WASHINGTON — RONALD REAGAN spoke of "welfare queens" in the 1980 campaign. In 1988, George Bush's campaign talked of "Willie Horton." Now President Bush condemns Democrats for supporting "quotas." Are Republicans practicing racial politics?
"Since 1968 ... the Republican Party in presidential races has played the race card in a divisive way," says Sen. Bill Bradley (D) of New Jersey.
Political columnist David Broder makes a similar point. Looking at Democratic losses in recent White House elections, he told a political forum last year: "The evidence strongly suggests that race and the inability to build a biracial coalition has ... been a major part of that Democratic problem. It's not the whole answer, but it's certainly an important piece of it."
Peter Brown, a newsman and author of "Minority Party: Why the Democrats Face Defeat in 1992 and Beyond," concludes that the nation's white voters - 85 percent of the electorate - "believe the Democratic Party doesn't care about them any more."
Mr. Brown says that white "swing voters" who decide elections became suspicious of Democrats several years ago on racial issues. Says Brown: "To put it bluntly, these people think Democrats cater to the poor minorities at their expense."
At a meeting to discuss his book, Brown observed that these swing voters are generally "middle-class in their values and their pocketbooks. They live in the suburbs. They are almost all white. They play by the rules. They work hard. They pay their taxes. They try to raise their kids right. [And] a generation ago ... they were almost all Democrats."
Some Democrats disdain these middle-class, working people, particularly the Southerners, as racists. But Brown says the party needs to address their needs, as well as the needs of minorities. He says:
"There's an elitist mind-set among Democrats toward the middle-class. Almost without exception, Democrats refuse to acknowledge these people have legitimate concerns."