ONE MAY QUIBBLE with President Clinton's tactics in going to Texas to speak about the racial divide in the hearts and minds of Americans, black and white, on the same day hundreds of thousands of African American men assembled on The Mall in Washington. His address might have had more impact had it come the day before or the day after the Million Man March. But tactics aside, Mr. Clinton's willingness to speak out frankly on the most searing issue in the whole American experience was exemplary.
While the president echoed Louis Farrakhan's professed agenda of atonement, reconciliation and personal responsibility, especially among black fathers, he rebuked the Nation of Islam leader (without mentioning him by name) for his "message of malice and hatred." "Nothing good ever came of hate," Mr. Clinton said, making clear his disgust with bigotry, both white and black.
The president seized the occasion to outline candidly why there is so much animus between the races today despite decades of progress on insuring civil rights as a matter of law. For black Americans, he said, there is the continuing pain of a justice system that is "less than just" and of a situation in which African Americans are disproportionately plagued by crime, drugs, poverty and family breakdown. For whites, there is a fear for their personal security which causes them to withdraw, neither seeing nor listening to their aggrieved fellow citizens.
The president was plainly troubled by the racial animosities that flared after the verdict in the O.J. Simpson trial and by the racist rhetoric of some leaders of the Million Man March.
In the present political context, he could offer no statutory remedies comparable to past measures to end discrimination in employment, public accommodations and voting. Mr. Clinton could appeal only to the better nature of his fellow citizens.
This defensive approach could never satisfy Mr. Farrakhan, who complained the president had failed to get to the "roots" of black grievance. But by putting racial tolerance on a personal level, the president at least was true to his assertion that "honesty is the only gateway" to the reconciliation needed to heal our country.