to assert that there is no persistent vulnerability to prejudice -- rooted in human nature, prejudice based on race and ethnicity -- and other characteristics as well.
Let me just finish, please, and then you can ask me a yes or no question. (Laughter.)
Let me just finish. If you look at the world around us right now, what we intervene to help stop in Bosnia demonstrated that prejudice based on race and ethnicity led to an unleashing of evil. I that evil lies coiled in the human soul and all of us faces spiritual challenge throughout our lives. And I think that racial differences can serve as a trigger for unleashing hatred. And I think that people are prone to be with people like themselves, to hire people to look like themselves, to live near people who look like themselves. And yet in our society when we have this increasing diversity, we have a community value, a national interest in helping to overcome this inherent vulnerability to prejudice.
What happened to Chinese in Shanghai 50 years ago last week,* happened in part because of the enhanced vulnerability to that explosion of hatred across ethnic lines. What happened in Rwanda between the Hutus and the Tutsis happened in significant part because the explosion of hatred was triggered by this ethnic difference -- the differences in educational levels, the historical differences, the history of domination of one over the other also played important roles. But to deny that there is this factor called race that is persistent is, I think, just wrong.
Now, Steve, when you said -- or seemed to imply that there's no reason, rationally based, for an African American neighborhood to feel any differently about a police force that's 100 percent white than they would feel if there was representation of blacks on the police force. That, it seems to me is just profoundly wrong.
My view, in contrast, is that just as it seems obvious that the police force in that situation will be more effective in doing its job if it is representative of the community, it is also obvious that a university is going to provide a more valuable educational experience if the students there are going to be able to come into contact with people from different ethnic groups so that the next generation of Lynn Martins -- thoughtful, intelligent, commitment, desiring change, don't wait until the sixth decade of life to have their lives experience --
MS. MARTIN: No, no, fifth decade -- (laughter).
THE VICE PRESIDENT: -- to have their lives enriched by that extra experience. And the nation as a whole, I believe, is enriched if we overcome this tendency. Now, to say that there's progress is to say that a lot of the things we have been doing have worked. A lot of the extra affirmative efforts that have resulted in these police forces becoming more diverse -- I mean, they didn't get that way by accident. They got that way --
MS. MARTIN: They got that way because they passed laws against discrimination.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: No, that's not true either. They got there partly because there was enforcement of laws against discrimination, but mostly because there were affirmative efforts in the hiring decisions to go out and get people from the other communities to come into the police forces. The same thing is true in a lot of the categories of progress that you measure. To say there's progress is not to say if we stop these efforts, things are going to continue in the same direction. If we stop these efforts, we could see the United States lose its ability to lead the world away from this vulnerability to ethnic prejudice and racial --
MR. CANADY: But, Mr. Vice President, none of us are suggesting that we stop all of these efforts. We believe in the outreach efforts that have gone on. We believe we should actually intensify those efforts. What we have a problem with is classifying people on the basis of their race and telling some people they're going to lose because they belong to a non-preferred group, and other people they're going to win because they belong to a preferred group. We believe that that is harmful to everyone, because it sends the kind of message I talked about earlier and it's inconsistent with our ideas.
THE PRESIDENT: Let me ask you a question. One of the things that tickled me about -- since I grew up in the south, in addition to being bloodied by Atlanta people -- (inaudible) -- on the race problem in the country, we were all so obsessed with athletics. One of the things that tickled me about the California affirmative action vote was that there was -- preference vote -- is that there was an exception made for athletes. So you can give a preference for athletes to get into Berkeley, so Berkeley can have a nice football team and a nice basketball team.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Alumni giving.
THE PRESIDENT: But the A student who doesn't get into Berkeley, the Asian A student who doesn't get into Berkeley is just as hurt because he didn't get in so everybody could be tickled at the next basketball game as he would have been hurt if some A student who grew up in a black family in Oakland and didn't go to a high school and therefore didn't make quite as high a score on the college board -- he still loses the opportunity. He just loses it to a basketball player instead of a kid with thick glasses who struggled late at night in Oakland to make good grades, but didn't quite make a high enough college board score to get in. What's the difference? Why is it justified? Why is athletic discrimination so wonderful and the race discrimination --
Q Well, you can get rid of it. If you want to sign an executive order --
Q And alumni discrimination as well.
MR. CONNERLY: Mr. President, I have to say that this has been a great party until now, but just as we're -- the clock is ticking, we're ready to go out the door, you ruined my weekend with those very -- (laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: Is that not true? If it's not true, I don't want to falsely accuse you.
MR. CONNERLY: Very loaded questions, very loaded statements that command far more than the five or 10 minutes we have left. Our founders -- they talked for hours about human nature as the basis of what kind of government we were going to develop. And it's frightening to me -- it is truly frightening to me, at the characterization of human nature, Mr. Vice President, that you portray, because it suggests that we cannot rise above it.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: No, I said specifically, we can.
MR. CONNERLY: -- unless government is there demanding, demanding that we be held accountable. The presumption of our people, the presumption of our nation is that we're good people, that we can be fair, and that we will do the right thing. There are going to be some that are going to do wrong, and we'll bring those into line. But it's not that we are prone to do bad. And the whole question here about athletes and alumni -- my God, any of us can be athletes or alumni. It has nothing to do with our skin color.
THE PRESIDENT: I didn't say anything about alumni.
