- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 3, 2001

America's most powerful civics lesson since the civil rights movement of the early 1960s continues now that we're sure who will take the oath of office on Inauguration Day.

The dispute of the last five weeks has driven some pundits and ordinary Americans to express anger or sadness over the heated bickering and maneuvering, and even posturing, of the partisans for the Gore and the Bush tickets.

These folks have decried the lack of "statesmanship" being exhibited, and disparaged the predominance of "politicians" and "lawyers" in the doings.

I find such criticism more than a little strange given that what was at issue was not the presidency of a high school senior class, but who gets to occupy the most powerful political office of the most powerful nation on the planet. I'm not surprised there's a huge amount of bickering and maneuvering because the stakes are huge.

It seems to me these critics got the reality of the past confused with the old Hollywood film versions of the country's origins, in which a group of photogenic white men in wigs, ruffled blouses, knee breeches and buckled shoes sat calmly in a great hall giving wonderful speeches about liberty and democracy while drafting the Constitution with nary a heated word.

In fact, of course, the drafting of America's founding documents was a good deal more complex with plenty of bickering and maneuvering in evidence in their formation of a significantly imperfect democracy. Indeed, I'm appropriately thankful for the extended debate over who gets the presidency because it has kept the importance of voting in the public eye. It has impressed upon many people that every vote does count and that voting is something that ought not be taken for granted.

That sentiment has come through loud and clear in the news reporting on the mood of the country, and it has been confirmed by numerous polls. One survey conducted by ABCNEWS.com the week of Nov. 15 found that two-thirds of those queried said the "post-election" battle for the White House has made them more, not less, likely to vote in the 2004 presidential election. This includes 71 percent of the voting-eligible already registered, and, significantly, 51 percent of those not now registered. Overall, 54 percent say they're much more likely to vote. By contrast, only 16 percent said the controversy has made them less likely to vote four years from now.

That could also mean that the former group of Americans those who say they're more likely to vote next time around are more likely to pay closer attention to the issues and the conduct of office holders in between the elections, too.

Let the new occupant of the White House take note. We at the National Urban League are going to do all we can to be sure the maximum number of African Americans are counted among that group as well; that they understand that voting is just the beginning of political activity, not the end of it.

Certainly, African Americans, like other Americans, have many reasons to participate in the between-the-elections political process. Some time ago I came up with my own list of what whoever holds the White House, and the Congress, must do to keep black America, and America, moving forward toward a economically healthy, more inclusive society. I call them the Ten Opportunity Commandments. They call for using the budget surplus in ways that will bring handsome dividends to America for years to come, no matter who is in office. I can only list them here. But, in fact, their value is self-evident.

First, offer quality preschool education to every child whose parents cannot afford it.

Second, provide affordable health care for the 41 million Americans who are uninsured.

Third, ensure that every public school serving poor children equips them to be achievement-oriented.

Fourth, sharply increase support for proven programs that can get an estimated 15 million high school dropouts on the achieving track.

Fifth, guarantee universal access to higher education.

Sixth, maintain the national economic policies that promote high employment and economic growth in impoverished communities.

Seventh, eliminate the "digital divide" by making the acquisition of computers and the use of the Internet affordable to everyone.

Eighth, staunch the retreat to tokenism and assure the full participation of Americans of color in higher education, employment and business development.

Ninth, erase the ethnic- and color-related home ownership gap by providing 100 percent mortgage guarantees for creditworthy, working-class families of color.

Tenth, equalize access to capital by totally eliminating discriminatory business loan practices.

This is an agenda we can all use to measure the conduct and quality of government while we're looking forward to the next round of elections.

Hugh B. Price is president of the National Urban League.


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