President Reagan phoned U.S. Civil Rights Commission Chairman Clarence M. Pendleton yesterday and, according to Pendleton, told him: "I don't disagree with anything you're doing; I don't disagree with anything you're saying."
Pendleton last week said some civil rights leaders are engaged in "new racism" by asking that blacks and women be given preferential treatment in the form of quotas, affirmative action and business set-asides. Some black leaders responded by branding Pendleton a Reagan "lackey," a "bigot" and a "Step'nfetchit."
Pendleton said Reagan began yesterday's five-minute telephone conversation by telling him that he reads the "comic pages first" but had noticed a Washington Post article reporting White House concern that Pendleton's remarks may have begun to hurt Reagan politically. Pendleton was quoted as saying that he plans to cool his rhetoric.
Pendleton said Reagan told him to "keep going until we get to the rank-and-file black" with questions about the value of quotas and affirmative action as well as about the priorities of civil rights leaders who, the president feels, wrongly equate government spending on poverty and other social programs with the administration's commitment to civil rights.
"The phone call shows he cares and he is not leaving me out here by myself," Pendleton said. "I'm most appreciative for that. People who say he doesn't care about civil rights should take a lesson from this. He cares."
The White House did not release information about the call. White House spokesman Larry Speakes was not aware until yesterday afternoon that the morning call had been made, because Reagan personally phoned Pendleton and did not inform his aides.