Sen. Gary Hart (D-Colo.), saying that "the world has changed dramatically since Martin Luther King," called yesterday for Democrats to move beyond civil rights and the social programs of the New Deal and to launch a "new crusade" for economic opportunity aimed at ambitious young blacks.
"To advance the victories of the '60s and '70s, black America must have genuine equality of economic opportunity," Hart said during commencement ceremonies at Talladega College, a small predominantly black school in the east Alabama mountains.
"As black America acquires additional skills, creates jobs and generates growth, we will find new strength in our society and a new voice in our economy," said Hart, who ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic presidential nomination last year and is considered a likely contender in 1988.
Yesterday's speech was the third of a string of speeches that Hart has said he intends to make outlining his views and stimulating debate on the direction the party should take after its devastating defeat in last year's presidential election.
Although he generally is considered a liberal, Hart drew little support in the 1984 primaries from black voters or from the South, where many white voters are dissatisfied with the Democratic Party partly because of its historic connection with civil rights.
Hart's appeal to the younger blacks, also coveted by some Republican strategists, strongly endorsed most of the social and civil rights efforts that have been the mainstays -- and, some have argued, political barnacles -- of the Democratic Party.
Nearly two of every three whites who voted in last year's presidential election rejected the Democrats. "Some in my party have concluded that the solution is to distance ourselves from black America and to retreat from our historic commitment to social justice," Hart's prepared text said.
"But their calculation is not only politically unacceptable, it is morally intolerable," he said. "Far better to lose a few votes for our principles than to lose our principles for a few votes."
Hart said the party should retain support for such programs as Aid to Families with Dependent Children, food stamps, school lunches and Head Start.
He also said the federal government should support affirmative action and invest in education and in job training and retraining.
"Racism and discrimination have not vanished into history," Hart said, adding that "contrary to the fashionable political rhetoric, prosperity does not always trickle down."
The major theme of Hart's speech, however, was sounded for young, black, upwardly mobile professionals, the black counterparts of the "Yuppies" who were central to Hart's presidential campaign.
In an interview before leaving for Alabama, Hart said, "They young blacks want a party that comes along and says we are a party that helps you own and operate your own business. Able-bodied people, regardless of race . . . want either jobs or they they want to go up the ladder . . . to work for themselves or to make it big in this country.
"It's not enough to promise jobs, particularly to young people. They are now asking, 'Why can't I be on my own? Why can't I do what others, particularly young whites, have done?' "