Some black leaders have misled the black rank and file about the administration's record in order to protect "some rather good positions that they have," President Reagan said in an interview Thursday.
Reagan told USA Today that, if black voters knew the truth about his accomplishments on their behalf, 90 percent of them would not have voted against him in November.
"If they ever become aware of the opportunities that are improving, they might wonder whether they need some of those black organizations," Reagan said. The interview was published yesterday.
Black leaders responded angrily, citing ways in which the fortunes of blacks and the poor have declined.
"Having just called for a new dialogue with the president, we find his remarks insensitive and insulting," Urban League President John E. Jacob said. "They reflect a shocking ignorance of the importance of the black community's institutions and will further deepen the alarming polarization in our nation."
Jesse L. Jackson, a Democratic presidential candidate last year, said of Reagan's remarks that he "has once again displayed his callous neglect, disregard and distance from the reality of life for America's minority communities . . . . One cannot help but wonder whether Ronald Reagan lives in the same world as the rest of us."
The remarks came amid indications that Reagan might reach out more often to blacks during his second term. White House spokesman Larry Speakes said recently that Reagan plans to try meeting with them more often. One such meeting was held last week.
Discussing his relations with black leaders, Reagan said in the interview that he tried at the outset of his presidency to meet with them and try to improve communications.
"I found out, very frankly, that they are so committed politically to the opposite party that they don't want to hear . . . maybe some of those leaders are protecting some rather good positions that they have, and they can protect them better if they can keep their constituency aggrieved and believing that they have a legitimate complaint," Reagan said.
Reagan rejected suggestions that he is insensitive or that "somehow we've relegated the black community to a second-class status . . . . That's not our intent, and that's not our practice."
The president cited as administration accomplishments enterprise-zone initiatives, which he said would benefit blacks more than others; reduction of inflation, which aids low-income wage earners, and efforts to ensure that minority enterprises get a "fair crack" at government contracts.
The black leaders countered with complaints about poverty levels, unemployment, failure to support the voting rights act, politicization of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and administration opposition to affirmative action.
Reagan has blamed his poor standing among blacks on his administration's failure to articulate its achievements and on black leaders' hostility.
Last November, rights commission Chairman Clarence M. Pendleton Jr. accused Jackson and other black leaders of leading black Americans into a "political Jonestown" by insisting on ill-fated opposition to Republican candidates while the leaders "made lots of money, gained social acceptance and attracted broad-based media attention."
A month earlier, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Chairman Clarence Thomas said black leaders "bitch, bitch, bitch" but refuse to work with the administration to solve black Americans' problems.
On another topic, Reagan expressed frustration at widespread suggestions that he is a puppet manipulated by wife and aides. "I'm too old and stubborn to put up with that . . . . I make up my own mind . . . . I listen for counsel and advice . . . . But I haven't changed my views since I've been here."
He also stated for the first time that huge federal deficits amount to an immutable fact of life. Acknowledging that his presidency will have seen the largest deficits in history, he said he almost graphhas to be resigned to it.