George Will

     After working in some conservative think tanks, he became head of the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights in the administration of the first President Bush. He is currently a corporate lawyer in Kansas City, where he has witnessed the handiwork of an imperial judge who, running the school system, ordered the spending of nearly $2 billion in a spectacular, if redundant, proof that increased financial inputs often do not correlate with increased cognitive outputs.

     But about this commission as bully pulpit: Does anyone really think America suffers from an insufficiency of talk about race? What is in scarce supply is talk about the meaning of the phrase ``civil rights.'' Not every need is a right, and if the adjective is a modifier that modifies, not every right is a civil right -- one central to participation in civic life.

     Reynolds, 41, says that the core function of civil rights laws is to prevent discrimination, meaning ``the distribution of benefits and burdens on the basis of race.'' But if so, today a -- perhaps the -- principal discriminator is government, with racial preferences and the rest of the reparations system that flows from the assumption that disparities in social outcomes must be caused by discrimination, and should be remedied by government transfers of wealth.

     Reynolds rightly says that the core function of the civil rights laws, which required ``a lot of heavy lifting by the federal government,'' was to dismantle a caste system maintained by law. But that has been accomplished.

     It is, as Reynolds says, scandalous that so few black 17-year-old males read at grade level; that so many black teenagers are not mentored to think about college as a possibility and of SAT tests as important; that many young blacks -- 68.2 percent are now born out of wedlock -- are enveloped in the culture that appalls Bill Cosby, a culture that disparages academic seriousness as ``acting white'' and celebrates destructive behaviors. Reynolds is right that much of this can be traced far back to discriminatory events or contexts.

     But this is a problem of class, one that is both cause and effect of a cultural crisis. It is rooted in needs, such as functional families and good schools, that are not rights in the sense of enforceable claims. Civil rights laws and enforcement agencies are barely relevant. Proper pulpits -- perhaps including barbershops -- are relevant. Government pulpits are not.


George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
 
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