As Democratic presidential candidate Bill Bradley spoke to the Congress of National Black Churches in Los Angeles yesterday, a voice in his audience called out, "Preach!" And preach he did.
About 150 clergy members were gathered in a Biltmore Hotel ballroom to hear Bradley talk about poverty and race, and judging by their reaction during and after his remarks, he did not disappoint.
Peering professorially over black reading glasses, and with only a semblance of a prepared text, Bradley spent 40 minutes giving the group a wide-ranging review of the important racial lessons he said he had learned growing up, and then linked them to what his general priorities as president would be.
He told them how first as a Little Leaguer on a team that at times was turned away from hotels and restaurants on the road because it was integrated, and later as a white player in the mostly black National Basketball Association, he saw racial discrimination up close and often.
"I want you to know that I know what I see you still feel every day," Bradley told the congress, which represents 65,000 black churches nationwide. "And I want you to know that I know when you see these things it must kill something inside of you, too. . . . It must end."
He said as president he would fight the more subtle but still pernicious forms of racism that betray the ideals of the nation even today--from banks that reject mortgage applications of African Americans for no good reason, to the growing divide between whites and minorities in access to the Internet. Quoting the black novelist Toni Morrison, he said he wants America to be a society in which "race exists, but doesn't matter." And he said he has "always supported affirmative action, and always will."
Bradley has used other forums in recent months to detail his plans on poverty, such as raising the minimum wage and expanding Head Start, but yesterday he kept his message, or sermon, quite broad. He said he simply wanted the church leaders to get to know his roots and convictions, and understand that one of his highest goals as president would be to "move our collective humanity a few feet forward."
'Forbes: Live in Austin' May Be Sleeper Hit
In the first GOP presidential debate last week, Texas Gov. George W. Bush gave an indication of the kind of opposition research his campaign has done on Steve Forbes, the man Bush advisers have long assumed would go negative against their candidate.
Pressed about raising the Social Security retirement age, Bush was able to cite a 1977 column Forbes wrote advocating the same thing.
There may be more. Bush adviser Karl Rove has bragged to supporters that the campaign has Forbes praising Bush's fiscal record in Texas and is prepared to use Forbes's testimonial to counter any TV ads attacking Bush on his tax record.
At last report, Bush advisers were scouring their files for a tape recording of a May 1997 visit Forbes made to Texas, where he spoke to a group of Bush contributors. The visit came in the heat of Bush's losing effort to change the tax system in Texas, a battle the Forbes campaign has targeted for criticism.
Short of getting audio of Forbes, Bush advisers say they have some of the attendees willing to vouch for what was said at the meeting.
Staff writer Dan Balz contributed to this report.