Compassionate Comparisons

THE Republican Party's image of cold-heartedness and disdain for the poor, especially inner-city Blacks, has always disturbed me. So when I went to the Republican National Convention this August expecting to be turned off (and planning to vote for Gov. Michael Dukakis), I was pleasantly surprised to find that the words "Republican" and "caring" are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

The key to this discovery was listening to a former presidential candidate, ex-Delaware Governor Pierre (Pete) DuPont. Although I am a registered Independent, I volunteered at the New Orleans convention, and there became acquainted with DuPont's positions by reading about him and listening to him speak.

At first, it wasn't easy for me to take DuPont seriously. It didn't seem that a rich heir named Pierre, with tortoise-rim glasses and preppy clothes, would ooze with compassion for the poor. After all, this was a man who, during the Republican primaries, trumpeted a public school voucher system--a way to move the most motivated students to better schools, leaving the more academically needy students behind and spurring a further decline in the quality of inner-city education.

Despite his voucher system and the remainder of his conservative agenda, DuPont made suprising overtures to another former candidate during the convention. He allied himself with Rev. Jesse Jackson. He even proposed that Republican economic policies are better suited to achieving Jackson's economic goals than Democratic policies.

AT a convention youth forum, DuPont suggested that during the campaign Jackson had spoken "eloquently" about the problems of the poor, especially the Black poor. He sent Jackson a telegram, praising him for his message, agreeing that a severe problem exists for this country's poor and suggesting that the subject deserves prompt attention.

Of course, I immediately assumed that DuPont was being the quintessential opportunist. After all, any Republican would love to break the Democratic Party's grip on the poor and Black votes. Why not jump on the Jackson bandwagon and ride for all it's worth?

Yet it was clear that DuPont strongly believed that Republican economic policies promoting economic growth, prosperity and smaller bureaucracy can aid the inner-city poor. Unlike most conservative Republicans, he was willing to acknowledge the urgency of the concerns that form the base of Jackson's platform. If he was not committed to solving these problems, why would he go out on a limb to invite comparisons and cooperation with the most liberal of liberals, while appealing to the most conservative of audiences?

It would have been equally as opportunistic for DuPont to lambast Jackson with the usual rhetoric--calling him a leftist liberal, soft on communism and high on taxes. And he could have called Jackson a proponent of massive government handouts to redistribute the nation's wealth. He would have received quite a bit of applause from his eagerbeaver conservative audience.

But DuPont chose the other route and forced me to realize that the choice between Democrat and Republican does not have to be a choice between economic emancipation and economic slavery. At least some Republicans endorse a pro-business, hands-off economic policy, not because they want to make the rich richer, but because they really believe this policy will achieve a commonly desired end--helping all Americans achieve a decent standard of living.

DuPont was willing to ally himself with Jackson because he wanted to emphasize this common concern. And that step showed that at least some leading Republicans care enough to acknowledge the problems of inner-city poverty and to dedicate themselves to finding workable solutions. This will probably be enough to make me vote for Vice President George Bush.