The Reagan administration's policies have undermined protection of black political and economic rights nurtured over the last quarter century. Yet the recent Tidewater Conference of Republicans resolved ''to design and implement programs to fully integrate black Americans into the mainstream of the private economy.'' It is time for the Republican Party to help Americans bear the discomfort necessary to fully integrate blacks into political and economic life.
Why should the nation commit itself to a long-term, politically controversial , and economically expensive program in this era of retrenchment? The present situation promises decades of conflict and stalemate. The Democratic Party has won black loyalty by leading the legislative battle for political integration, and by supporting a moderate program of economic integration. The Republican Party risks continuation of a Democratically aligned electorate unless it attracts a permanent white majority or wins more than 30 percent of the black vote.
There is little evidence that the 1980 election, in which white voters determined the outcome, signals a long-term realignment. The Democratic Party thus need only propose moderate political and economic policies to blacks so long as their opponents offer none. The Republicans can win the presidency more consistently if they compete with the Democrats for black voters, which means they must propose political and economic integration, rather than token or symbolic programs.
In the economic arena, American reindustrialization will require full use of the nation's natural and human resources. If blacks remain segregated from full participation in the economy, the nation's irrational and unprofitable employment of its human workforce will weaken its international economic position, and will bequeath these problems to future generations. The question is not whether the nation can afford to sustain political integration and to implement economic integration--but whether it can afford not to.
Successful implementation of such a program will require bipartisan support, a precedent already established. From 1964 through 1980 the civil rights revolution won recognition in the Congress through the creation of a bipartisan alliance committed to black political integration. The Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968, as well as the Voting Rights Acts of 1965, 1970, and 1972 could not have been passed without Republican and Democratic agreement. The 1982 renewal of the Voting Rights Act has won bipartisan support in the House (389-24) and in the Senate where 65 members have cosponsored S 1992.
Economic integration is the heart of a program of racial reform. It requires that blacks achieve relative equality with whites in income, skilled employment, wealth, and business entrepreneurship. Because economic integration involves redistribution, Lyndon Johnson's ''war on poverty'' elicited lukewarm Democratic support and considerable Republican hostility.
Once national leaders commit themselves to political and economic integration , certain procedural issues arise. The Reagan administration and the Tidewater Conference emphasize private sector action, but the federal government has and should continue to assume major responsibility for implementing political reform. Leadership of an economic integration program is more problematic. It is debatable whether the private sector, the public sector, or both should create and implement economic programs. Whatever the outcome of the procedural debate, political and economic programs need continuing attention.
First the nation should maintain and strengthen the institutional framework which supports political integration. The opportunity for bipartisan action in this era is immediate; the Senate will vote on the Voting Rights Act renewal shortly.
Economic integration involves two long-term tasks. Employment discrimination should be ended. Simple cease-and-desist declarations are ineffective since the private sector has enforced economic segregation so consistently in the past. This task requires cooperation between the public and private sectors, and continuing oversight by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance, and the Justice Department. They must be free to use strategies which minimize employment discrimination most efficiently.
Secondly, the public and private sectors should join forces to strengthen blacks' stake in the economy. Several problem areas should be targeted including the development of venture capital sources for new businesses, training and funding for the organization and management of established firms, and encouragement of expansion and competition for those which are on the rise. Other programs should aid individual economic competition in the market.
These are affirmative action programs; their critics charge they allow blacks to enter the market based on subjective or discriminatory criteria. Racial discrimination has meant that, all things being equal--or more to the point, unequal--whites won higher social status, wealth, and political power based on subjective, that is racial, criteria. Economic integration programs allow blacks and whites to compete directly, but enforce downward mobility for some whites. Unless the economy expands, economic integration will not occur without downward white mobility. As political scientist Edwin Dorn has argued, allowing blacks equal opportunity to compete without equalizing aid, perpetuates established economic inequality.
The status quo, namely weakened political integration and economic segregation, will not necessarily result in 1960s-style riots and rebellions, but in the best of times racial inequality disrupts social relations in the workplace and distracts workers from productivity in their efforts to challenge or protect racial hierarchy. Moreover it minimizes the democratic and productive use of land, housing, and economic resources and creates racially polarized political alignments. It is time for the Republicans to form a bipartisan alliance and a public-private partnership to implement a program of economic and political integration.