Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Next Clinton Focus: Healing Racial Rifts USING THE BULLY PULPIT

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Next Clinton Focus: Healing Racial Rifts USING THE BULLY PULPIT

Article excerpt

In coming weeks President Clinton hopes to prod the United States public into thinking deeply about one of the nation's greatest historic problems: racism.

Mr. Clinton is scheduled to unveil a major race initiative on June 14 in a San Diego speech. Though it involves talking, study, and idealism more than expensive new federal programs the administration is touting the plan as a centerpiece of the Clinton second term.

The goal is to try to ease racial tension and establish a sea change in American tolerance for the next generation. Today's children think differently about the environment, pollution, and recycling than their parents did, after all. The legacy-minded president hopes that via the use of his chief-executive bully pulpit he can help effect a similar paradigm shift on racial attitudes. "We need to depend on diversity and we need to focus on that as a strength," says deputy chief of staff Sylvia Mathews, who has been working on the plan with almost two dozen staffers for months. If the tolerance effort is to succeed, it needs to look to history and not just the next day's headlines, according to some observers with knowledge on the issue. Clinton "should provide the nation with an authentic statement of where we are on race and provide a common vision of what racial and ethnic justice means in the 21st century," says Christopher Edley, a Harvard University law professor who served as an adviser on racial issues to Clinton in the first administration. In one sense, the race initiative has already begun. Last month Clinton formally apologized to survivors of the infamous Tuskegee experiment, a federal project in which hundreds of black men went untreated for syphilis so doctors could study the progress of the disease. Few specifics about the initiative have been made public. Overall, it's clear the plan focuses on generating a message instead of creating a federal bureaucracy. Taking the form of a blue ribbon commission, a high-profile racial summit, a series of town-hall meetings, or all of the above, the effort is designed to identify racial divides. Then, using the bully pulpit, the president plans to therapeutically provoke, influence, and change. Can US attitudes towards race - a problem since the founding of the republic - really be changed by such a jaw, jaw approach? Charles Kamasaki thinks so. A senior vice president of La Raza, a Hispanic advocacy group, Mr. Kamasaki has been meeting with White House staffers as they construct their plan. "There is nothing like having the bully pulpit of the president to stimulate dialogue and catalyze real discussion," he says. Addressing a civil rights group recently, Kamasaki was challenged by someone in the audience who asked if an initiative based on mere rhetoric was Pollyannaish. …

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