You did it again the other day. You were meeting in the Roosevelt Room with local TV anchormen when you were asked about your relationship with the black leadership. One of the journalists asked you to respond to the "apparent perception among a number of black leaders that the White House continues to be, if not hostile, at least not welcome to black viewpoints, and that administration policies are working to widen the income gap between blacks and whites."
Your response was to recall that, in your days as a radio sports announcer, you had editorialized against the exclusion of blacks from major league baseball. This is not the first time you have offered your baseball-integration editorials as evidence your presidential policies should not be viewed as harmful to blacks. In fact, the repetitions come across primarily as evidence that you have missed the point of the questions.
You also told the TV people that you suspect some of the frustrated black leaders may be "more interested in maintaining a kind of difference and a spite because that's their position and their line of work."
If I may say so, Mr. President, I think your answers would be more cogent-- though not necessarily more satisfying--if you understood what lies behind the questions. It isn't the perception of your personal attitudes but the measurable effect of your policies.
Rep. Bill Gray (D-Pa.), for one example, has spent a couple of weeks analyzing the impact of your budget proposals on blacks. His figures may help you to see the nature of black concern:
AFDC: You propose a 10 percent cut-- a reduction of some $722 million--in the AFDC program. Of the program's 10.8 million participants, 44 percent are black.
Housing: You would eliminate $11.4 billion for new construction, rehabilitation and subsidies for low-income housing next year. Fifteen percent of Section 8-assisted housing and 60 percent of the public housing units are occupied by blacks.
The housing vouchers, which you would like to substitute for Section 8 subsidies, would count food stamps as income in determining subsidies, so the poorest who get the most help from food stamps would get the least help in paying their rent.
Food Stamps: You propose a cut of $757 million (from the present level of $12 billion). Result: a loss of some $230 per poverty-level family per year.
W.I.C.: You would freeze this program, which provides supplemental nutrition for women, infants and children. Because of inflation, the effect of a freeze would actually be a cut in the $1 billion program. More than half those helped by W.I.C. are minorities.
Child Nutrition: You want to combine child-care meal, school breakfast and summer feeding programs into a block grant cut by $200 million. (When combined with earlier cuts of $480 million, this represents a 30 percent cut overall.)
Higher Education: You would abolish Pell grants, Supplemental Educational opportunity grants, state student incentive grants and the National Direct Student Loan Program. Instead, you propose a "self- help" grant program, with a $3,000-per-year ceiling, which would require students to provide at least 40 percent of their own educational costs. Such a shift would hit especially hard at black youths.
You have proposed to add nearly $1 million to the $17.25 million program to aid disadvantaged individuals. But aid to health-profession programs at three black colleges-- Meharry, Tuskeegee and Xavier--would be reduced by $1.7 milion--a 23 percent cut. Meharry's medical school alone has graduated some 40 percent of all black doctors practicing today.
In addition, you would reduce outlays for Medicaid/Medicare and legal services, cut minority business loans by 80 percent, reduce low-income energy assistance by a third, abolish the Economic Development Administration, which last year spent nearly $200 million in areas of poverty and high unemployment, and increase social services spending by 2 percent--an actual reduction in light of inflation.
Gray's analysis might not lead you to change your policies. But it might help you to understand why black folk perceive them as hostile.