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Catherine Crier, FOX News

In October of 1997, during an interview with Reverend Jesse Jackson, I asked if a "color-blind" society was a worthwhile goal. Jackson replied, "It is a ridiculous goal. We don###t want to be color-blind or gender-blind. We want to be gender-caring and color-caring." While I appreciate the use of the word "caring," I disagree with the distinction. I do long for a color and gender-blind society as the outcome of our national struggle for equality.

When our nation was founded, a single phrase was selected to represent our ideals and intentions. E Pluribus Unum, "from many, one" embodied the goals set forth by our founding fathers. The social promise was one of freedom and opportunity to pursue our dreams, not an assurance of success. We have, however, embarked upon a destructive path in recent years. Through legislation and litigation, we have abandoned the notion of universalizing the American Dream in favor of emphasizing our myriad distinctions. Outcome, not opportunity, is now the measure.

Several years ago I listened to a speech delivered by Ervin Duggan at the Aspen Institute. He described America today as a "culture of chaos" wherein there is no longer any agreement on a fundamental set of rules or values that define our national life. Instead, Duggan described a Hobbsian "war of all against all." In the absence of any consensus about Right and Wrong, our sole concern has become the issue of Rights and Laws—a concern about Process. He said this culture encourages a "Balkan Pluralism," wherein our differences are utmost and unity almost nonexistent.

Instead it has become fashionable to attack those underlying ideals. A group of elite white males devised rules that, some say, insured the dominance of one culture over another. After all, they failed to abolish slavery or grant equal opportunity to all persons, women and minorities included. I must judge them, however, by their time and circumstance. In doing so, I am in awe of the principles they divined that gave rise to the democracy we are still shaping. Our modern protections were slumbering even then in those prescient words. Over time, we have captured their potential. The principles have not changed; we have.

My despair over current attitudes diminished when I sat down to read a wonderful book published this year entitled Anthem, an American Road Story. Shainee Gabel and Kristin Hahn set off across the country interviewing the well known and unknown, to see if there still existed a shared belief system in our nation. Their initial pessimism was quickly abandoned in favor of a powerful reality. They discovered a universal definition of the American Dream, captured time and again in the words "freedom and opportunity." This description did not vary, regardless of race, gender or politics. The word "guarantee" was rejected by all.

Rita Dove, our recent U.S. Poet Laureate, discussed this ideal. "I think the definition in the Declaration of Independence is a pretty good one:

"life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." It doesn###t guarantee that you###re going to get it, but that you at least have the freedom to pursue it. It seems that many people think the American Dream is a promise, that this is what you###re going to get and you just sit back and take it in." A black saxophonist in New Orleans echoed her thoughts. "A lot of what is wrong with America is that people who were born here, for whatever reason, sometimes think that they###re basically owed something. You###re not owed anything. For instance, you see foreigners coming over here all the time, and they seem to climb the ladder a lot faster than most Americans do. The reason is they see the opportunity." He emphasized that opportunity was not a guarantee.

The one acknowledged conservative in the book was a regional director for the Christian Coalition. Jim Adkisson###s words were no different. "The American Dream to me is the opportunity to go as far as you can, given circumstance and opportunity and talent. It is not the guarantee." Author Tom Robbins was even bolder. "The trouble with democracy is that it...runs the risk of becoming too egalitarian. I think that life, nature certainly, is elitist. Thomas Jefferson said that there is a false aristocracy based on wealth and title and property and family name. But that there is a true elite based on talent and intelligence and virtue. And in that particular elite, I strongly believe, and I believe that will be the salvation for this nation—if there is a salvation."

Charlayne Hunter-Gault recognized education as the gateway to opportunity. "As you grow older and enter the real world, there are always checks on your ambition. But if you have been given that suit of armor during your formative period, you figure out how to get over the challenges. Life###s not always fair, but to get anywhere you###ve got to have ambition, and to have ambition, you have to have the capacity to dream and experience the passion of owning a personal vision."

This country is being torn apart by the debate over affirmative action. Even now, most people believe in the original philosophy. This worthy policy was designed to insure a nondiscriminatory search for the best school and job applicants, regardless of race or gender. If outreach, education or job training was needed to increase qualifications among the underrepresented groups, then such help would be made available. We would raise performance, not lower standards.

Look what we have created...quotas, preferences and consent decrees to admit and hire by every factor prohibited under the Civil Rights Act. We now justify a disintegration of merit standards in jobs, contracting and education in our fight to "right past wrongs." We have a resentful generation of women and minorities that carry the cloud of discrimination, not for acts committed against them, but for the preference that others may suspect.

If people do not qualify based on honest standards of admission or employment, we focus on bending and lowering those requirements. What happened to lifting everyone through job training and education? Today, studies show that the average black 12th grader reads at a level four years behind a comparable white student. A similar disparity occurs in other subjects. This is an outrage. This is the discrimination that infuriates me; the discrimination that occurs in grades K through 12. Through lowered expectations, inattention, or "social promotion," we are insuring many children will need the crutch of waiver and preferences to move ahead in the world. I am optimistic that the real problem is finally being addressed. Recently, the president of the National Urban League said "We have got to get our kids clearly and unquestionably qualified."

The national debate about preferences or quotas saddens me. I do not want to be recognized or promoted as a female or because of my Russian, English, French or Cherokee blood. I only want assurance that sex or ethnicity will not impede my progress. Tiger Woods recently made the case for this approach. The dynamic young golfer loudly protested the Census Bureau requirement that he check a box defining his heritage. Which group should he deny? Which should he acknowledge? He created his own category, with tongue firmly in cheek. He is a "Cablinasian," a mix of Caucasian, black, American Indian and Asian. In the early ###60s, the ACLU proposed that our government simply eliminate racial designations all together. Unfortunately, the business of categorizing people now provides too much political hay for politicians and bureaucrats to abandon. Those in need should receive our help, not the inhabitants of a particular Census box.

Jesse Jackson is wrong. A color and gender-blind society is a virtuous and extraordinary goal. I do not want hyphens to forever separate our nation. I do not want mediocrity to define our future. A cohesive American culture permitted this democracy to take root, and only through unity can it survive. The American Dream is our heritage. If preserved, it will be our destiny as well.

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