"It's time we stopped bellyaching," I said to the cabbie, who was bellyaching again about racism. "We've got to do what other groups have done in this country."

"I suppose you're going to give me that song and dance about how the Irish and the Italians and the Jews lifted themselves up by their bootstraps into the mainstream . . . "

I cautioned him to watch his metaphors, but agreed that he had correctly guessed the subject of my little homily. "For instance," I told him, "just look at Congress or the administration or the White House staff. The people you see there represent all sorts of ethnic backgrounds. That's the American way. And yet, here we are, wasting time and energy and political capital over the question of running a black candidate in a hopeless presidential campaign instead of gearing up to back a mainstream candidate."

"In other words," the cabbie said, "Jesse Jackson shouldn't run for president."

"Well, I didn't intend to get quite that specific, but, yes. Jesse is an interesting man, smart, articulate, a gifted speaker. But blacks are only about 12 percent of the population, and less than that of the registered voters. Therefore, he couldn't hope to win."

"And an Irishman shouldn't run for president because the Irish are a minority in America and he couldn't hope to win?"

"I didn't say that," I told him. "I'm saying that an Irish politician who ran as an Irish politician would be destined to lose. The smart ones, the successful ones, run as Americans. Jesse Jackson is running as a black."

"So maybe he should run as an Italian?" the cabbie said.

"What I'm trying to tell you," I said, "is that it is politically foolish--and philosophically indefensible--to run a campaign based on race. You cn see what it almost did to Harold Washington in Chicago."

"I thought Harold Washington ran as a Democrat," the cabbie said. "Seems to me that it was the white people in Chicago who made it a race thing."

"But what choice did they have?" I asked. "With all those black people voting for the black candidate, they naturally had to vote for the white one."

"In other words," the cabbie said, "if a black candidate wants to win, he should ignore the black voters? I thought you said we should do what other groups have done. It seems to me that a lot of Irish politicians came to power by operating from an Irish base. If I remember my history, the Irish took over city hall and even the police force in a lot of cities. Now they're in the mainstream. So I guess what you're saying is that black people should operate from a black base and try to take over city hall and the police force . . ."

"Are you crazy?" I shouted. "That sort of thinking is just what I'm talk- ing about. It's not only immoral, but it frightens white people to death. The ethnics got where they are by practicing mainstream politics. I wish black people could learn that simple lesson."

"Let me get this straight," the cabbie said. "The only way black folks will ever get anywhere is to do what other ethnics have done: stick together, develop their political strength, and help each other into the mainstream. That it?"

"Marvelous," I said. "You've finally got it right."

"But when we do, white people say we're behaving like racists, and they vote against us. They say that if we vote black, they have the right to vote white. How do we get out of that box?"

I was just about to explain it to him when we arrived at my office.