Reagan and black citizens

President Reagan asked for a continuing dialogue. NAACP chairman Margaret Bush Wilson said the dialogue has begun -- "and we shall overcome." This is a "we" that America needs, an alliance between government and the people it represents to achieve the national promise of equal rights and equal opportunity. With sincere follow-through on all sides, such an alliance could develop from this week's presidential appearance before the annual convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Mr. Reagan set himself a worthy challenge when he said that equal treatment of all citizens was no less than "the primary responsibility" of the federal government. He left his administration no excuse for continued failure to pursue this responsibility at least as vigorously as budget-balancing, deregulation, or military buildup.

It is a matter both of principle, as enshrined in the nation's founding documents, and of sheer practicality. America's economy and national security require the full human resources and citizen solidarity fostered by equal treatment in an increasingly diverse society. It is not just what America can do for minorities, it is what minorities can do for America.

When a nation as a whole tries to help the needy in its midst, it is not being "very generous," as Mr. Reagan praised Americans for being; it is simply being responsible, like a family that helps out its members until they get on their feet and are ready to do the same. America should not be seen as a nation of supplicants and benefactors but of people sharing together, contributing together, in what is still a land of plenty.

This is why the President's call for dialogue was the right beginning. It is why there is merit in keeping his side of the dialogue to what he believes whether or not it is what others want to hear. It is why there is great appeal in his argument that the way toward equitable easing of the economic pressures on everybody is through reviving the economy that affects everybody.

Skeptics will no doubt be heard in the dialogue until Mr. Reagan shows on a national scale that his trickle-down methods raise all boats. Meanwhile, by sticking to this week's vows to enforce the law and never retreat on equal treatment, the President can help America not to waste the talents a nd energies of anyone in its glorious spectrum of humanity.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.