The people of this country have sent their political leadership, in Washington and closer to home, a strong, clear message: We don't think you are doing a good enough job in our troubled cities, particularly the inner cities crowded with minorities. And the problem is not a hangover from the Great Society, nor is it a matter simply of pouring money into the cities nor is it just a breakdown of law and order. It's a matter of caring, of understanding what is needed and above all of knowing what is really happening in the urban areas.
The latest New York Times/CBS News Poll reveals some dramatic shifts in public opinion following the verdict in the Rodney King beating case and the rioting in Los Angeles. Almost two-thirds of the persons surveyed said the nation is paying too little attention to the problems of minorities -- about double the number which held the same view four years ago. Similar shifts were recorded by those who believe the nation is spending too little money on the big cities and on improving the conditions of African Americans.
Most striking about the poll responses is the sophistication of the remedies they endorsed. More wisdom takes precedence over more money. Better police training is considered more important than more cops. More people believe helping pTC minorities train for and find employment outweighs either more or better-qualified police.
But there is not a lot of hope out there. Overwhelming majorities of blacks and whites regard the rioting in Los Angeles and a few other places as a warning that race relations must improve, but not many thought they would soon. In fact, a substantial number believe they have gotten worse in the past few years. The King case and the deep frustration of the inner cities that erupted has made the people of this country even more pessimistic. Comparing the Times/CBS poll with another one conducted in January indicates a 50 percent increase in just five months among those who think race relations are getting worse, to about one in three Americans.
This public dissatisfaction is an indictment of the country's political leadership -- in and out of office. Neither President Bush nor his opponents fare particularly well in the survey. Rather than focus on pragmatic solutions, as the ordinary citizen has, the candidates feint at each other seeking political advantage. There are some hot summer months between now and election day. Voters are looking for leadership, in Washington and the state capitals. The nation's political leadership has been warned.