GOP Sends Clinton a Message on Minorities

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is the author of "The Crisis in Black and Black, " released in May by Middle Passage Press. E-mail:

Lani Guinier, Bill Lann Lee, Henry Foster, Ron Brown, Hazel O'Leary, Joycelyn Elders, Alexis M. Herman and now Daryl L. Jones. The Senate Armed Services Committee's rejection of Jones as Air Force secretary follows a pattern that is disgracefully familiar. President Clinton appoints an African American or minority candidate to a Cabinet post, and the Republican political vigilantes immediately start in. They do everything possible to torpedo the appointment in Senate committee hearings or better yet get Clinton to withdraw the nomination. If the person is lucky enough to be confirmed, they dig up all the dirt they can find on the appointee, magnify it into a major crime, try to enlist the media in the smear campaign and hope that the pressure will force the hapless official to resign or Clinton to fire him or her.

The relentless attacks on Clinton's minority appointees combine the time-tested blend of sneaky racial and blatant political mean-spiritedness. The Jones appointment was certainly a classic example of this. In the past, appointments such as Air Force secretary generated no controversy and were routinely approved. Jones' military experience and education were never an issue. He is an Air Force Academy graduate, lawyer and former Air National Guard pilot who flew F-4 fighter planes. The allegations against him were that he was a lousy flyer, collected extra pay for flight time he didn't earn, sought to sell Amway products to enlisted Air Force personnel, improperly lobbied on behalf of a financial company seeking a bond deal on the Miami Airport and then gave conflicting responses when questioned.

There was no tangible proof offered that Jones knowingly abused his authority to sell Amway products. The charge that he was an incompetent pilot hinged mostly on the word of a former squadron leader. The Securities and Exchange Commission, which opened an investigation on the Miami bond sale, has not accused Jones of criminal wrongdoing. And the post of Air Force secretary does not require a candidate to be an experienced pilot. It is primarily an administrative job over budgets, training and recruitment, but not military combat operations. While Rep. Jane Harman (D-Torrance), who is being mentioned as a possible nominee, is knowledgeable about military budgets, there is no mention of how much flight experience she has or that it could or should be an issue.

But none of this really matters. The Republicans, by flunking Jones for Air Force secretary, intended once more to send the message that for Clinton nominees or appointees who are minorities--especially African Americans--education, competence, integrity and dedication to public service won't mean much. They will become instant hostages to the political and racial whims of the Republicans. Their aim is to make Clinton and Al Gore, if he captures the White House in 2000, think twice before they appoint other minorities to the Cabinet. It's shameful and disgusting to make race and politics the sole yardstick for measuring the qualifications of a political appointee. But sadly it has become more and more the American political way.

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