Gore Stresses Family Civil Rights Record
By Terry M. Neal
As has become his pattern when addressing large black audiences, Gore's speech was filled with emotional personal references and his speaking style--which is often derided as wooden and plain--took on the alternately powerful and subtle cadences of the southern preacher.
Gore had planned to deliver the keynote address at the Detroit NAACP chapter's annual Fight for Freedom Fund dinner about 7:30 p.m. But late last week, he changed his plans and traveled to Denver instead to attend a memorial service for those slain at Columbine High School. He was late getting in, and the crowd of some 10,000 people had been halved by the time he arrived at Cobo Convention Center at 9:30 p.m.
Gore apologized for being late and then launched into a half-hour speech designed to highlight his and President Clinton's record on civil rights and to reinforce his credentials among the crucial black constituency.
He called on Congress to approve $15 billion in funding for the second round of empowerment zone initiatives. He reaffirmed the administration's support for affirmative action. He urged Congress to approve the appointment of Bill Lann Lee, Clinton's controversial choice for the top job in the civil rights division of the Justice Department. And he called for an end to the police practice of "racial profiling"--targeting black motorists for stops.
"DWI is a crime in this country, not DWB [driving while black]," he declared. "I believe we should abolish racial profiling in this country."
Gore reminded his listeners of his family's long history in the civil rights movement. His father, he said, opposed the poll tax that white southerners used to keep blacks from voting in the 1940s. He supported the civil rights movement in the 1950s and was one of only two southern senators to oppose "the hateful Southern Manifesto." And he voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
But he was ahead of his time, the vice president suggested, and lost his job in Congress because of that.
"He sacrificed his career because he was willing to stand up for what he believed," Gore said. "I thank God my father taught me to love justice. I thank God my family taught me to hate discrimination for the evil that it is."
And moments later, he added: "I feel a connection to your struggle and to your history through my family."
The audience received him warmly and several who had not previously heard him speak in person said they were surprised by his warmth and ability to connect.
"He's much better in person than I thought he would be," said Jennifer Hadley, 35, a consultant from Detroit. "You always hear that he's stiff and wooden, but I didn't think he was at all tonight."
Thematically, Gore's speech was similar to one he gave last year in Atlanta at the NAACP's national convention. He also has delivered speeches and made major announcements the last couple years on Martin Luther King Jr.'s holiday. In each of the King holiday speeches, he announced 15 percent funding increases for civil rights enforcement in six agencies, including the departments of Justice, Education, and Housing and Urban Development.
As important as the programs has been the symbolism the White House is trying to create: that Gore, like Clinton, is dedicated to civil rights and will not shy away from speaking out on such issues. By stressing those issues, the Gore team believes it can continue to capitalize on the anger many blacks feel toward Republicans in the wake of presidential impeachment proceedings.
Clinton is one of the most popular public figures--black or white--in America among African Americans. Consistently, about 90 percent of blacks approve of him in polls. Gore's numbers are impressive, but not as strong as Clinton's. About three-quarters of black voters say they approve of Gore, but many also say they're not that familiar with him.
Gore and his rival for the Democratic nomination, former senator Bill Bradley of New Jersey, already are battling over the black vote. Earlier this month, Bradley delivered a speech in New York in which he called for racial healing in America. But Gore aides said that compared with their boss, Bradley was short on specifics.
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