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The Race - and Race

THE 1992 New Hampshire primary results may signal a shift in the rhetoric of Democratic presidential politics. The candidates who did best had a pro-business message of economic growth rather than the familiar redistribution and special interest focus. m not Santa Claus," Paul Tsongas's aphorism, is a warning to the left. Capturing the mainstream is the message.

Yet to be answered is how the Democrats will deal with the question of race. There's much more to America than manufacturing: Pluralism and rights are at the country's heart. New Hampshire is 98 percent white; race hasn't been confronted.

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All Americans should closely watch how both parties acquit themselves on this question.

Since Hubert Humphrey, then mayor of Minneapolis, put civil rights in the 1948 Democratic Party platform, minorities have turned mainly to the Democrats.

Messrs. Tsongas and Clinton argue that racial harmony cannot emerge if groups are fighting over a shrinking economic pie. Jobs and wealth reduce friction, they say. While this is true, it isn't enough for these times. Race relations should not be reduced to, nor held captive to, economic conditions.

Both Democrats and Republicans must show they understand the deeper issues of race and racial experience in America. Platforms and position papers aren't enough. Across the globe, racial and ethnic friction is rising. South African president Frederik de Klerk last week put his political life on the line against apartheid revanchism. Czechoslovakia is splitting ethnically.

At home, the NAACP is in disarray. Personal race relations in the US have improved, but politically tension between races is on the rise. David Duke and Al Sharpton are the metaphors.

A Marshall Plan for US inner cities isn't realistic. Nor is a US Secretary of Minorities. But minorities must be included. Blacks are distrustful. "Mainstream" should not be a code word for conformity and exclusion. The right symbolic moves are crucial.

Both whites and blacks need to hear the truth about race. Clinton's recent speech in Atlanta implied that segregation resulted from some outside force, like Washington, keeping the races "divided." That's a slick form of denial. Americans need to take responsibility for ending prejudice, and not just blame circumstances.

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