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Published: 7/17/2004

NAACP heat too hot for Bush

OH, MY black brethren, what shall we do? The leader of the Republican Party has essentially rolled his eyes at us and then looked the other way, as if we don't exist. President Bush dismissed black voters by refusing to address the NAACP's 95th annual convention in Philadelphia.

Initially, the White House said Mr. Bush had a scheduling conflict and couldn't make the nation's oldest civil rights group's convention. He was too busy flitting around Michigan, Tennessee, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and elsewhere during the six-day event that ended Thursday to attempt to obtain support from some of the 8,000 NAACP delegates and conventioneers.

But then, Mr. Bush said he was offended by NAACP leaders' criticism and that his relationship with the group is "basically nonexistent." My interpretation of that is that Mr. Bush considers black America nonexistent, too. Don't you agree?

In another display of the GOP's haughtiness, consider a Republican National Committee spokeswoman's remarks about the NAACP. Christine Iverson told the New York Times that the group "seems more interested in serving as a partisan organization rather than working in a bipartisan way to improve the lives of African-Americans."

Excuse me, but does she mean the GOP is not partisan?

Understandably, most people are hesitant about appearing before their detractors. From that standpoint, one sees why Mr. Bush couldn't find 30 minutes to address some of his most ardent critics.

But the difference between him and the rest of us is that he is President. He's supposed to be every American's President, but his recent show of arrogance suggests otherwise. He last addressed the convention in 2000 when he ran for president. But he is the first sitting president since Herbert Hoover to not address the convention. Even his father spoke to the convention.

Not every black American agrees with the politics of the NAACP's leaders. But that's not the point. It's the most recognized champion of civil rights and a pillar in this nation.

And yes, although minorities typically vote the Democratic ticket, maybe those who usually do would have given Mr. Bush a chance had he made a convention appearance.

But the Republicans can forget that now. The GOP claims it wants to reach out to minority voters in this campaign. If that's true, Mr. Bush needs to connect with black voters, although there's little opportunity for him to do that before the election now. And while a Bush appearance at the Urban League national conference next week in Detroit is appropriate, it's not the same.

Meanwhile, his presumptive Democratic opponent, Sen. John Kerry, spoke to the NAACP on Thursday. And on the same day that Mr. Kerry named Sen. John Edwards as his running mate, he was smart enough to address some 45,000 conservative African-Americans at the African Methodist Episcopal Church's international conference in Indianapolis.

Mr. Bush, by the way, did not respond to the church's invitation. This is inclusiveness? No, it's pure snobbery.

"He doesn't realize how many African-Americans he is thumbing his nose at," Liz Deas of West Columbia, S.C. told the New York Times. She was at the NAACP convention.

Judging from how this administration is clamping down on civil liberties, maybe Mr. Bush dislikes his critics exercising their First Amendment right to free speech.

NAACP Chairman Julian Bond said this of the Bush Administration: "They preach racial neutrality and practice racial division. They've tried to patch the leaky economy and every other domestic problem with duct tape and plastic sheets. They write a new constitution for Iraq and they ignore the Constitution here at home."

Well, like they say, if you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen. I guess Mr. Bush couldn't take the heat, so he stayed away.



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