- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 19, 2000

Given the role minority voters will play in Democratic primaries down the road, it should not be surprising that former Sen. Bill Bradley and Vice President Al Gore have been playing their own versions of the race card to increase their appeal. Having two Democrats tangle on this issue, which is usually deployed against Republicans, has been an interesting spectacle. Not that Republicans have been safe from ongoing mud slinging by any means.

First, of course, there was the recent outburst that Mr. Gore's black campaign manager, Donna Brazile, leveled at two prominent black Republicans, retired Army Gen. Colin Powell and Rep. J.C. Watts, who, Miss Brazile charged, were mere tokens being used by Republicans because "they'd rather take pictures with black children than feed them." Firing Miss Brazile for her insolence was simply out of the question. Indeed, she never even visited the woodshed, such has the Democratic Party evolved.

For his part, Mr. Bradley, who claims that racial reconciliation forms the foundation of his quest for the presidency, demonstrated bad judgment last fall by visiting the National Action Network headquarters of The Rev. Al Sharpton, who has made a career of exploiting racial wrongdoing, real and imagined, to divide the races rather than to unite them. In other words, he stands against everything Mr. Bradley claims to stand for. Among other things, Mr. Sharpton promoted the Tawana Brawley hoax and fanned the racial flames that led to the firebombing of a Jewish-owned Harlem clothing store, where several people were killed. This was the man, Mr. Bradley said at Monday's Democratic debate, that has "got to be given respect."

With polls showing black voters favoring Mr. Gore over Mr. Bradley by a two-to-one margin, Mr. Bradley last week launched an attack on Mr. Gore. He reminded the Boston Herald that it was Mr. Gore in 1988 who "introduced" Willie Horton "into the lexicon," a fact that "bothers me a great deal." Horton, a black man, was an Massachusetts murderer sentenced to life in prison without parole. Under a nutty policy strongly defended by then-Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, Horton received weekend furloughs. During one of those excursions, he traveled to Maryland, kidnapped a couple and brutally raped the woman. During a debate before the 1988 New York primary, Mr. Gore strongly criticized Mr. Dukakis' furlough program and privately told inquiring reporters that they should look into the Horton case, which had already become an explosive issue throughout Massachusetts.

The real issue, of course, was not Horton's race. It was the incomprehensible furloughs granted to convicted murderers who should never be eligible for parole. Evidently, Mr. Bradley still fails to comprehend this fact. As for Mr. Gore, today he is so afraid of being labeled a racist that he denies any connection to the Horton controversy.

During Monday's debate, the candidates tried to outdo each other when it came to the embrace of affirmative action quotas and denunciation of the South Carolina state flag. Mr. Bradley also condemned Atlanta Braves' pitcher John Rocker for his boorish remarks about foreigners in Times Square and other minorities one might encounter on New York City's No. 7 subway line. "Certainly a suspension is in order," said Mr. Bradley. Mr. Gore called Mr. Rocker's comments reprehensible and disgusting.

It's worth recalling that somebody else famous once offered his views about New York's melting pot. In 1984, The Rev. Jesse Jackson, referring to New York's Jewish population while pursuing the Democratic presidential nomination, complained about "Hymietown" and "Hymies." He repeatedly denied he used the terms, and when he finally admitted the truth, he offered the assurance that his comments were not made "in the spirit of meanness."

As they play the race card, Messrs. Bradley and Gore treat Mr. Jackson and Mr. Sharpton with a deference that would be far better reserved for, say, Mr. Powell and Mr. Watts. Given their desperate search for votes, however, one probably shouldn't expect rational discourse, much less deference, from either candidate anytime soon.

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