In London the other day, New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman was trying to explain why you can't legislate morality. As an example of immoral behavior she described a "jewels in the crown" game in which she said young black males attempt to outdo each other fathering illegitimate children.
The remark would be enough to get almost any white politician in trouble back home in the states. That was especially so with Mrs. Whitman, who already carried considerable baggage in regard to the African-American community.
In the 1993 gubernatorial election in New Jersey, her campaign manager, Ed Rollins, boasted of paying off black ministers to keep them from urging their flocks to vote. The black congregations were largely made up of Democrats and Mrs. Whitman is a Republican.
Mr. Rollins later recanted the allegation, but Mrs. Whitman's reputation among blacks has not recovered. In this context, it was no surprise that her comments from London about promiscuous black males were labeled "racially divisive."
She has since apologized for singling out blacks. Mrs. Whitman said she meant to emphasize that young men need to be taught it is wrong to father a child and then walk away from responsibility. That is a lesson that cannot be taught too often.
In the decade between 1982 and 1992 the number of illegitimate births in the United States rose from 19.4 percent to 30.1 percent. The number remains highest among blacks, growing from 56.7 percent to 68.1 percent. But illegitimate births have also increased dramatically among whites, from 12 percent to 22.6 percent.
Mrs. Whitman wanted to speak out against illegitimacy because children born out of wedlock and reared in single-parent families usually suffer. From 1987 to 1991, 71 percent of the new welfare cases in this country involved families headed by never-married mothers.
Illegitimacy too often leads to welfare and all those social problems that usually come with poverty -- poor education, poor health, crime and more illegitimate births. People should be careful when talking about such a sensitive subject, but only in talking about it can something be done.