A Candidate's Duty

Relations between black Americans and white Americans have preoccupied this country through much of its history. From abolitionism to the civil rights movement to today's debate on affirmative action, government has been inevitably drawn into the process of more clearly defining "liberty and justice for all."

That task has progressed, but it is far from over, as a look at black unemployment, dropout, and incarceration rates indicates. The conditions of life for low-income black citizens, and the continuing disintegration of the urban communities where many blacks live, should interest any serious contender for high office in the United States. This is a crucial part of the country's unfinished business.

That's why we regretted candidate Bob Dole's recent decision not to address the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Mr. Dole was right - it would have been a chilly crowd and NAACP leader Kweisi Mfume is a committed liberal Democrat. But it was an opportunity, nonetheless, to put on record the Republican response, and perhaps Bob Dole's personal response, to the needs of black Americans.

On Wednesday, Dole unveiled an education package including $2.5 billion in scholarships for low-income students to attend private schools. If the GOP has a remedy for joblessness in cities (enterprise zones? tax incentives?), spell it out. And candidates from the party of Lincoln should address crime and welfare reform in a way that speaks also to those in the neighborhoods most deeply affected.

Dole pleads a strong record on civil rights in the Senate and says he will choose another forum for speaking with black Americans. He must follow through. Republicans can't afford to simply concede the black vote to the Democrats. Understanding across racial lines remains an American necessity. Would-be presidents have a duty to show they can promote it.

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