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Silence on Riots


IT is almost a week now since the President's Commission on Civil Disorders made public its report on the riots of last summer. And still there is no comment from the White House. "It's a very large report," as the Commission's vice-chairman. Mayor Lindsay, noted, "and needs lots of review. The President had little time to read it before it was published." But apparently he had read enough. The commission asserted that "our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white--separate and unequal." In what may be the Administration's opening salvo at the report, Vice-President Humphrey said Tuesday that this conclusion "is open to challenge." The Administration is peeved that the Commission in its effort to determine the causes and cures for riots, did not see fit to praise past achievements of the Great Society.

Apart from some impressive detective work on the riots, there is little new or exciting in the report. The ideas are hardly original. But what is remarkable is the tone taken by the commission, whose membership includes a Southern police chief, two representatives, two senators, an industrialist, a labor leader, a Republican mayor, and, as chairman, a Midwest governor.

The eleven-man Commission amazed even black militants with its unflinching condemnation of "white racism." The message was very clear: "To continue our present course will . . . ultimately involve the destruction of basic democratic values."

There is no denying that what is needed will be immensely costly, though the commission did not attempt to set a price tag on its suggestions. It is hard to see where the money will come from. The powerful chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Wilbur Mills, who has until now resisted Presidential pressure for a surcharge to finance the Vietnam war, warned recently that "substantial acceleration [of the war] could force Congress to raise taxes" but only if the government cuts spending elsewhere. And that will of course rule out major new programs for the country's domestic ills.

The report is proving dramatically to the nation what President Johnson has sought to play down. The country cannot afford both the war in Vietnam and a war on poverty. When the President appointed the commission (and called for a day of prayer) in the heat of the Newark riots it looked like a cheap way out. The Commission has shown that there is no cheap way out. Should the President shelve this report, having aroused and once more frustrated hopes, the country may well have to pay far more.

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