Jim Warner has a question for his fellow conservatives: Why do they find it so natural to sound off on something like the Bernhard Goetz shootings and yet so easy to remain silent when news is of Klan activity in Forsyth County, racial violence in Howard Beach or cross-burnings at the Citadel?
Why, in short, do conservatives come off as so indifferent to the interests of blacks, so lukewarm in their opposition to bigotry?
Warner, a senior policy analyst in the White House, suspects that American conservatives have given little thought to such questions. But this twice-wounded veteran of Vietnam, who spent five years as a prisoner of war, has no doubt that they ought to.
"The reason I have considered myself a conservative for 25 years now is that it appeared to me that conservatives are people who believe in universal and objective principles of morality," he said in a recent interview, undertaken when he failed to gain White House clearance for an article he had written on conservatism and bigotry. "Given that things are not particularly well with America throughout the world, the best way to begin to solve these problems is once again to articulate our belief in universal, objective principles. But we can't do that abroad unless we do it first at home."
And doing it at home, he believes, means taking a principled stand against bigotry -- not just in theory but by opposing manifestations of racism wherever they appear.
"The residuum of racism, in my view, is not big, certainly not in comparison to what it has been in our lifetime. Now young people will not understand that, but it is not anything at all like what it once was. But there is a residuum, and it is important that it be put away. Conservatives ought to be taking the lead in putting it away.
"We ought to ask ourselves: Is there a holdover of racism in the U.S.? And if there is, does it do injustice to people? Manifestly there is, and manifestly it does."
Warner, 46, who grew up in Ypsilanti, Mich., in a housing project built for Henry Ford's bomber plant and subsequently integrated by President Truman, said his conservative neighbors used to resent southerners for their bigotry. But today's conservatives have embraced the southerners without rejecting their bigotry. And one result is a growing repolarization.
"We didn't say to the racists who had embraced conservatism that there is a very clear distinction between conservative principles and racism. If we had done that -- if any reasonable effort were made to do it now -- I believe a goodly number of blacks would come into the conservative ranks and into the Republican Party, and this would go a long way toward averting that repolarization."
So why is that reasonable effort not being made?
"I've asked myself that many times. I don't have an answer, except that most conservatives spend very little time thinking about race. And when they think about it, they think in terms of some imagined homogeneity of political opinion among blacks. Most don't know enough blacks or other minorities to know any better.
"Unlike many of my fellow conservatives, I've had the opportunity to make an actual physical contribution to our shared goal of freedom around the world. And I was joined in that endeavor by a goodly number of blacks. It would have been easy enough for them to have crossed the border into Canada. They didn't. That shows me something right there.
"I say to my fellow conservatives: If you weren't with us physically in Vietnam, you can do your part now by going out there, pointing out to blacks why they should join you in supporting conservative principles. If you don't succeed the first time, go back, examine your words, and try again."
Warner also believes that conservatives ought to be in the forefront of helping young inner-city blacks toward the American mainstream, helping them to understand, for example, that there is nothing "white" about academic exertion.
Most of all he believes that conservatives need to learn that conservatism will never become a successful popular movement as long as it is perceived as being against the interests of blacks