Injecting himself into a bitter and extremely sensitive national debate, President Clinton on Friday decisively rejected a new theory that African-Americans are doomed to economic and social underachievement because they are intellectually inferior to whites and Asians.
At a White House news conference that touched on a broad range of domestic and foreign policy questions, Clinton was asked his opinion of an explosive new book that claims that African-Americans as a group have lower IQ scores than whites and thus are fated to lag behind the majority of American society because intelligence is the chief determinant of success in modern America.
Clinton said that he had not read the book The Bell Curve, by conservative scholar Charles Murray and the late Harvard psychologist Richard Herrnstein.
But Clinton said: "As I understand the argument of it, I have to say I disagree with the proposition that there are inherent racially based differences in the capacity of the American people to reach their full potential. I just don't agree with that. It goes against our entire history and our whole tradition."
The controversial book does not say whether the measured difference in black and white IQ scores results from genetic differences or the more difficult environment many blacks grow up in, but the authors argue that the gap contributes to the pervasive poverty of blacks.
WHITE TEACHER'S FIRING: On another racially charged question, Clinton defended the Justice Department's recent decision to support the firing of a white teacher in Piscataway, N.J., as part of the local school district's effort to promote racial diversity on its faculty.
He said that the district had to choose between two identically qualified teachers, one black and one white, and that on "very narrow grounds" he supported the Justice Department's position supporting the district's decision to retain the black teacher.
But he said that in a different circumstance _ a white teacher on a largely black faculty, for example _ he would advocate the opposite approach.
BRIGHTER OUTLOOK FOR DEMOCRATS: Turning to the fall political campaign, Clinton said that despite the bleak outlook for Democrats nationwide, prospects for his party had improved slightly in the past few days.
"We didn't want to peak too soon," the president joked.
Clinton appeared resigned to large Democratic losses in both the House and the Senate.
He noted that the incumbent party almost always loses seats in mid-term elections.