For Bush and the NAACP, Uneasy Does It
President Bush was benefiting from the soft bigotry of low expectations when he addressed the NAACP convention yesterday. But that wasn't quite enough to get him through.
The president was ending his five-year boycott of the nation's largest civil rights organization, and the group was doing its best to "welcome the stranger," as Chairman Julian Bond put it, graciously. When Bush arrived, organizers whisked "Grey's Anatomy" actor Isaiah Washington off the stage, even though he was only 49 seconds into his speech.
Gravity, however, could be defied only so long. A little while after Bush acknowledged that "many African Americans distrust my political party," four men in the Massachusetts section rose to demonstrate that distrust by shouting epithets at the president. The ruckus continued until Bond got up and walked behind Bush to make sure the miscreants were removed.
"Don't worry about it," Bush said. "I'm almost finished." He displayed the enthusiasm of a man undergoing an uncomfortable medical procedure.
"I know you can handle it," Bond consoled.
An hour later, the White House released a transcript omitting that exchange and describing the disruption as "applause."
That wasn't the only airbrushing going on. For what may have been the first time since the 2001 attacks, Bush gave a full-length speech with no mention of terrorism, Iraq or the Middle East. "Compassion" was back, and it was as if, for a moment, the past five years had never happened. Bush, suffering from the recent departure of chief speechwriter Mike Gerson, reprised some of the greatest hits of his first campaign for the presidency:
"We must challenge a system that simply shuffles children through." (C. 2000)
"We ought to welcome religious institutions into helping solve and save America one soul and one heart at a time." (C. 1998)
"Organizations of faith exist to love a neighbor like they'd like to be loved themselves." (C. 1999)
"Government . . . cannot put hope in a person's heart or a sense of purpose in a person's life." (C. 2000)
And, of course: "We need to challenge the soft bigotry of low expectations." (C. 1999)