June 19, 1997 in Nation/World

Gingrich Blasts Affirmative Action Lays Groundwork For A Measure Barring Federal Hiring Preferences

Washington Post

House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., called on Americans Wednesday night to focus on the accomplishment of individuals rather than achievements of racial or ethnic groups, as he said affirmative action programs tend to do.

“We need to treat individuals as individuals, and we need to address discrete problems for the problems they are and not presume them to be part of an intractable racial issue,” Gingrich told a dinner of the Orphan Foundation of America, a group that helps adolescents living in foster homes. “We will not be successful in moving our society forward if we submerge individuals into groups.”

Addressing the question of race relations in America four days after President Clinton sought to launch a year-long discussion of the topic, the speaker listed 10 steps - from helping parents pay for private schools for their children to cutting regulatory barriers to starting small businesses - that he said “can build a better America and, in the process, close the racial divide.”

“If Americans get busy enough working together to achieve real goals, racism will recede,” he said. “Perspiration and teamwork will dissolve racism faster than therapy and dialogue.”

Gingrich’s speech was part of his effort to lay the groundwork for legislation barring federal racial preferences in hiring and in the awarding of contracts, which he has called “affirmative racism.” The speaker has said that unless the measure is considered in the context of other steps intended to improve the lives of minorities - what he has called “affirmative outreach” - Republicans could be portrayed as harsh and uncaring.

The speech offered a sharp contrast to Clinton’s vigorous defense of affirmative action on Saturday. “It doesn’t matter how many quotas you have,” Gingrich said. “If you’re not willing to confront the central need to reform and replace the systems that have failed, they will continue to fail.”

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