Deference Prevails Over Hostility
Thursday, July 20, 2006; 12:40 PM
President Bush made it unscathed through his visit to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People convention this morning, as the audience's deference to his office prevailed over its deep and abiding hostility toward his policies.
Bush's speech was light on substance but full of easy applause lines, and it earned him a polite if less than enthusiastic welcome from the group, with the exception of one persistent heckler.
Notably, Bush did not stick around to take questions.
He did win hearty applause for repeating his support for the renewal of the Voting Rights Act, possibly the only political position he has taken that is resoundingly popular with African Americans.
Bush's appearance at the convention -- ending an unprecedented five-year boycott by a standing president -- is widely credited to his relationship with first-year NAACP President Bruce S. Gordon.
Gordon, a former Verizon senior executive, met with Bush privately three times in three months after the Hurricane Katrina disaster. But what those meetings accomplished isn't exactly clear.
Gordon indulged Bush's penchant for secrecy (see my December 9 column ), and he and the other black leaders who attended those meetings refused to describe in any detail what Bush said -- or what they had told him.
Meanwhile, the administration's Katrina record remains an open wound with the nation's African American community, from the initial disarray and ineptitude that left thousands of low-income black New Orleanians marooned in squalor for days, to its current, big-ticket restoration effort that is nevertheless seen by many as not serving the interests of the city's black community.
One of Bush's many attempts at humor that fell flat may have cut too close to the truth: "I'm an admirer of Bruce Gordon, and we've got a good working relationship," he said. Then he said, laughing: "I don't know if that helps you or hurts you."
Clearly aware of the lackluster response to the stock phrases that typically get rousing applause from friendly audiences, Bush pointed out that he had asked NAACP chairman Julian Bond, a fiery and profoundly anti-Bush orator, for "a few pointers on how to give a speech." But, Bush acknowledged, "It doesn't look like they're taking."
One of Bush's biggest applause lines, this one unintentional, came when he said: "I understand that many African Americans distrust my political party."
After the applause died down, he waggled his finger and asserted: "I consider it a tragedy that the party of Abraham Lincoln let go of its historical ties with the African-American community. For too long, my party wrote off the African-American vote, and many African-Americans wrote off the Republican Party. . . .