"Now there's a philosophical question which doesn't have anything to do with quotas," Senator Danforth commented.
On Thursday, Senator Danforth met privately with President Bush to ask him to resolve personally the issue of "business necessity." Mr. Bush "listened attentively, took notes, and said he would consider it," Senator Danforth told reporters after the meeting.
A White House aide, however, told reporters she believed there were "several major policy issues" that remain unresolved on the civil rights bill.
Meanwhile, there have been reports that the president will veto -- or at least is being urged by his aides to veto -- any civil rights bill except his own, so that he would be free to "tar Democrats with the quota brush" as a means of winning some elections next year. That was the theme that seemed to work for Senator Helms last year.
That would be using the "race card," Senator Danforth said.
"But it is no less playing the race card for members of the Congressional Black Caucus to organize black politicians around the country to oppose a black judge who has been nominated for the Supreme Court on the basis that he does not have the 'right' ideology," the senator said in his July 11 speech.
"That is racial politics," he said. "That is divisive. And that is at least equally as dangerous as anything that is done with respect to a 'quota card.' "
The problem, however, is that one politician's "race card" may be another's winning hand.
The Civil Rights Commission proposed in its letter to Mr. Bush and the congressional leadership that they convene a "summit conference" of "major public officials," "the media" and "private citizens" to prepare "guidelines" for the proper conduct of the 1992 election campaigns.
But despite the bipartisan pleas of Mr. Danforth and Mr. Bradley against the "race card," there appeared to be little optimism among Washington's political realists about the chances of such a conference to fashion a ban on the use of the "race card."
The commission's letter, however, would only have the conference adopt two "principles":
* A candidate should "make every effort to avoid even the appearance of the use of racial tactics" in the campaign.
* A candidate should "advise his or her staff that they will be held personally accountable for any attempt to use race-baiting as a tactic."
Still, two of the commission's members, normally at opposite ends of the political spectrum, took similar views of the conference idea. Black liberal Mary Frances Berry described the idea as "ridiculous." Black conservative William A. Allen saw little hope for such a conference to come up with "guidelines" that would be acceptable all around.
In any event, there has been no response from the White House to the commission's proposal or to Senator Bradley's plea for decisive action.
Arch Parsons is minority affairs correspondent in The Sun's Washington bureau.