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Blacks among bright Bush stars

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WASHINGTON — It's dismaying to find, over and over again, that blacks in the Bush administration are not getting the credit they deserve for the breakthroughs they're making. Faint praise begins right at the top, where some refuse to grasp that Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice are commanding positions once held by Thomas Jefferson, John Quincy Adams, Cordell Hull, Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski.

Powell and Rice perform so well that no fanfare is made of their holding their positions, as though our foreign policy establishment always had been run by a variety of talents, not the Eastern establishment that was in charge until Jim Baker in 1989 (unless you count George Shultz seven years earlier). But those two were both Princeton men and former secretaries of the Treasury. Powell (City College of New York) and Rice (Ph.D. from Denver University) are a dramatic departure. Still, their detractors will not see it. Though hugely charismatic, he is scorned as dull, and she, though brilliant, articulate and nimble on her feet, is derided as dogmatic.

The truth is that history is being made not only in the stratosphere of government, but also in the solid second echelon, where blacks are emerging as deputy secretaries (which is to say, chief operating officers) in several key agencies, where they preside over $300 billion. Foremost among them is Larry Thompson, U.S. attorney for the Eastern district of Georgia under President Ronald Reagan and then a partner in King and Spaulding of Atlanta. There's also Claude Allen, who moved from the chief operating job of Health and Human Services in Virginia to take the same role on the national level.

Leo Mackay was vice president of Bell Helicopter Textron in Fort Worth, Texas, when President Bush lured him to Washington to manage the Department of Veterans Affairs as deputy secretary. I asked him how he came to be a Republican. It was a matter of "youthful convictions," he said. His father and two older brothers are Democrats, but serving in the Navy, he grew more conservative.

These are able, contributing citizens. They have much to offer the country as well as the blacks community. They are indeed New Blacks, just as Bill Clinton and Joe Lieberman are New Democrats. Oddly, the latter never got together with the former. So Republicans rushed in where the other party feared to tread.

Correspondent Lee Cullum contributed. United Feature Syndicate Inc.