An NBA fan, I hated to see Larry Bird retire...

THOUGH NOT

August 24, 1992|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

THOUGH NOT an NBA fan, I hated to see Larry Bird retire. The country needs all the white basketball players it can get.

That may sound racist, but I believe white kids need role models as much as black kids do, and in America there are still too many youths of both races who are not able to relate as well to heroes of a different color.

But that's not the main reason I believe we need white basketball players. The main reason is that I think it is harmful to have any endeavor or enterprise appear to be a racial thing. All-black basketball teams and all-white political parties tend to reinforce racial separation and racial stereotyping.

God knows the Republican Party is too white. When the few black speakers who were featured at the convention last week were on television, the network directors had trouble finding blacks in the Astrodome audience to focus on for reaction shots. Two networks shared the same black delegates when showing crowd reaction to Ronald Reagan's remarks about the L.A. riot.

There were 103 black delegates and 94 black alternates in Houston last week. That's only 4 percent of the total. For a party that likes to boast it is "the party of Lincoln," it needs to do better than that.

And it can. The party of Lincoln did indeed used to be the party of blacks. As late as the 1930s, a majority of black voters in presidential elections voted Republican. As late as 1960, over a third did. Since 1964, Republican presidential candidates have gotten only about 10-12 percent of the vote, sometimes less. Bush is at least as liberal on race-related issues as Richard Nixon. His goal should be to at least double his black vote this year.

Reagan quoted Abraham Lincoln at length in his speech last week. But it was fake Lincoln. Lincoln scholars attribute the material Reagan used to a pamphleteer who made it up many years after Lincoln's death. It is a quote Reagan found in "The Toastmaster's Treasure Chest," according to an aide.

Oh, well, nobody's perfeck when it comes to researching American presidents, as my own readers often remind me. Many scholars and journalists have accepted some Lincoln myths, especially those from Carl Sandburg's massive biography, a work whose literary quality is much greater than its factual carefulness. ("In my opinion Carl Sandburg is the worst thing that has happened to Lincoln since Booth shot him," literary critic and historian Edmund Wilson once said.)

Reagan also misquoted someone else in his speech last week, but not by name. He said he told foreigners who marveled at the greatness of America, "You ain't seen nothing yet."

That's a line from Reagan's favorite source of inspiration. The movies. Al Jolson said it in "The Jazz Singer." That was the first all-talking movie musical, but just for the record, what Jolson said was, "You ain't heard nothing yet, folks."

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