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The NAACP, Bush and Pageantry Over Political Power

The ongoing NAACP convention in New Orleans provides the latest example of how politically impotent Black leadership is, and as a result, why the Black vote is taken for granted and ignored by America’s two-party system. While many have bantered back and forth over whether or not President Bush’s decision to decline an invitation to speak at the convention was a snub, error in judgment or genuine scheduling conflict, the real question remains to be answered by the Black Electorate – how long will it take before Black voters realize and do something about the fact that the majority of their political leaders have sold their best political interests out, in favor of nearness and access to political parties – both Republican and Democrat.

President Bush’s decision to not attend the convention of Black America’s reputedly largest, oldest and most popular civic organization should be revealing. Of course it would be easy to say that the decision exposes Bush’s lack of interest in the Black vote, an explanation proffered by many Black Democrats. And it would be just as easy to explain that Bush has nothing to gain by speaking to an organization that was behind some of the sharpest attacks against his presidential campaign last year, an opinion provided courtesy of numerous Black Republicans.

But the most glaring piece of information to be gleaned from the Bush decision may be how poorly Black leaders and organizations – most dramatically the NAACP – have positioned themselves juxtaposed to the American political process.

To think that in the year 2001 Blacks can only hope for the President of the United States to grace their conventions with a speaking appearance is shameful. Even when President Clinton was in office, the NAACP and other Black organizations only received a ceremonial and symbolic appearance and speech. They, in no way, actually forced the Democratic president to be responsive to their agenda(s). In that sense, there is no real difference in a Bush appearance before the NAACP and one by Clinton. In the end, neither man, as candidate or President is actually influenced by Black organizations before, during, or prior to his meeting with them.

That may sound like a stretch to some but we ask that those who doubt our assertion ask themselves a series of questions: When was the last time that a White Democrat or Republican had to fear the loss of a significant percentage of the Black vote due to a position on issues? And even more importantly, when was the last time that a Black organization threatened the loss of its support for a White Republican or Democratic President due to a specific position taken by that candidate or President on an issue or in response to an agenda? And finally, when was the last time that a Black organization offered to withdraw support for a White Democratic or Republican Presidential candidate and give that support to another Presidential candidate based upon an issue or agenda?

The NAACP is compromised, as are numerous organizations, on both sides of the aisle because they make partisan attachment the basis of their existence de jure or de facto. The movement, among the leadership of Black organizations, has moved away from judging politicians of all persuasions by their responsiveness to issues and agendas and toward judging politicians by their ability to empathize, sympathize and display compassion toward the Black electorate. Now, more than ever, we live in a world where Black leaders of traditional Black organizations and those which deliberately allow themselves to be subsumed by either major political party, ask their members to judge politicians by a formula which measures the level of access to be provided to Blacks by that politician, in combination with that politician’s ability to genuflect, posture and speak with rhythm before Black audiences. If a politician “performs” well, then points are rewarded. It is an exercise of pure symbol over substance that allows Black leaders to style themselves as power brokers when they are little more than political butlers and buffers who run interference for White politicians who really have no desire or intention to become responsive to the Black man and woman “on the street”.

Sadly, other communities and interest groups with fewer votes and less ability to mobilize voters than Black organizations, do better when it comes to getting Presidents to be responsive to their issue(s) and agenda. One only need to consider the influence of AIPAC and AARP on both political parties to understand this point. For these groups, it does not matter as much whether or not a President declines or accepts an invitation to speak at their conventions as much as it matters whether or not he responds, endorses and intends to implement significant aspects if not all of their agendas. Believe us when we tell you that the "points" awarded for White Presidents for their ability to sound like a Black preacher in the pulpit would not even register with these groups and their leaders who are more concerned with producing political results than they are in generating applause.
To demonstrate how bad things are with Black establishment leaders in this regard, even though the NAACP claims to stand against President Bush on principle, we are persuaded from history to believe that if he had attended the event, hit the right chords, struck the right poses and smiled, grinned and frowned at the right time…and of course considered the right NAACP-recommended appointees and nominees for available positions, the rhetoric sounded by the organization's leaders would have been softened a bit.

Business as usual.

If this were a beauty contest, Olympic gymnastics, bodybuilding or "Showtime at the Apollo" we could agree with the system used by many Black organizations in measuring politicians. However, the last time we checked this was politics – where laws are made which impact the lives of every human being living in America.

Since that is the case we will leave the theater to showbiz, where it belongs.

Cedric Muhammad

Monday, July 9, 2001

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The views and opinions expressed herein by the author do not necessarily represent the opinions or position of or Black Electorate Communications.

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