DNC's layoffs undermine Dems' diversity rhetoric

Posted: Jun 06, 2003 12:00 AM

The Democratic National Committee got itself into a mess last week. News leaked that the DNC was going to lay off 10 workers in order to "retool" for the upcoming presidential election. The trouble came when it was revealed that every person on the layoff list was black.

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus and other prominent black Democrats went through the roof. Donna Brazile, Al Gore's 2000 campaign manager, a leading black Democrat, told The Washington Post, "If the (GOP) were to do this, you know what would happen. You know I would be kicking them where they need to be kicked."

We need not dwell on the obvious truth of Brazile's point. If Republicans disproportionately canned black staffers - let alone fired only blacks - it would be a huge, front-page story. There would be follow-ups to find out if Republicans planned to cancel Christmas and ban puppies as well.

Anyway, the DNC's official story is murky. According to the Post, DNC chief Terry McAuliffe said the DNC Ten would never have been actually fired, and other officials said this was all just a big misunderstanding. Numerous black Democrats told the press they were unsatisfied with McAuliffe's explanations.

Well, a prominent Democratic operative in a position to know tells me the real story. Each department head at the DNC was asked to suggest at least one person under their supervision to be laid off. The list was compiled by a senior consultant and submitted to the chief operating officer at the DNC, Josh Wachs.

It was only when they put the list together that it became clear everyone was black. In other words, each supervisor was asked to fire only a single person on merit. Race wasn't an issue or a problem until the statistics were compiled.

For any number of reasons a blacks-only layoff policy would be almost as disastrous for the Democrats as for the Republicans, in some ways maybe more so. The DNC needs almost 100 percent turnout of the black vote to be competitive in national elections. Firing only minorities opens up the possibility of a class-action lawsuit, which - regardless of the legal merits - would make White House political adviser Karl Rove happier than an 8-year-old girl with a new Christmas pony. And, fairly or not, it certainly undermines the Democratic Party's rhetoric on diversity.

I'd like to stick with this last point. According to almost every single Democrat who draws breath, "Diversity makes us stronger." President Clinton, Tom Daschle, Dick Gephardt, Jesse Jackson and so many more have all said that diversity has no costs, only benefits.

Well, imagine you are a white or Asian or Arab employee at the DNC. Your friend John or Jane almost got fired last week, but, thanks to a last-second reprieve, they won't be -simply because they're black. The DNC still has to cut costs, so now your head's on the chopping block. Do you still believe diversity is cost-free?

Remember, you're a good liberal working for the Democratic Party battling the evil forces of the Republicans. So surely you see no problem with sacrificing your job for the sake of diversity. Never mind the fact that, as the DNC has pointed out in its defense, some 30 percent of its employees are black, which means African-Americans are overrepresented there.

Or, put yourself in the shoes of one of the black employees who almost got axed. Now the guy in the next cubicle's going to be fired instead of you - just because he's white or, rather, not black.

No wonder Terry McAuliffe has been incapable of coming up with a straight explanation. He's run head-on into the dilemma of diversity-think.

If the motive behind the intended firing wasn't racism (and I think it's fair to say it wasn't; blacks comprise 30 percent of the DNC staff, more than double their representation in the general population), then it must have been efficiency. And if that's the case, the DNC Ten are being given a reprieve because they are black. Period.

This doesn't necessarily mean these black individuals were the worst employees in their department. Some may have been canned by vindictive or inept bosses. But the most likely explanation is that their jobs were simply redundant or too expensive.

Well-qualified and capable workers are fired all the time because a company -or political party -doesn't need their services anymore. Indeed, the DNC has suggested that the layoffs were intended in part to defray the costs of new hires elsewhere in the organization -including five blacks.

But it doesn't really matter, does it? No matter how you try to explain the decision, the DNC isn't judging these employees by the content of their characters. It's only going by the color of their skins. And that should give us all a little better insight into the party that claims to keep the tradition of Martin Luther King Jr. alive.