Fighting Each Other Over the Scraps of an Economy


October 07, 1992|By CARL T. ROWAN

WASHINGTON — Washington.--Ross Perot and millions of other Americans are complaining that President Bush and Gov. Bill Clinton have refused to face head-on the issue of $4 trillion in national debt and annual budget deficits of $350 billion. The complaints are justified.

But we had all better worry a lot about an equally important issue that is being glossed over in this political season: the explosive rise of racial and ethnic hatreds in both the huge and the small cities of America.

White policemen rail at black political leaders in New York; blacks war politically with Hispanics over who will control the Los Angeles school system; Koreans complain that they are rendered voiceless and powerless in traumatized L.A.; blacks, Jews and concerned white Protestants and Catholics organize to put down an insurgency of neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klansmen in Newburgh, New York.

Racial and ethnic violence have become so destructive of America that bigotry is now a huge factor in this country's trade imbalances, its inability to compete and its colossal national debt.

No presidential candidate can make a realistic promise to ease America's economic woes if he does not include a plan to end the hatreds that leave huge groups of citizens fighting each other over the scraps of a dying economy.

President Bush isn't eager to talk about racial polarization and racial hatreds because he knows that he and Ronald Reagan incited some of them and won power for 12 years by exploiting racial fear in the most cynical ways.

When Mr. Bush opposed the Public Accommodations Act of 1964, arguing that people of the ilk of restaurateur Lester Maddox and other bigots in hotels, motels, theaters, department stores and other public places had a ''right'' to refuse service to blacks or anyone else they didn't like, the president lost all moral force in the area of civil rights.

Governor Clinton doesn't want to talk about the crisis caused by the great American dilemma, this society's obsession with race, because he doesn't want to antagonize the half-sleeping racists of this land. He wants to deny Mr. Bush a ''white backlash.''

Ross Perot can't raise the issue of corrosive racism to a level of national concern because his background is such that he doesn't understand what the conflicts are all about. All he can do is regurgitate condescending stories about how his moneyless daddy somehow kept giving money to his black workers.

How do we get a situation in Newburgh where hate groups parade with swastikas, German and Confederate flags and signs saying, ''Welcome Aryans''? It became inevitable when the winning presidential campaigns of the last 12 years featured appeals to ''the white backlash,'' fear of black rapist Willie Horton and other crass racism. The public responded to these political appeals to mean-spiritedness and to the darkest side of man's nature.

Political leaders sowed the seeds of hatred and now the people are reaping the violent winds of greed, fear and hatred.

It doesn't have to be that way. In our modern history we have seen that the Congress, the Supreme Court, the people will respond positively to leaders who ask us to be better than we thought we could be. The great civil-rights march of 1963 remains a testament to the ability of the American people to show the nobler side of man's nature and to unite in a cause of justice.

As we enter the presidential debates and slide toward election nTC day, we must ask which candidate offers us any hope of leadership that will take America away from internal self-destruction.

Carl T. Rowan is a syndicated columnist.

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