Former vice president Walter F. Mondale attacked President Reagan's civil rights record today, charging that the administration has been "radical in attacking the great progress of social justice" in America.
Mondale also rebutted President Reagan's statement in a news conference last night that the civil rights movement is playing "politics" by trying to portray him as a racist and challenged the movement to provide any examples of racism on his part.
"I would like to have any one of them point to a single instance with regard to me that supports their idea that in any way I am racially prejudiced or am not in full accord with providing civil rights for all our citizens," Reagan said.
Mondale, here to address the 73rd annual convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said, "The president's comment seemed to imply that civil rights leaders have been questioning his personal commitment against bigotry. I have never heard any civil rights leader make such a suggestion. But we don't elect a president for his personal views. We elect him for his public policies."
Those policies have been the target of considerable criticism at the NAACP meeting this week as delegates and leadership have vowed to work to defeat Republicans in 1982 and 1984.
Benjamin L. Hooks, executive director of the NAACP, reacting to Reagan's remarks, said, "I have never personally accused Mr. Reagan of racial prejudice, I've never called him a racist. . . . I certainly don't think he's a racist.
"But . . . I do not retreat from my position and that of the NAACP that his administration has been rolling back the clock on many things . . . that have advanced the cause of blacks in this nation."
Mondale, noting that Reagan opposed both the 1964 Civil Rights Act and more recent fair housing legislation, said, "The Voting Rights Act he signed only reluctantly after weeks of trying to weaken it, only when Congress entered into it and made its adoption inevitable."
Referring to the administration's decision to prevent the Internal Revenue Service from withholding tax exemptions from segregated schools, Mondale said, "This is the first administration in 15 years to use tax money for segregated academies. It is that policy of negativism and opposition toward constitutional rights . . . that is at issue."
Mondale told reporters that he is "obviously thinking about running" for president. He was the second likely Democratic candidate to appear before the NAACP this week. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) spoke here on Monday.
Republicans, whose policies have been under sharp attack here, have not been so visible. Not a single high level administration official has addressed the convention. Vice President George Bush refused an invitation, saying he planned to be in Africa. In fact, Bush was in Boston today, but with no apparent plans to visit the convention.
Mondale and Kennedy have both been received enthusiastically by the delegates who represent the NAACP's 450,000 members nationwide.
Mondale was applauded when he said he was "offended by the retreat on civil rights and human rights by this administration. . . , " and added, "If that . . . stealth plane is as invisible as what they've done for blacks and minorities in this country, the Russians are done for."