QUESTION: The Clinton administration is under fire for failing to have its top-level officials - sub-Cabinet appointees - already in place. One factor widely believed to be causing the delay is a requirement that a lot of women and minorities be appointed to these plum positions. If this is true, is it progress or discrimination?

BONNIE ERBE: White males, particularly "enlightened" white males (EWMs), are annoyed at the administration's commitment to placing women and minorities in positions of power. They claim (though it's yet to be proven) unqualified or lesser-qualified women and minorities are taking jobs that are rightfully theirs. I sympathize with them. I share their disappointment and pain (yes, some of my best friends are EWMs). But I also see the other side. Right now may not be the best time to be an EWM looking for a White House job.The past few decades have been lousy times for women and minorities seeking positions of power. Perhaps the Clinton administration is putting three teaspoons of sugar in the coffee cup when one would do. But somehow a little leg up, in the face of massive past and present mistreatment, doesn't seem out of line.

Yes, even EWMs are grumbling. Maybe they have a point. I refuse to believe the Clinton administration is placing unqualified, incompetent women and minorities in plum jobs. If officials are giving those who've been unfairly discounted in the past a bit of an edge, more power to them.

BETSY HART: Finally the EWMs are getting a little bit of their own medicine - and they don't like it very much. When affirmative action translates to "liberal white males need not apply," it seems to take on a whole new meaning. An ironic twist given that for decades, this very liberal elite has imposed quotas on everyone else. Maybe the elite is discovering, just as the rest of America has, that hiring by the numbers isn't fair to anyone.

It's especially unfair to those who get the jobs because they are the "right" color or gender. It demeans their accomplishments, because no one believes they got there on their own - even if they did. No one argues with wanting to bring more well-qualified women and minorities into the political process. But that, apparently, is not the Clinton administration's policy. With Hillary at the helm, the administration wants to hire based on quotas alone.

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George Stephanopolous, President Clinton's spokesman, said it best during the presidential transition. He remarked, "The president has to balance the need for diversity with the need for excellence." In other words, he had to reduce his standards in order to hire by the numbers.

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