On common ground
As President-elect Reagan meets with several black political leaders this week we would be remiss not to take note of recent statements by Mr. Reagan and civil rights leader Vernon Jordan that should help to ward off any sense of growing polarization between blacks (who as a group voted overwhelmingly for President Carter) and the new administration.
Mr. Reagan says, "There can be no place in American life for hatred by one kind of American against another." Mr. Jordan says, "I do not think that we can prejudge the President-elect based on what he has said in his campaign."
Within the black community in recent weeks there has been growing disquiet about the Reagan victory, expressed in concerns that civil rights gains of recent years might be whittled away by a conservative Congress and a conservative president. Efforts to curb busing, backed by Mr. Reagan, are seen as merely the opening round in this possible salvo.
More than that, there is concern about a rising tide of violence and personal attack against blacks -- from cross burnings and Ku Klux Klan rallies to killings in a number of cities.
Add the terrible murders and disappearances of young children in Atlanta, which many blacks believe may be racially related, and one can grasp a sense of the unease gripping the nation's inner cities.
There is a need for an easing of fears -- amounting in some cases to a kind of hysteria --as California governor, was never considered a racist. Still, the Reagan team needs to make a larger effort to directly communicate with the black community at the outset of the federal changeover. Mr. Reagan's planned meeting this week with several black leaders is a step in the right direction.
The new administration is certainly not beholden to blacks in any politicalm sense. Less than 15 percent of all black Americans after all, voted for the President-elect. But what is true of political obligations does not apply to legitimate presidentialm obligations. The office of presidency, as the oath of office itself reaffirms, exists to uphold the laws and Constitution of the US. That means protecting and serving the best interests of all the people, not just those in a winning political constituency.
Such a sense of outreach (on both sides) does not mean, however, that blacks or the Reagan team should refrain from publicly differing on genuine policy issues such as busing. Nor should such discussion be necessarily misinterpreted as racist. It is more honest to air differences in full public hearing than to let them smolder in the background and contribute to the rumor mill.
President Carter, to his credit, appointed numerous blacks to a wide variety of federal posts. We would hope that Mr. Reagan will not be tempted to overlook blacks just because they were largely absent from his voter rosters.
What an opportunity Mr. Reagan has, in fact, to exercise the kind of leadership to warrant support by blacks as well as other Americans -- and incidentlly, bring future black voting gains for the GOP.
Finally, Americans must not be made to forget than in their very diversity is found their greatest strength. Racism and acts of violence must not be tolerated. Nor should prejudgment based on stereotype, whether prejudgment of an entire group -- or of a President-elect.
It is a time for all Americans to come together.