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Politics and race

By JOSEPH C. HARSCH / October 27, 1988



THE Democrats are accusing the Bush campaign of inflaming racial tensions. The Democrats have put their finger, accurately, on what this campaign is all about.

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The central issue in this campaign, from the beginning, has been over whether the Democrats could win back those white voters we now call ``Reagan Democrats.''

Who are ``Reagan Democrats''?

Mostly they are Southern evangelicals, Northern ``blue collar'' workers, and pro-Zionist Jews.

These three categories of voters constitute identifiable cultural groups. All three are in a state of friction with the black community. All three tend to resent government help to blacks.

Ronald Reagan's political agenda has always been tailored to woo those three white communities. George Bush's campaign has continued all policies that appeal particularly to these three groups. He has departed from the Reagan agenda in some respects, but not on policies popular with those three.

The Reagan-Bush opposition to ``taxes'' translates in current politics as meaning slowing down on federal projects aimed at helping the black community - i.e., ``equal opportunity,'' ``affirmative action.'' By implication, Bush will refuse to raise the taxes that could provide the money to revive such programs.

The Reagan administration has also slowed down on enforcement of civil rights programs intended to help blacks. The stress in the Bush campaign on the case of the furloughed Massachusetts black who raped a white woman may imply to some voters that a Bush administration will also be more interested in imprisoning blacks than in worrying about their civil rights.

The Reagan administration is the most pro-Israel since Lyndon Johnson. The three in between - Nixon, Ford, and Carter - all tried to revive the earlier Eisenhower ``evenhanded'' attitude toward the Arab-Israel conflict. Bush's campaign posture is more pro-Israel than that of Michael Dukakis.

The Bush ratings in the opinion polls began to rise shortly after the Republican convention. This followed the Democratic convention where the main drama lay in the contest over Jesse Jackson's prominence in the Democratic Party. His black supporters were demanding the vice-presidential nomination for him. Mr. Dukakis denied that prize but tried to keep him a happy member of the Democratic family by giving him plenty of time for his speech, his appearances, and his family.

The prominence of the Rev. Mr. Jackson in that drama did not appeal to ``Reagan Democrats.'' They have not since been rushing to rejoin the party of their earlier allegiance. The Bush campaign is shaped to keep them voting Republican.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt's political genius lay in wooing the blacks without losing Southern whites and Northern blue-collar workers. Harry Truman brought the Jews over to the Democratic Party by his insistence on opening Palestine to 100,000 Jewish refugees from Europe. It forced the British to abandon their mandate over Palestine and cleared the way for the coming into existence of Israel, which Truman recognized at the moment Israel was declared.

Reagan's political genius lay in breaking up the old Roosevelt-Truman coalition and drawing many Southern whites, Northern white factory workers, and pro-Zionist Jews over to his side.

These three groups are the ``swing'' voters of this generation. They do not fit comfortably in the same political household with the black community. The prominence of the blacks at the Democratic convention gave Bush an opportunity to carry on the Reagan political strategy.

If you watch the Bush speeches and TV commercials with the above in mind, you will see that everything said or done is tailored to appeal to these three categories of voters.