MAXWELL:  George W.’s motive for NAACP visit

7/12/2000 – Printed in the EDITORIAL section of the St Petersburg Times Newspaper



Emblematic of the dubious sincerity of Texas Gov. George W. Bush’s foray into racial politics, on the national level, were his three attempts to pronounce the name of civil rights legend W.E.B. Du Bois in front of delegates attending the NAACP 91st convention.

And emblematic of the conferees’ assessment of Bush was their eye-rolling silence as the GOP presidential candidate tussled with the linguistic mix of initials (W.E.B.) and strange French surname (Du Bois). After Bush finally got the darn thing right, palpable relief fell upon the nearly 4,000 listeners.

What does this gaffe mean beyond the fact that the Texas governor is a solid C student not known for intellectual dexterity? Bush, who would be president of the United States, is unfamiliar with one the most lionized figures in black history. Is this an important matter? Yes. Bush’s unfamiliarity with Du Bois _ even when he knew he would speak to some of the nation’s smartest blacks _ illustrates an inexcusable ignorance of black history itself.

To know nothing, or very little, of a people’s history is to lack genuine sensitivity for their plight.

Bush, the poster boy for all that is Republican, acknowledged before this gathering of the nation’s largest and oldest civil rights organization that his political party has rejected African-Americans and their problems.

Do not believe me? Read some of Bush’s own words: “There’s no escaping the reality that the party of Lincoln has not always carried the mantle of Lincoln (who freed the slaves). . . .The history of the Republican Party and the NAACP has not been one of regular partnership.”

Why is Bush the first major Republican presidential candidate to address the NAACP since his father did so in 1988? Why did Ronald Reagan shun everything black? Understand what I am saying. In the nation’s two-party system _ the system that produces our presidents and the overwhelming majority of Congress _ one party systematically turns its back on an entire group of citizens and taxpayers.

Again, Bush said as much. But saying that “the Republican Party and the NAACP has not been one of regular partnership” is to suggest that the GOP merely disagreed with the NAACP. That conclusion grossly distorts the truth. The NAACP has had morality on its side. Its simple mission has been securing equal justice for blacks. The GOP, along with Dixiecrats, has spent generations demonizing blacks.

How could the NAACP be the GOP’s partner? Partners share principles, which makes the sides equals. What principles did Republicans share with blacks? The GOP wanted to deny blacks basic human rights.

Bush’s difficulty with pronouncing W.E.B. Du Bois’ name also indicates that he did not respect his audience enough to address a single issue that arises whenever blacks talk politics.

Speaking from a cut-and-paste script of successful vagueness on the stump, Bush side-stepped the death penalty, the Confederate flag, statistical sampling for the census and the expansion of hate-crime laws. All right, so these issues are unimportant to Bush, but by not mentioning them, he insulted his audience. One angry delegate said that Bush delivered a 15- to 20-minute “speech full of syrup and religion and platitudes. He hasn’t said nothing specific yet. He didn’t fool anyone here today.”

I had planned to praise the Texan for showing up. But I was dissuaded of such magnanimity when, during a press conference, Eleanor Holmes Norton, the non-voting House delegate from the District of Columbia and a Democrat said: “Look, it is too late in American history for us to give any candidate points for showing up.” She is right. All I will say, therefore, is that Bush broke with Republican orthodoxy by coming here.

As I write, I recognize the ulterior motive of the NAACP speech and that of Bush’s other addresses to other minority groups. David Bositis of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, which focuses on issues affecting blacks, sums up my thoughts: “I think (Bush’s) real targets are white swing voters, more women than men. These kind of appearances make him seem moderate.”

If Bositis is correct, Bush is more cynical than I thought. Are NAACPers to believe him when he pledges that “strong civil rights enforcement will be a cornerstone” of his administration?

What should they think when Bush boasts that his two favorite Supreme Court Justices are Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas? Is this the same man who wants to be the partner of blacks _ a man who had plenty of time to learn how to pronounce the name of W.E.B. Du Bois?