MR. CONNERLY: Well, he did. But there are just certain traits here that we as a society are making a judgment about --
THE PRESIDENT: The only point I made -- (laughter) -- don't get our two speeches mixed up. The only point I'm trying to make is, if you ever have any -- if you decide what the criteria of academic merit is, and let's say you decide the criteria is the grades plus the college boards -- this is the only point, I'm making a narrow point. If you decide the criteria is the grades plus the college boards, and then you decide -- you make a decision, which I think you could make a compelling argument is a legitimate decision, that athletics is an important part of university life, that it enriches the lives of all the other students who are there. You can make that argument, but the point is, once you make that argument, that's the argument you could also make for having a racially diverse student body. I was making a very -- I'm not making a wholesale assault.
Now, here's my problem with this whole deal, I know we've got to go. So I want to give you a chance to say -- what we really before, which is, how do we give structure to this and what do you think the next step should be? And I'll give anybody else a chance. Look, when I was a governor, I became the first governor in the history of the country to sponsor legislation to require -- (inaudible) -- certified.
I believe I passed the first law requiring kids in the whole state to have to pass an exam before they could actually go onto high school, because I didn't like the high school graduation -- I thought that was closing the barn door after the cattle left. The reason I have consistently supported affirmative action programs -- but I really have tried to change them and make them work -- is not because -- I basically think all that stuff you said is right. I am sick and tired of people telling me poor minority kids who live in desperate circumstances, that they can't make it. I think they should be told they can make it, but they have to work harder to make it. And then I think we should give them a hand up to make it. I am tired of that.
The reason I have supported affirmative action programs is very different, is I have done it because I didn't want to see all these kids be sacrificed to a principle I agree with, because the practice of life would not be fixed in time to give them a chance --number one.
And number two, I have had the feeling about police departments and fire departments and business environments and university admissions that I felt about the athletes -- that I really thought that the institutions were better off and the white majority or whoever else, was better off if there was some inter-mixing because of the world they're going to live in.
But I am always -- I think we should all be uncomfortable, those of us who support this -- for giving something to somebody when we deprive somebody that was otherwise more deserving by the traditional criteria of getting it. But I think on balance, that's why I've been very strongly -- but I have never wanted to not have high standards, not be demanding, not do things. I mean, I've paid a pretty good price for this -- (inaudible) -- and I'm not ashamed of having done it. I think that the kids in my state are better off because of it.
But we need to figure out a way to recognize that what we'd really like is for people without regard to their race to able to do the kind of business, go to the kind of schools, have the kind of public service jobs and live in the kind of integrated environment that they choose if that is the choice they make, because there would be no differences in traditional measures of merit and how they did, so that people would be making their own choices and having their own choices. I think that's -- we all agree that that's the world we want.
So I'd like to know what you think the next step should be. If you want to stay involved in this; you want to keep talking to us; you want to keep working with us; and you want to get some more -- different kind of people in here. What do you think we ought to do now?
GOVERNOR KEAN: Can I say something on the Race Commission -- when the President asked me to sit on this, the first time he asked, I said no. And I finally said yes because I was totally convinced, first of all, that this was the only President in my lifetime, though not a President of my own party, who's willing to take this on, to really try to establish some sort of a dialogue and try to make progress on this; and secondly, because I thought there was a chance -- maybe not a big chance, but a chance -- we could do some real good.
I was among those who was very critical of the commission at its first couple of meetings, because -- (inaudible) -- talking to each other and was not listening to adverse opinions, and therefore we weren't serving this President very well. It's our job -- not to write a report for the commission, our job is to advise this President on some of the best ideas we can find in the country so that this will hopefully be part of his legacy.
So this race commission is going to open up the dialogue -- (inaudible) -- be listening to all sorts of ideas from every end of the political spectrum in the hopes that we can bring good ideas to this President so that he can succeed in an initiative which I believe the country very much wants him to succeed in. So whatever has gone on in the past, I hope you will be open to the commission, that you will give ideas to us. And we will make sure that the best of the ideas are passed on to the President or this group can pass it on directly.
MS. THERNSTROM: I think that this has been a really wonderful meeting. And I'm very grateful to you for having invited us. But I do also have the feeling that if we were to continue it, that we really might get someplace.
THE PRESIDENT: That's what I think.
MS. THERNSTROM: Yes. We're feeling each other here. We're kind of making -- it's a first kind of stiff beginning, but that we might really --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I resemble that remark. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: If you all are willing to do it and you will help us figure out a way to structure it, I'll do it. Let me just give you -- I'll just give you one -- outside this door, probably sitting there -- I don't know if she's still there -- is my diarist for the White House who has lately been in the paper because -- (laughter) -- her name is Janis Kearnes. Her daddy was a sharecropper, and her mother a domestic. And they had 17 children -- 13 of them have college degrees. Five of them are lawyers. And all 17 of them have a first name that starts with the letter J. (Laughter.) Most of them went to school in Arkansas. One of them went all the way to Harvard. And some of them had affirmative action and some of them didn't, and they all did fine.
Look, somewhere in here there's a way that we can get to where we're trying to do -- stop talking past each other and start working together. I cannot believe that 90 percent of the people in this country don't want the same kind of country in terms of racial matters. And I will do my best to find a way for us to move beyond the -- (inaudible) -- honestly and respectfully state our differences and figure out away to work together. Because it is obvious, if you do not believe that there is any inherent -- (inaudible) -- among people based on race, then the differences we have today must have been rooted in the mistakes that have been made in the past or the breakdown of social institutions or personal institutions like the family, the education system, and the networking of people in business and others. There has to be a way to rebuild those institutions, and we have to do it together.
I think it would be a shame if we didn't try to do this together. I'm trying to put this beyond partisan politics. I'm not trying to use you. I said that deal about the athletics, because I might have voted for the athletic thing, too, but I've always been with the races like athletics and not different from athletics. That's all. So we need to go.
If you have -- in addition to your suggestions, which Governor Kean is for, I want to know if you've got process ideas about how we can discipline this debate and to move it forward.