Bush Civil Rights Panel Appointee Talks Business

Peter Kirsanow does not view the modern civil rights movement through the same lens as the majority members of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.

The Bush appointee who has been caught up in a dispute over his seat at the commission table said Thursday that the civil rights movement has been nothing less than "stale and stagnant" in the last 34 years.

"Nothing profound has been said about civil rights since the death of Martin Luther King Jr.," Kirsanow, a labor lawyer and former chairman of the Center for New Black Leadership, said Thursday at the Heritage Foundation.

Instead, Kirsanow said, the conversation regarding civil rights in this country has been hijacked by peddlers of a victimization ethos, one that has prevented American blacks from fully achieving their place in society, keeping the racial divide as razor-sharp as ever.

"Since the death of [King], the sounds you hear emanating from the civil rights debate are infused with the sounds of a loser," he said.

The sounds being heard these days in Washington have had little to do with the civil rights debate and much to do with the fates of Kirsanow, commission member Victoria Wilson and her backer, commission Chairwoman Mary Frances Berry.

Berry has decried Bush's appointment of Kirsanow to replace Wilson. Wilson was appointed by former President Clinton to complete the term of deceased member Judge A. Leon Higgenbotham Jr. However, when his term expired on Nov. 29, Wilson and Berry argued that Wilson was appointed to fill a six-year term and not as a mid-term replacement.

Therefore, they say, there's no place on the panel for Kirsanow.

A lawyer for Berry said Kirsanow's political ideology has nothing to do with the dispute. Rather, she opposes his appointment on procedural grounds.

But Kirsanow's beliefs are a far cry from Berry's, who in her 21-year tenure on the commission has been one of the nation's leading voices for affirmative action.

And that's the crux of the problem, Kirsanow contends. Affirmative action, along with group identity thought and the drive for reparations and entitlements, have become the barometers for the civil rights movement, Kirsanow said.

"You are effectively shut out of the discussion unless you pledge allegiance to this three-pronged model," he said. "You are not qualified to engage in the discussion."

But it's those types of identity politics that have led to the negative "Balkanization" of America and an "oppression species" that will always deem itself inferior, Kirsanow said.

"Now it's time to embark on a new attitude," he said. "The attitude of a winner."

This means dismantling set-aside programs and the elaborate system of preferences and racial quotas that exist today in private and public workplaces, education and government programs, he said.

While strictly enforcing existing civil rights laws, he said, "We have to emphasize that we have a right not to be patronized," and that blacks are "competent human beings for whom excellence is expected and not met with surprise."

Kirsanow said he would like to raise these and other issues, when and if he gets his six-year term on the commission. In the meantime, he doesn't seem to hold a grudge.

"There are certain people on the commission who have taken a position," he said Thursday, shrugging off suggestions he has been treated unfairly by members of the panel.