WASHINGTON. — Washington -- Since the Los Angeles riots, almost everyone has been talking about the racial tensions, the ethnic hostilities, the economic despair in the ghettos of our cities. Few people are talking about the hostility and paranoia that hard times have brought to the campuses and corporations of America.
College graduates have rarely found it so difficult to find meaningful employment. In May, the unemployment rate for men 25 years and older rose from 6.2 to 6.5 per cent. This has added to a dog-eat-dog atmosphere in which every American in economic distress blames, rightly or wrongly, someone else for his plight.
There is a tendency almost everywhere for frustrated white males to blame ''affirmative action'' in behalf of blacks, Hispanics and females for their joblessness or failures to win promotions. They can be told over and over that in May the unemployment rate for whites was 6.5 per cent, for Hispanics 11.3 per cent and for blacks a depression-level 14.7 per cent, but they won't abandon the paranoid notion that government and the great corporations are giving grossly unfair preferences to minorities.
The paranoia and poison flow out of a lack of honest presidential leadership on issues of race and opportunity for more than a decade. That is why it is so important for voters to look carefully at where the presidential candidates stand on ''affirmative action'' to extend equal job, educational and other opportunities to all Americans.
The Bush record is abysmal. He has on occasion given lip service in favor of ''affirmative action,'' but then has attacked ''quotas'' and ''unfair preferences'' in a way that warped the minds of millions of white people, especially white males, against any effort to bring long-excluded minorities into the mainstream of the nation's commercial, educational and other activities.
President Bush has played the race card in a way that has turned honest interracial communications and cooperation in government and in great corporations into a miasma of unjustified jealousy and suspicions.
Ross Perot comes along with dangerous doubletalk. He makes the Jeffersonian declaration that ''everybody in this country is an American . . . an equal partner'' and proceeds to this copout: ''If you have to fall back on laws to force it, those laws, while they do create a fair channel for a minority that might not have it, they might create a tremendous amount of stress if a less talented person is promoted over a more talented person, and that's just Human Nature 101. So we'll have to walk both paths probably for a while, but my goal would be I'll define success as when you can shut down the legal side and everybody does the right thing.''
That is the damndest pail of slop I've ever heard anyone utter about affirmative action. Mr. Perot seems to acknowledge that minorities don't have a ''fair channel,'' yet he adds to the malicious talk about promoting a ''less talented person'' over a ''more talented'' one, which is something that no true advocate of affirmative action has ever asked for.
Mr. Perot shows incredible naivete in diminishing the role of laws and corporate standards to achieve justice, and in suggesting this society can become a Shangri-la in which ''everybody does the right thing.'' We wouldn't need a Constitution, or any statutes, if we were willing to wait for everybody to do ''the right thing.'' I suspect it may not be naivete, but snake oil, that Mr. Perot is giving us.
Gov. Bill Clinton made it clear on ''Good Morning America'' Tuesday that discerning voters will have a clear choice on this issue of affirmative action. ''I support it,'' Mr. Clinton said, without any hedging and doubletalk. He made it clear that he understands the difference between imposing broad and blind ''quotas'' and positive efforts to be fair, to give people a chance to get jobs that use their skills and brainpower and make them taxpayers rather than welfare recipients.
I believed Mr. Clinton when he said that he will use ''the bully pulpit'' of the presidency to explain to Americans why affirmative actions toward justice strengthen America and will redound to ,, the economic and social benefit of all Americans.
The differences between the three candidates on an issue that involves both justice and tranquility in America are stark. No voter can afford to overlook those differences.
3)Carl T. Rowan is a syndicated columnist.