AUSTIN, TEXAS, AND WASHINGTON — FOR months, President Clinton has been calling on Americans to find common ground in a nation increasingly polarized along class and political lines.
Yesterday, the president's theme centered on racial harmony in a widely anticipated speech at the University of Texas in Austin.
As hundreds of thousands of black men jammed the Mall in Washington, Mr. Clinton urged Americans to work for racial tolerance and personal responsibility, and to reject tactics that breed hatred and distrust.
"Let us pray today that all who speak will stand for atonement, for reconciliation, for responsbility," Clinton said.
Clinton did not mention the march organizer, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan by name, but he alluded to him: "One million men do not make right one man's message of malice and division." In a recent television interview, Mr. Farrakhan referred to Jews and other racial groups who do business in black neighborhoods as "bloodsuckers."
Clinton and Republican leaders have come under some criticism in recent days for not addressing forcefully the racially charged atmosphere that has developed over both the Million Man March and over the O.J. Simpson verdict.
Until yesterday, Gen. Colin Powell, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and possible presidential contender, had also remained quiet. But in a CBS-TV interview, the popular African-American said he would not attend the march because he does not support Farrakhan. Racism is racism, no matter where it comes from, he said. "Whether it comes from Mark Fuhrman or Minister Farrakhan, it is the same thing," he said.
Though the theme of Clinton's speech was race relations, it is the race for the White House that brought the president to Texas for the first time since he took office in 1993. Paul Begala, a former campaign adviser to Clinton who is now an Austin-based political consultant, says Texas will be a tough but not impossible state for Clinton to win in 1996.
CLINTON won just 37.1 percent of the Texas vote in 1992's three-way race. In 1994, Democrats lost both the governor's mansion and a Senate seat despite a strategy of distancing themselves from the president.
But Texas still provides plenty of cash, if not voters, for Democrats. Clinton's two-day visit includes $1,000-a-plate dinners in Houston and Dallas. And with a three-way race again a possibility, the president disbelieves GOP claims on Texas, says Garry Mauro, a Democrat who is Texas Land Commissioner.