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For Bush and the NAACP, Uneasy Does It
Since he first uttered those compassionate phrases, Bush has won a mere 10 percent of the black vote in two elections, and his relations with civil rights leaders have been sour. He nodded to that recent history yesterday with some clever self-deprecation.
After a no-frills introduction by NAACP President Bruce Gordon, Bush thanked him for being polite. "I thought he was going to say, 'It's about time you showed up.' " Noting his "good working relationship" with Gordon, Bush got appreciative laughter with an aside to Gordon: "I don't know if that helps you or hurts you."
The president offered the ritual GOP mea culpa -- "for too long my party wrote off the African American vote" -- and paid respect to Bond. "I asked him for a few pointers on how to give a speech. It doesn't look like they're taking."
Bush may have been thinking of Bond's speech opening this week's convention, in which he said the president has "run the country into the ground . . . continued an assault on our civil liberties and civil rights, orchestrated a massive transfer of wealth from the bottom to the top, increased poverty every year they've been in office, created dangerous deficits, substituted religion for science, ignored global warming, wrecked environmental protections."
That was only a marginal improvement on Bond's view a few years back that Bush had "appeased the wretched appetites of the extreme right wing and chosen Cabinet officials whose devotion to the Confederacy is nearly canine in its uncritical affection."
With that for an invitation, it's a wonder Bush didn't continue his boycott. But then, Bush has shown a masochistic streak this week. In Russia, he let himself be filmed massaging the German chancellor's shoulders and was heard using a vulgarity with the British prime minister. At home, he cast his first veto on a stem cell bill that enjoys vast public support.
When he arrived at the Washington Convention Center yesterday, Bush was ready to flatter, from an opening paean to "the heroism of the civil rights movement and the accomplishments of the NAACP" to a closing vow to sign promptly a renewal of the Voting Rights Act. He used the word "together" 15 times and dropped the names of prominent African Americans such as Benjamin Hooks, a former leader of the NAACP. "Good to see you again, sir. . . . You know what I'm talking about, Jesse. . . . I got a friend named Tony Evans. . . . You know, one of my friends is Bob Johnson, the founder of BET."
The audience reciprocated: Bush got a standing ovation when he entered, and the 90 percent applauding easily drowned out the boos from the other 10 percent. The White House transcript listed 57 incidents of "applause" in the 33-minute speech -- and the vast majority of those were genuine. For every grumbled retort offered by an audience member, there was a cry of "yes!" or "right!"
There were, inevitably, episodes of booing and cries of "no!" -- as when Bush affirmed that "I strongly believe in charter schools, in public school choice." But history may overlook such tense moments: The booing, like the heckling, was omitted from the White House transcript.