News & Politics

Bush Should Say Yes to The NAACP

After six years of no-shows, will the president finally agree to speak at a convention for black interests?
The scorecard reads like this: 6 to 0. Six is the number of times that NAACP Chairman Julian Bond has invited President Bush to speak to the NAACP convention; zero is the number of times that Bush has actually spoken.

Each time, Bush took the cheap and easy way out and cited a scheduling conflict, or simply ignored the NAACP's invites, but Bond is not throwing in the towel. The NAACP is meeting in Washington for its 97th convention. And Bond has issued yet another invite to Bush to grace the dais at the convention. Bush didn't say no to the invitation, but he didn't say yes either.

Bush declined all past invitations to speak because he regards himself as at war with the NAACP and their leaders for lambasting him and his policies. Bush saw no personal or political gain in talking to or with civil rights leaders or the Congressional Black Caucus, which he has also snubbed. In his opening address to the current convention, Bond didn't make things easier when he again blasted Bush's policies on Iraq and the economy.

Bond's Bush blistering aside, Bush did pledge repeatedly before, during, and for a few moments after the 2000 and 2004 campaigns, to make the Republican Party a party of diversity. On occasion as president, he's even publicly declared that he was elected not to serve only those who voted for him but all the people. Bush's point man, Ken Mehlman, the chair of the Republican National Committee, spent millions on advertising and promotional materials in black communities and pumping up Bush's initiatives on education, minority business, and home ownership in an effort to woo black voters.

But the NAACP has been kept out in the cold. Bush has been content to stage well-publicized photo-op sessions at black elementary schools, and meet with carefully hand picked groups of black ministers, farmers and business owners. These are the blacks he feels comfortable with and are the ones he has tried mightily to convince himself and the public are the only black leaders and groups worth talking too.

Yet Bush makes a bad mistake in blowing off the NAACP as a bunch of malcontent black liberal Democrats that hate him and his administration. For the past thirty years, the NAACP has fought tough battles in the courts and the streets for voting rights, affirmative action, school integration, and an end to housing and job discrimination. The group still accurately captures the mood of fear and hostility the majority of blacks feel toward the Republicans.

Though Bush got a mild bump up in black voter support in the 2004 presidential election, that was far less than the number of black votes Republican Presidential candidates Robert Dole, and Bush Sr. got in their failed election and re-election bids. You'd have to go back four decades to the blatantly pro-states rights, anti-civil rights campaign Republican presidential contender Barry Goldwater ran in 1964 to find a Republican that did worse than Bush did with black voters in the 2000 and 2004 elections.

The Katrina debacle didn't help matters. Blacks are still furious at him for foot-dragging on aid to the mostly black and poor flood victims in New Orleans. That reinforced the worst of black suspicions that Bush and the Republicans are callous, mean-spirited or flat-out racist when it comes to black interests.

In snubbing civil rights leaders in past years, Bush repeated the racial freeze out of the Reagan years. Black leaders and Reagan declared each persona non grata. This cost blacks dearly. Republican conservatives launched a withering assault on affirmative action, slashed and burned social and education programs, and pandered to the Party's most rabid, ultra-conservative elements. But this also cost Republicans dearly. They flocked to the Democrats in droves, helped boot Bush Sr. from the White House, and virtually enshrined Clinton as their savior.

Still, the rare times that Republicans have made a strong effort to attract blacks, and that means putting money into a black Republican candidate's campaign and delivering on their promise to pump more resources into health care, education, minority business, and education programs, they've dented the Democrats' lock on the black vote. With a slew of high-profile blacks running for Senate and gubernatorial spots in Maryland, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania in this year's mid-term elections, Republicans will need to put their best diversity face on.

The black candidates can win or at least be competitive in their races. But they'll need black votes to do that. And they won't get them if blacks see them as stalking horses for a bigoted Republican Party. If Bush turns up at the NAACP convention it will at least show that he and the Republicans are not total hypocrites in talking outreach and then doing not about it. Bush should say yes to the NAACP.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is the author of The Crisis in Black and Black (Middle Passage Press). The Hutchinson Report Blog is now online at Earl Ofari Hutchinson.com.