After speaking to a national convention of black Grand Master Masons today, Vice President Bush told reporters that he doesn't see any evidence that the Reagan administration or the Republican Party can capture any part of the growing black vote for the 1984 election.
Bush's remark came after he gave a speech that was one part defense of the administration, one part apology for its policies and one part indignation over what he said was the portrayal of the president and the administration as unfair and uncaring about the people--particularly blacks--hurt by budget cuts.
"He cares, he hurts, he's a human being," Bush said of the president at one point.
Later at a news conference Bush said it pained him to have to defend the president's humanity. But he added that it's necessary because of the administration's serious political problem with black voters.
"Well, I'll be honest with you," Bush told reporters. "I don't see any evidence of black support , but we're going to keep working and we're going to keep getting the objective message out there . . . . But we know we got tough going there. You're talking to a guy that ran as a Republican in Texas . . . and worked hard in black precincts and got clobbered, but that doesn't mean you give up."
Bush came here at the invitation of Benjamin Hooks, president of the NAACP and a Grand Mason secretary from Tennessee. It was the start of a political trip that will take Bush to Republican Party fund-raisers in Kentucky and Florida and to the Kentucky Derby.
Bush's speech came a day after Reagan spoke to Hispanics in Texas, telling them that the administration is aware of their needs.
"We want the vice president here so no one can say we just stood outside and threw bricks during the Reagan administration without trying to talk," said Hooks.
Although about 300 Masons and Matrons crowded around Bush after he spoke for handshakes and pictures, he got only lukewarm applause. It was a stark contrast to Thursday's speech by Rep. Louis Stokes (D-Ohio), who got standing ovations for advocating a black Democratic presidential candidate next year.
Bush was on the defensive throughout the speech to the relatively conservative, well-dressed and elderly blacks. He pointed to recent improvements in the economy as an administration achievement but had to concede that blacks, notably black teen-agers, have seen no improvement in their employment rate.
Bush also was defensive about recent television reports that the administration had reduced the food stamp program. President Reagan saw the news broadcast last Saturday and asked his aides to object to it formally.
The vice president said that spending is up for food stamp benefits, support for the elderly and Medicare payments.
"These are the facts," he said in combative tones. "Now they may not be up as high as some people would have liked to have seen them."
Despite his chin-up, chest-out assertion that at least the economy is moving in "the right direction," Bush found himself having to concede that during the first part of the administration the national economy was in trouble.
"Things have been tough," he said. "They have been rougher for black Americans than most.
"Look," he said, "I know things are still too rough. Some have accused us, as I have said, of just not caring about it . . . . We've cut benefits in some areas--maybe there's been a mistake or two--but what we've tried to do is cut them for those that don't need them."