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Behind the rhetoric: Bush is bad for Blacks

By Dara Purvis| RAW STORY COLUMNIST

Recently, Bush again refused an invitation to speak before the NAACP's annual conference, making him the first president since Herbert Hoover not to speak before the group during an entire term as president. The official reason given was "scheduling commitments," but White House spokesman Scott McClellan added that leaders of the NAACP had made "rather hostile political comments about the president over the past few years," leaving little doubt as to the real reasons why Bush refused to attend. (This, of course, follows Bush's previous remarks about how he doesn't feel the need to speak to the NAACP when he looks around his Cabinet table and sees Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell, otherwise known as the "I have a black friend" defense.)

Bush did, however, speak before the National Urban League, where he took some unprecedented steps of outreach to blacks — unprecedented both because Bush has never really shown any concern for the black community before, and because his technique was more than a little confusing, to say the least. His primary strategy seems to be browbeating the black community and hoping its members won't notice the substance behind his rhetoric. For example, he asked, "Does the Democrat Party take African-American voters for granted? It's a fair question. I know plenty of politicians assume they have your vote, but do they earn it, and do they deserve it? … I'm here to say that there is an alternative this year."

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Which alternative, I wonder, could Bush be referring to? That provided by his Republican Party after it disenfranchised black voters in 2000? Or the Republican alternative that continues to disenfranchise black voters in 2004? (In 2000, thousands of black voters were included erroneously on lists of felons, who are not allowed to vote in Florida, and thus were not allowed to vote. Recently, another spate of revelations emerged about similarly incorrect lists that were intended to be used by Republican state elections officials this November. Yet for all of the incorrect names included, the vast majority were black, with very few Hispanic names — and Hispanics, especially Floridian Cubans, are much more likely to vote Republican than blacks are.) Or perhaps I should focus more on Republican policy and its appeal to blacks; policy such as efforts to cut after-school programs that keep minority children off the streets, or an unbending opposition to affirmative action of any kind, or the "state's rights" reasoning to support the Confederate flag, an emblem of slavery still flying over state Capitols in the 21st century. But again, I think my favorite black-friendly Republican alternative is an old campaign trick: Bush watched Sen. John McCain win a string of primaries and was more than willing to prey on racist attitudes and prejudices when it served the Bush election machine. Yes, the Party of Lincoln is definitely providing an alternative for black voters: an alternative to the Ku Klux Klan in its calculating exploitation of race hatred.

Bush's attempt to win the black vote by saying "Democrats are only half a loaf of bread" (pointedly ignoring the fact that the Republican Party, especially as represented by Bush, is a tiny scrap of crust at best) looked especially out of place immediately before the Democratic National Convention, where a number of the speakers dealt with race explicitly.

Vice presidential nominee, Sen. John Edwards, made a strong statement about the difference between the Democratic and Republican positions, saying that race "is not an African-American issue, not a Latino issue, not an Asian-American issue. This is an American issue. It's about who we are, what our values are, what kind of country we want to live in."

The Rev. Al Sharpton made an even stronger statement, saying "Mr. President, you said would we have more leverage if both parties got our votes, but we didn't come this far playing political games. It was those that earned our vote that got our vote. We got the Civil Rights Act under a Democrat. We got the Voting Rights Act under a Democrat. We got the right to organize under Democrats."

And of course, he's right. Democrats deal with race in America because they rightly see it as one of the fundamental issues in society that responsible leaders must face on a daily basis. Race relations and racial equality do not simply become a topic of debate when the occasional Rodney King or affirmative-action court case appears in the headlines; it is an intrinsic part of American society. Republicans, on the other hand, see racial issues as the one nagging, minor hang-up that keeps American blacks from voting for Republicans. If only, they say, those silly blacks would stop listening to the bleeding-heart liberals who have the temerity to want to address discrimination.

This bizarre belief that blacks are being led around by white liberals saw its flip side in one of the funniest moments C-SPAN ever has aired, when a representative from Project 21 (an organization of black conservatives) came to defend the group against charges that it was a front for the same old white conservatives that normally espouse opposition to affirmative action and other socially conservative views. This accusation is bolstered by the fact that Project 21 is a subsidiary of the National Center for Public Policy Research, an association of those same old white conservatives formed at the height of Reagan-mania. The clear and concrete link between the NCPPR and the very creation of Project 21 led prominent blacks like Kweisi Mfume, president of the NAACP, to say that the group is a "make-believe black organization."

The key to the hilarity of the interview was due to a simple traffic mishap: The representative who was scheduled to appear got a flat tire on the freeway on his way to the C-SPAN studios. So Project 21's director had to fill in.
Project 21's director is, in perfect irony, white.

Robb Harlston, the host of the show, barely clung to his professional demeanor as he issued what is now my favorite introduction to an interview of all time: "The director of Project 21, a program for conservative African-Americans … you're not African-American?"

The director, David Almasi, immediately issued a stream of defensive remarks that only added to the surreal humor. First he explained the tire blowout, and said he called another member of the group trying to get someone else to appear, but nobody was available (guess the flat and the one phone call exhausted the ranks of conservative blacks in the metropolitan Washington, D.C., area). Then he gave a tortured explanation that he was only an employee of the group; he took his marching orders from all of these mysterious black conservatives suffering from flat tires and broken phone lines. He didn't actually "direct" the organization; he was just the director. (As a bonus, this means that the difference between the group of black conservatives and the white guy working for the group of black conservatives is that the white guy gets paid to do it. You really have to love that as an affirmative defense!) Frankly, it was the best real-world re-enactment of "pay no attention to the man behind the curtain — I am the BLACK CONSERVATIVE MOVEMENT!" that I've ever seen.

Luckily, such chimeras of black Republicanism don't seem to be having any effect on the larger community. A recent poll by BET and CBS news showed that support for John Kerry is almost at the same level as support for Al Gore in 2000. And despite what Bush and other Republicans would have you believe, blacks are not being led astray by white liberals — the views of black Democrats on most issues are generally in line with those of the Democratic Party. Nine out of 10 (roughly the proportion of blacks that voted for Gore in 2000) believe that the country is headed in the wrong direction, and that the Iraq war was a mistake. The same poll found that black voters, much like white voters, consider jobs and the economy to be "the most important issue," followed by education, health care and the war in Iraq.

Furthermore, there was a slight increase in the percentage of those surveyed planning to vote in November over August 2000.

In short, Bush is wrong to ask blacks what the Democratic Party has "done for them lately," to borrow a phrase from Janet Jackson, a black woman who recently raised the ire of social conservatives for another reason. Blacks do not vote for Democrats simply because Democrats (unlike Bush) work to create a more racially just society — although that is most certainly one of the reasons. Blacks vote for Democrats because the Democratic program reflects their views on almost all issues: the economy, health care, education, social programs, the justice system, and every other plank in the party platform. Issues that might engage blacks more strongly are not carrots to be dangled to entice black voters toward the grand old elephant waiting to stomp on them; they are integral parts of a larger Democratic philosophy that favors inclusion over divisiveness, fair treatment over prejudice, and one society versus the haves trumping the have-nots.

 

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