Black Concerns and the White House

Article excerpt

PRESIDENT Bush is back from a nine-day trip to Europe where, from London to Ankara, he played with relish his role of world leader. Next week in Moscow the president again takes world center stage to sign the START treaty with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

Yet amid the crucial foreign policy matters Mr. Bush must deal with are a number of equally important domestic issues. Education and the economy come to mind. But no area today needs more attention - and rethinking - in the White House than that of race.

Race is one of the most sensitive and potentially divisive issues in the US. We have fought a civil war and generated a civil rights movement over it. That's why a recent series of White House decisions on issues related to civil rights and race seems questionable - if not always for content, at least for tone and timing.

Among the decisions:

* White House stonewalling of the Senate's civil rights bill as a "quota bill." Sen. John Danforth, a Republican, came to the White House with five compromises, but no agreement could be reached with the president's chief of staff, John Sununu. Moderates from both parties wonder why.

* The president's "political correctness" speech at the University of Michigan this spring. Bush's concerns about free speech and the rise of intolerant orthodoxies on campus are well taken. Yet the speech was perceived by many blacks as soft-pedaling the problem of racism.

* The decision by Commerce Secretary Robert Mosbacher not to adjust 1990 census figures. Urban areas and minorities could thus be shortchanged in the redistricting process.

* The nomination of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court. Mr. Thomas may be a fine candidate. He believes in the virtues of black self-help. But Thomas is questioned by blacks for attacking affirmative action principles that helped him get where he is.

* The lifting of sanctions against South Africa two weeks ago. Given the Thomas nomination and stalling on civil rights legislation, this seemed bad timing. (Now news of Inkatha funding by the police puts Pretoria's good faith in question.)

* The nomination of Carol Iannone to an advisory panel of the National Endowment for the Humanities. …