Dropping the emotional attacks on President Clinton that have characterized his campaign speeches in past days, Dole spoke in measured tones and carefully selected words to avoid making his stance an appeal to white backlash.
``Feelings on this issue run high,'' he said. ``It is easy for demagogues of either side to play on fear and resentment. . . . Even as we reject preferences, we must also reject prejudice. Even as we oppose quotas, we must also oppose scapegoating and stereotyping.''
He strongly endorsed Proposition 209, the California Civil Rights Initiative, which would prohibit the state government from using quotas and preferences based on race, sex or ethnicity in schools, hiring or contracts. It was Dole's most detailed explanation of his opposition to affirmative action since he abandoned his long support a year ago.
Opponents of the California proposition, he said, ``falsely charge that it is merely a response to the anger of white males. But we have seen in case after case that quotas and preferences have also hurt women and Asian Americans.''
Dole said some Asian American students had been denied admission to state schools here because quotas determined that there already were enough Asian Americans.
``School applications have been denied for the single reason that there is an Asian name signed at the bottom,'' he said. ``The loaded gun of discrimination has been used again on minorities.''
Dole said that California had 150 ethnic groups and that state affirmative action policies necessarily forced the government to favor one over another.
``Why should a poor immigrant from Eastern Europe be treated differently than a poor immigrant from Latin America or from Asia or the Caribbean or Africa?'' he asked.
`` . . . Preferences have become a source of polarization, pitting one group against another group. They have given government sanction to racial tension, creating distinctions that become barriers that become battlegrounds.''
Dole noted with pride that he voted for the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 and promised to make enforcement of civil rights laws a top priority if elected president.
Referring to an inner-city neighborhood near the U.S. Capitol, Dole said he had often seen unemployed black men lingering on corners. Affirmative action has done ``absolutely nothing'' to help them, he said.
``Such preferences are increasingly irrelevant to the problems faced by many minorities: poor schools, violent crime, disappearing families,'' he said.
Dole offered his own prescription to help minorities and the poor to improve their lives.
He would give people the choice of attending private schools with government-financed ``opportunity scholarships,'' adding that Clinton's opposition ``would sentence thousands of poor and minority children to failed and dangerous schools.''
He reiterated his call to get tougher on crime, and he pointed to his call for a broad tax cut to boost economic growth.
With Californians favoring Proposition 209 by a ratio of 5-3, Dole predicted that it would be enacted and that it would set a trend for the rest of the country.
Hoping to link his own candidacy to the initiative, he said Californians needed to make two votes to end affirmative action: one for Proposition 209, and one for ``an American president who will not undermine it.''
Also yesterday, former Dole media adviser Don Sipple told Newsweek that Dole had run an ineffective campaign and, though ``noble,'' would not make a good president. Dole communications director John Buckley dismissed Sipple's criticism as ``contemptible.''
And Dole, in a CNN interview, said of his election prospects that ``win or lose, I'm not going to look back. . . . It will either be one way or the other, but I'm not going to jump off a building or go over the cliff.''