Bush's Black Campaign Brain Trust

In July, NAACP President Kweisi Mfume tore into President Bush's black supporters calling them "ventriloquist's dummies." A slew of them had passionately applauded President Bush in articles and on conservative TV and radio talk shows for rejecting an invitation to speak at the NAACP's annual convention. Mfume was especially teed off not just at their defense of Bush, but that there were so many of them willing to defend him. Within days after Mfume publicly bashed them, the Bush-Cheney campaign website announced the formation of the African-Americans for Bush Leadership Team. The 76 members listed on the National Steering Committee are businesspersons, professionals, ministers, and state and local elected officials. With the exception of former Oklahoma Congressman J.C. Watts, who heads the committee, none are particularly well known, but many of them live in the crucial battleground states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Missouri, Florida, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

They can't easily be brushed off or ridiculed as the usual assortment of black Republican operatives, conservative think tank ideologues, or high profile talk show hosts that are committed Bush loyalists. The Bush-Cheney campaign website depicts them as public-spirited individuals motivated solely by their belief in Bush's policies. In a statement on the site, the group hails historic black figures, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, and Martin Luther King, Jr., and claim that Bush's tout of his faith based initiative, school vouchers, and minority business and homeownership offer blacks far more than anything the Democrats have to offer.

Bush's African-American team is a blatant effort to bypass mainstream civil rights leaders and cultivate a new brand of black leadership. It is driven by political necessity, and racial opportunism. From the day he entered the White House, the Congressional Black Caucus, and the NAACP officials, and nearly all other mainstream civil rights leaders are career Democrats. They have waged relentless, and sometimes a nasty personal name-calling, war against Bush. At the NAACP convention that Bush snubbed, NAACP officials treated Democratic presidential contender John Kerry as a virtual conquering hero, and vowed to treat the election as a holy crusade to beat Bush.

Yet while NAACP officials and top Democrats are unabashed Kerry backers, In July, a CBS NEW-BET Poll found that Kerry support among blacks is soft. In a tight election, a tepid black turnout, or worse for civil rights leaders, a marginal increase in the number of blacks that vote Republican could tip one or two of the heavily contested battleground states, where blacks make up a significant percent of that state's voters, to Bush. There are early warning signs that could happen. In nearly a dozen predominantly black precincts in South Florida, the black voter turnout the past three election primaries has plunged. In Ohio, 100,000 eligible black voters did not vote in the 2000 election, and despite an intense Democrat voter registration drive, the prospect of a Kerry win has yet to energize them. Bush has also played hard on the open hostility of many blacks to the mainstream civil right leadership, and Democrats. He drew thunderous applause in an address to the Urban League the week after the NAACP convention when he repeatedly pounded away that the Democrats have taken the black vote for granted.

Despite NAACP officials and the Congressional Black Caucus's four decade cheerlead of white Democratic presidential candidates, they have not aggressively pushed Kerry to hammer hard in campaign stops in black (and non-black) areas on increased funding for HIV/AIDS, failing inner city public schools, greater support for affirmative action programs, and criminal justice system reform. An embarrassing series of articles in April lambasting Kerry for the paucity of black campaign staffers forced Kerry to scramble and publicly announce the hiring of three key black staffers. That squelched the belated outcry from some black Democrats.

Though Bush and his black supporters charge that top Democrats practice "plantationism" toward black voters, Democrats have had the far better record on diversity, and pushing for social and economic reforms than Republicans. And nearly all of Bush's top campaign decision makers are white, male, and entrenched Republican Party operatives. But the criticism of the Democrats is valid if only because blacks in every election since the 1960's have given them the majority of their vote and expect and deserve far more from them than Republicans for their unshakeable support.

During the 2000 presidential campaign, Bush had a once in a lifetime chance to snatch the political and ideological blinders from the eyes of Republican leaders and change the perception that his Party is nothing more than a cozy, good ole' white guys club. He blew it badly. This time around he's banking on his black campaign brain trust to help him snatch enough support from the Democrats to insure he, and not Kerry, will raise his hand to take the oath of office at the inaugural swearing in this January. That's reason enough for Mfume's anger and the Democrat's to worry.


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