Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) Wednesday branded President Bush "a racist" who has "polarized the races in this country."
Waters said she has pledged to support Bill Clinton's presidential campaign partly because the soon-to-be-Democratic nominee "is much better on the race question" than Bush.
In the past--particularly after the Los Angeles riots--the congresswoman has suggested that Bush has used race to advance his policies. But staffers said Wednesday that her caustic comments were the most explicit and public expression of her personal attitudes toward the President.
Waters' statements came at a question-and-answer session at the National Press Club, part of a two-hour panel discussion about black attitudes on politics and social issues. She spoke after a fellow panelist, Emanuel Cleaver, the Democratic mayor of Kansas City, responded to a questioner who praised Bush for signing a national civil rights bill and pointed out that Clinton's home state has no civil rights law. Arkansas and Alabama are the only states without one.
Cleaver replied that Bush did not agree to support the civil rights bill until "he was bludgeoned by members of his own party to do so. . . . And as far as I'm concerned, you know, with all of his warts, Bill Clinton is far above George Bush on matters of civil rights."
Waters then took the microphone. "I would like to concur with that and say . . . very clearly that I believe George Bush is a racist," she said, drawing wide-eyed stares. "I believe he's a racist for many, many reasons."
Waters said she thinks Bush "is a mean-spirited man who has no care or concern about what happens to the African-American community in this country. I truly believe that."
Although Clinton is far from perfect on racial matters, she said, "George Bush and Bill Clinton are decidedly different. I sincerely believe that Bill Clinton really did attempt to get a civil rights bill passed in his state and could not get past his Legislature."
Waters said black voters would have little trouble picking a President if given a choice between Bush and Clinton.
"I think that Bill Clinton is much better on the race question than George Bush. Not good enough, but most whites in America are not good enough on the race question, and we all understand that. I just think that George Bush is worse than most."