WASHINGTON — Washington. -- Vice President Dan Quayle says he's irritated by the ''unfair'' things I've been writing and saying in opposing the confirmation of Clarence Thomas for a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court. Mr. Quayle has expressed a specific dislike for my comment that if you sprinkled some flour on Judge Thomas' face, you might think you were listening to David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan leader.
Well, the truth is the light.
Instead of trying to gag or discredit me, the vice president ought to put a muzzle on Mr. Duke. The one-time brazen racist went public a few days ago with a statement that he and Judge Thomas have the same views on welfare and affirmative action.
Mr. Duke has demagogued against welfare in his efforts to convince middle-class Louisianians to vote for him as a way to end a system in which so-called lazy bums are living off the sweat of ''honest, hard-working people.''
In an apparent effort to bolster his conservative credentials, Judge Thomas stood before a group of reactionaries and dumped all over his own sister, who has long been among the working poor in Georgia -- a woman who has labored like hell but earned so little that she needed welfare assistance.
Both David Duke and Clarence Thomas have been so caught up in the hate-the-poor syndrome that they can't see that where people run their society in such a way as to leave millions of people in poverty, they wind up with a big welfare bill. Unless the leaders are callous enough to let poor children, mothers, old people die of hunger, sickness and the many other afflictions of poverty.
Mr. Quayle thinks it is a ''personal'' attack upon President Bush's nominee for the high court if I point out that both Judge Thomas and Mr. Duke are giving comfort to those who profess to be threatened by the piddling progress that blacks have made through voluntary affirmative action programs, or court-ordered programs to redress generations of racial and sexual discrimination in the workplace.
I say to the vice president that there is something personal in the contempt I show for a man, Clarence Thomas, who went to Yale Law School as part of an affirmative action, 10-percent ''quota'' program, and then denounces affirmative action as ''a narcotic of dependency.''
What gall for Judge Thomas to suggest that while he didn't become addicted to the affirmative help of Yale, other blacks, Hispanics, women are bound to be crippled if they get some doors of opportunity opened to them.
I am not surprised by Dan Quayle's speeches attacking those of us who dare to speak out with some passion against this cynical nomination of Judge Thomas. President Bush has given Mr. Quayle the task of getting Judge Thomas confirmed, so for the vice president it is a cold issue of ideology, of politics and power.
Some of us know that the rights and liberties of our children and grandchildren are at stake in this appointment -- a point Mr. Quayle may think is no current worry of his. But those of us who see the likely loss or erosion of rights won through marches, protests, lawsuits, bloodshed are just not going to shrink away. We are going to try to make at least 51 members of the Senate understand that confirmation of Clarence Thomas would be an abomination. Criticism by Dan Quayle won't slow us down.
Carl Rowan is a syndicated columnist.