"Only Two Percent!" For Bush?

Last July, Republican National Committee Chair Ken Mehlman was ecstatic. He had just spoken at the NAACP convention and gotten a fairly cordial greeting. That was a big step forward for him considering the five years of frozen relations between the Bush administration and the NAACP.

At the convention, Mehlman did a mea culpa for past GOP racial slights and swore that the party would do whatever it took to make amends. Meanwhile, a few hundred miles away his boss got an equally cordial greeting at the Indianapolis Black Expo. Bush enthusiastically pumped up his program for jobs, minority business, and homeownership. He pledged to do whatever he could to make the party even more inclusive. That message touched a nerve with many upwardly mobile young black professionals and businesspeople.

A scant two months later, the months of planning, calculating, maneuvering and promises, not to mention the millions Bush, Mehlman, and Republican strategy guru Karl Rove spent on their minority schmooze came to a grinding halt, if not a thundering crash. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found that Bush's popularity rating had plunged to an eye-popping, head shaking low of 2 percent.

The low was so mind boggling that an incredulous NBC political analyst Tim Russert screeched to NBC anchor Brian William "only 2 percent!" That figure would've made Bush the most unpopular president among blacks in the history of American poll taking. But a later poll by the more authoritative Pew Research Center seemed to spare Bush that embarrassment. It pegged the drop in his approval rating from 14 percent down to 12 percent. That was more modest, and comforting for the White House.

Bush's poll free-fall or dip is chalked up to his comatose response to Katrina disaster relief, the horrific scenes of poor blacks fleeing for their lives in New Orleans, and his walk on eggshell reaction to William Bennett's foot-in-the mouth racial slur. Whether Bush actually skidded to rock bottom, or simply skidded in the ratings, it mattered little. Bush's mild bump up in black support during the 2004 presidential election was never what it was cracked up to be. It rested on quicksand.

In 2000, Bush barely edged out states rights champion Barry Goldwater for the dubious distinction of receiving the lowest voter percentage from blacks of any GOP candidate in the 20th century. A poll of evangelical-leaning blacks during the 2004 campaign found that they opposed by big margins abortion and gay marriage, and were staunch family values advocates. This was the group that Bush, Mehlman, and Rove targeted as being ripe for the GOP pickings.

They dumped millions of faith-based dollars in the pockets of select mega-church black ministers, wined and dined them at the White House, and swayed to the gospel beat at their churches. The same polls, though, found that black Christians and their ministers were also just as passionate about backing affirmative action, having more federal aid for jobs and education. Their conservativism stretched no further than family values beliefs.

While polls showed that younger, upwardly mobile blacks disliked, distrusted and felt disconnected from the Democrats, and even branded themselves as independents, they expressed no great love for the GOP. With the exception of Ohio and Florida, blacks still loyally and overwhelmingly pulled the lever for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry in 2004 just as they have for every Democrat since Lyndon Johnson in 1964.

Before, during and after the Florida vote debacle in 2000, black antipathy toward Bush has been burning, impassioned and relentless. They don't just dislike his politics, they dislike him. If Bush said the earth was round, many blacks would say it's flat. Katrina and the Bennett quip simply reinforced their visceral disdain for him. Their contempt for him exceeds their contempt for President Reagan, and Reagan worked especially hard to earn the enmity of blacks with his assault on affirmative action and open war with civil rights leaders.

That visceral dislike has dumbfounded Bush. At a recent press conference, he openly mused that he'd done everything possible to win black support, and he cited his high level appointments of Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell as proof. It's true, the appointments of Rice, Powell and former Secretary of Education Rod Page broke new ground, but that did not impress blacks.

These appointees were widely seen as political shills for Bush's hurtful policies. And Rice's borderline let-them-eat-cake initial response to the Katrina disaster, her spirited defense of Bush's bungling, and her tout of Supreme Court nominee Helen Meirs, didn't help matters. Bush's stumbles on Iraq and Social Security, his big cuts in federal funding for education and job programs, and a chronic high black unemployment rate won't help things for him either.

Bush's historic and abysmally low approval numbers among blacks in the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll may have been badly flawed. But at the rate he's going it may only be a matter of time before they aren't.


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