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Clinton's Race Initiative Takes Shape

race relations

WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, June 13) -- President Bill Clinton has huddled up with speechwriters throughout the day as he prepares for a major address on the nation's race relations in San Diego tomorrow.

"I think he thinks it's important to try" to build a consensus on racial and cultural relations, said White House spokesman Mike McCurry. "We undertake this initiative knowing that at the end of the day it may not work and we might not be able to change attitudes about race in America. That doesn't make it any less important to make the effort."

Clinton met with members of his new race-relations advisory board this afternoon in the Oval Office, and they will accompany him on Air Force One out to California for tomorrow's speech at the University of California at San Diego. The panel, whose members were named Thursday, is led by historian John Hope Franklin.

McCurry promised that the race initiative would amount to more than words. "There will be things small and things consequential, large and policy-driven, that will be reflected in this initiative," he said. McCurry singled out economic and housing opportunities, crime, health care and the administration of justice as pieces of Clinton's plan.


The White House plans to pursue the initiative for a year, including town hall discussions and monthly events.

House Speaker Newt Gingrich today questioned the panel's goals and warned, "Unless the commission has a dramatically different agenda and a dramatically different approach than the same tired, old, big-government liberalism, it'll be like the commissions we've had for 30 years."

"My fear is the composition of this commission, which is very, very traditional in its assumptions about government in America and the direction of the president's efforts to maintain quotas and set-asides while claiming he's against them, that that in fact will divert us and make it harder to solve problems," Gingrich said.

McCurry dismissed Gingrich's concerns, calling the advisory panel "splendid thinkers." But, he added, "By no means are these the only people the president is going to listen to." McCurry said the administration has just this week consulted 400 people representing a wide variety of viewpoints.

On affirmative action, McCurry said the president has bedrock principles based on his own experiences growing up in the segregated South, and on his experience as governor of Arkansas. McCurry says Clinton believes there continues to be ample evidence of discrimination and prejudice that hinders the advancement of minorities.

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