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Politics Mondays: President Bush and the Urban League by Armstrong Williams

Today, President Bush will address the National Urban League's 2003 convention. Other confirmed participants include Jesse Jackson and Congressional Black Caucus Chairman, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD).

The President's willingness to participate in this years event is at least somewhat remarkable, considering the vigor with which new Urban League president, Mark Morial, has criticized Bush in the past. In 2000, then New Orleans mayor Morial said he was "fearful of a George Bush administration....because when I'm reminded of Reagan-Bush, I'm reminded of the most difficult economic times in this state in my lifetime."

Bush hopes that his appearance at the Urban League-combined with other outreach measures-can help stimulate a more productive dialogue on civil rights issues. Many conservatives aren't so sure. "For the president's people to schedule him to be there with Jesse Jackson and Mark Morial...he should not be in a den where he will be booed and chastised," says former US Ambassador, Harold Doley. "The right is going to go berserk when they find out who he is dealing with here."

And indeed, the high priests of blackness will likely use the President's Urban League appearance as an occasion to label him-note the irony--"racist." Recently, NAACP Chairman Julian Bond accused the Republicans of appealing "to the dark underside of American culture, to that minority of Americans who reject democracy and equality...Their idea of equal rights is the American flag and Confederate swastika flying side by side." (For obvious reasons, Mr. Bond failed to discuss how is vitriolic remarks might facilitate racial healing)

In part, the terse relationship between Republicans and some of our leading civil rights organizations is hangover from the Reagan era. In 1980, Reagan took time from his campaign to visit an ailing Vernon Jordan, who was recovering from a gun shot wound. In his first public remarks after being discharged from the hospital, Jordan publicly implored the black populace to vote as a block against Regan. Within the first week of taking office, Regan Administration officials responded by slashing $88 million dollars of funding from the Urban League. Battle lines were drawn and the rhetoric between conservatives and civil rights leaders has grown ever more shrill over the years.

To show his consistent commitment to civil rights, Bush implemented a global Aids bill that will funnel billions of dollars to help combat AIDS in Africa; the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003, which creates more than 100,000 new jobs for black Americans and raises the Child Tax Credit from $600 to $1,000 per child this year; The No Child Left Behind Act, which empowers parents with the freedom to remove their children from failing and unsafe schools. A Republican led Congress, appropriated $214 million for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and over $53 million for Historically Black Graduate Institutions (HBGIs) in FY2003. (Funding for HBCUs has increased over 90% since Republicans took control of the House in 1995.)

Speaking with Urban League President Mark Morial, he made it clear that, unlike many other civil rights leaders, when Bush is right he praises him. Morial praise Bush's for his trip to Africa and for the numerous high level appointments of Blacks in his administration. Morial also assured that the President will be warmly received, although he has criticized Bush in the past, now that he is President Morial believes that he should be treated with the utmost respect.

Despite the fact that Bush is fulfilling the professed goals of our leading civil rights organizations, he has garnered little to no praise from these groups. Why? The answer is plain to see: the civil rights movement has been co-opted by the Democratic Party. Rather than opening up a genuine give and take with conservatives, most civil rights groups have chosen a rather more vengeful tact: using racial fear mongering to focus the black voting populace onto some vague enemy. Mfume and Bond give the game away with their remarks: "The extreme ultraconservative policies of the far right Draconian and punitive," said Mfume at one of their annual gatherings. During a recent speech before 2,000 attendees at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans, NAACP Chairman Julian Bond snorted that President George W Bush has "selected [political] nominees from the Taliban wing of American politics, appeased the wretched appetites of the extreme right wing and chosen cabinet officials whose devotion to confederacy is nearly canine in its uncritical affection." By exploiting the anger and fears of the black voting populace, Mfume and Bond created a strong sense of purpose and identity that has helped energize the NAACP. That's good for the organization's coffers. But these are supposed to be our civil rights leaders, our racial torchbearers in the dark. Instead they toss out accusations of racism like tossing popcorn to pigeons. Some things should you should not be so casual about. Some things should not be co-opted, like our basic civil rights.

The terse racial rhetoric employed by the high Priests of blackness has led many conservative strategists to simply give up on the black vote and dedicate their resources elsewhere. And so the chasm widens. Meanwhile, American blacks suffer. One hopes that President Bush can help bridge the gap with his outreach efforts. One hopes that the civil rights leaders will embrace him, for the good of all Americans.

Armstrong Williams can be contacted via e-mail at:

Monday, July 28, 2003

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