Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV says President Bush is lying. That is a harsh word. But it is a euphemism for what the West Virginia Democrat is really accusing the president of doing. He is really accusing him of resorting to racist demagogy for political gain.
"Republicans want to drive people apart to win elections," Senator Rockefeller told an AFL-CIO conference recently. "They want to turn our attention from what George Bush and Ronald Reagan have been doing for the last 10 years. That's why George Bush is making all that noise about the civil rights bill. That's why he's lying to the American people and to his own conscience, if he has one, about quotas."
The senator compared the president's invoking of "quotas" to his 1988 campaign's Willie Horton commercials. These implied that Gov. Michael Dukakis and the Democratic Party were to blame for coddling brutal black criminals. The commercials seemed clearly racist to many observers. This is the second such attack on President Bush in recent weeks. Sen. Bill Bradley, D-N.J., said in a Senate speech two weeks ago that the president was "appealing to fear" with his talk of quotas in the civil rights bill debate. Senator Bradley also compared this to the use of the Willie Horton ads.
Mr. Bush has heatedly defended himself. "Hey, listen we got a good record on civil rights," he said after the Bradley speech. He hasn't. The civil rights bill is not a quota bill, as Clarence Thomas' leading Republican supporter in the Senate himself has said. We are not prepared to say the president is lying about this, however. We want to believe that he believes what he says, that he is just misinformed by advisers who do not know or care that deliberately inflaming the racial issue for political gain is irresponsible and dangerous.
The proper way for a Republican president who is not racist to symbolize his beliefs in this area is precisely to nominate a man like Judge Thomas to the Supreme Court, not to incorrectly and irresponsibly charge that a bill aimed at ending discrimination against blacks will foster discrimination against whites. If
Clarence Thomas becomes "the Willie Horton of 1992," everybody will benefit.