Comparing Bush and Kerry on Civil Rights

Now that the presidential debates are over and campaign surrogates have tried to interpret or misinterpret what we saw for ourselves, there is no better time to ignore the rhetoric and check out the candidates' records.

Because John Kerry and his Democratic vice presidential running mate, John Edwards, served in the Senate, their votes can be reviewed. And the same can be said for Vice President Dick Cheney, who served in the House. Like many groups, each year the NAACP issues a Civil Rights Report Card, grading members of Congress on issues important to African-Americans. Every year they were in office, both Kerry and Edwards received As. When Cheney served in Congress from 1977 to 1988, he received an F every session.

Of course, President Bush has never served in the House or Senate, making it more difficult to assign him a grade. But the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has examined Bush's White House years and last week issued a draft staff report titled, "Redefining Rights in America: The Civil Rights Record of the George W. Bush Administration, 2001-2004." The report is available online at

The 166-page study by the independent, bi-partisan agency concludes, "President Bush has neither exhibited leadership on pressing civil rights issues, nor taken actions that matched his words."

It explains: "Public statements are a means by which Presidents draw the country's attention to important matters. However, President Bush seldom speaks about civil rights, and when he does, it is to carry out official duties, not to promote initiatives or plans for improving opportunity. Even when he publicly discusses existing barriers to equality and efforts to overcome them, the administration's words and deeds often conflict."

Although it is impossible to review all of the findings in this limited space, let's look at a few key areas:

NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND - Described as the most sweeping public education change in decades, President Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act into law on Jan. 8, 2002. It requires states to test students on a regular basis, issue statewide progress reports and have all students academically proficient by the year 2014. "The Bush administration has not pushed for funding to support the requirements," the Commission study says. "... The actual funding has fallen short of levels authorized in the legislation. In 2003, funding fell $8 billion short, and in 2004 the President's request was $11 billion below target."

AFFIRMATIVE ACTION - When the Supreme Court decided to rule on two affirmative action cases involving the University of Michigan, one to admit undergraduates and another for entry into law school, the Bush administration opposed both programs. The court struck down the undergraduate plan but upheld the law school program. After the rulings, Bush praised the court for "recognizing the value of diversity" and announced that his administration favors race-neutral approaches. The study notes, "The president's comments mischaracterized the Court's holding, using the decision as a platform to promote race-neutral alternatives and to defend the administration's briefs, neither of which matches his verbal support for diversity."

FAIR HOUSING - "The president shifted resources away from rent assistance for the poor and toward home purchasing programs for minorities," the report says. "Although a worthwhile effort, the president's 'A Home of Your Own' program is hampered by insufficient funding to relieve the chronic affordable housing crisis."

JUDICIAL NOMINATIONS - The study notes that Bush's critics accuse him of packing the federal courts with rightwing judges, some of them Black. It observes, "... Race and gender alone do not guarantee support for civil rights. Some of President Bush's non-minority nominees hold views that would limit the scope and strength of civil rights laws, as some of his minority and female nominees."

FAITH-BASED INITITATIVES - Upon entering office, Bush pushed for expansion of religious groups to receive federal funds. The study by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights observes, "Although the initiative constitutes a retreat from civil rights, President Bush has consistently presented it as an extension of civil rights to religious groups."

HISTORICLALY BLACK COLLEGES - In 2002, Bush re-established the President's Board of Advisors on Historically Black Colleges and Universities. "The board recommended that 27 participating agencies designate 10 percent of all money spent on higher education to HBCUs; only the Department of Education has met the goal," the report states. "The board also is more than two years behind schedule in releasing annual performance reports, rendering a government-wide evaluation of HBCU programs difficult."

No amount of post-debate spinning can alter that record.

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