No Show

Bush discounts the black vote while Kerry takes it for granted.


George W. Bush’s decision to skip the NAACP’s annual
meeting served as a reminder that his campaign has pretty much given
up on doing better than the dismal 9 percent of the African-American
vote it got in 2000. Back then, Bush ran as a
“compassionate conservative” and actively sought votes from
minorities, speaking of the “soft bigotry of low
expectations” and talking a good game on civil rights.
Candidate Bush, in a widely praised move, even
addressed the NAACP, criticizing his own party: “There is no
denying that the party of Lincoln has not always carried the
mantle of Lincoln…”

But the Bush’s relationship with the NAACP has been
on a downward spiral since then. Soon after his 2000 visit, the
organization ran an ad suggesting that Bush, as governor of Texas, went easy on the white-supremacist
murderers of James Byrd Jr., an African-American man killed
in 1998. Then came the
Florida vote fiasco, in which around 54 percent of the 180,000 spoiled ballots were
cast by African-Americans (despite their making up only 11
percent of the state’s electorate). And then there are some pretty basic policy differences: Bush is a foe of affirmative action, and his economic
policies aren’t exactly geared towards minorities. The NAACP, moreover has been highly critical of the war in Iraq — and indeed of Bush in general. As Deroy
Murdock of the

National Review puts it:

“No one should be surprised … to see Bush toss
the NAACP’s invitation into the trash. That’s exactly where [it] has relegated him since
2000. NAACP chairman Julian Bond and president Kweisi Mfume
have played tag team in bashing Bush and the GOP.

‘So, we’ve got … a president that’s prepared
to take us back to the days of Jim Crow segregation and
dominance,’ Mfume told Washington journalist Hazel Trice
Edney just last week.

President Bush ‘has selected nominees from
the Taliban wing of American politics,’ Bond informed the
NAACP’s New Orleans confab on July 8, 2001, as the September
11 hijackers learned to fly. ‘He has appeased the wretched
appetites of the extreme right wing. And he has chosen
Cabinet officials whose devotion to the Confederacy is
nearly canine in its uncritical affection.’

No wonder Bush found a better use of his
valuable time than to associate with these racial bomb
throwers.”

But the American Prospect‘s

Michael Tomasky argues that there’s something deeper at play
here:

“… Policy differences aren’t the real reason
Bush isn’t showing up this year. He isn’t showing up because
compassionate conservatism is out. …The same weekend Bush
was snubbing the NAACP, he decided to focus his Saturday
radio address on his push to ban gay marriage under the
Constitution…

…Compassionate conservatism is out, and
comprehensive conservatism is in. Only a tiny percentage of
the electorate is up for grabs this year; maybe five
percent. Political guru Karl Rove understands well that the
administration’s record makes fighting for that five percent
a challenge. So the reelection campaign is clearly and only
about shoring up the right-wing vote.”


National Security advisor Condoleeza Rice
told CNN she was “quite
comfortable” with the president’s decision not to speak to
the NAACP, citing the president’s Bush’s record as
“impeccable on civil rights, impeccable on the interests of
African-Americans.” Rice also pointed out that under
President Bush, African-Americans have held “some of the
highest positions in this government to which they’ve ever
been appointed.” NAACP leaders have not always been
diplomatic in their disagreements with African-American
conservatives like Rice.

Mfume told the NAACP convention that:

“When the ultraconservative right-wing
attacker has run out of attack strategy, he goes and gets
someone that looks like you and me to continue the
attacks…They can’t deal with the leaders we choose for
ourselves, so they manufacture, promote and hire new ones.”

Kerry is aiming to equal or better Al
Gore’s 90 percent of the African-American vote in
2000, but he looks to be falling short. According to a recent Gallup poll, in a two-way race,
Kerry led with

81 percent of the African-American vote compared to Bush’s
12 percent. But in a three-way race with Ralph Nader, Nader
gets 10 percent of the African-American vote, while Kerry’s
advantage slips to 73 percent, with Bush at 9 percent.

The NAACP hasn’t been thrilled with the Democrats lately. The Kerry campaign is
facing criticism for its lack of minorities on the staff to
what is seen as its half-hearted campaigning among
African-Americans.

As

Mfume put it:

“Accountability requires that we reject
pandering of both parties. Every Republican is not our
enemy, and every Democrat is not our friend. We still have a
society where some in the Democratic Party take our votes
for granted, and many in the Republican Party refuse to
campaign for them.”

This feeling that the Democratic Party is taking the
African-American vote for granted could depress
turnout at the polls. Furthermore, while African-Americans
vote overwhelmingly for the Democrats, the percentage of
those who identify themselves as independents and
Republicans has increased in recent years. As National
Public Radio’s

Juan Williams wrote in last month’s New York Times
(subscription required):

“It’s increasingly clear that blacks are no
longer willing to vote as a bloc, automatically lining up
with the Democrats. This is particularly true of younger
black voters. A 2002 poll by the Joint Center for Political
and Economic Studies, a research group based in Washington,
found a shift in the political identification of black
voters. For example, 34 percent of 18- to 25-year-old black
voters identified themselves as independents. Overall, 24
percent of black Americans of all ages see themselves as
independents — a four percentage point increase since the
2000 election. And now 10 percent of blacks call themselves
Republican, a six percentage point rise since 2000.”

Seizing his moment Kerry, in his Thursday
address to the NAACP said that: “When you’re
president you need to talk to all of the people and that’s
exactly what I intend to do… The president may be too busy to speak to you
now
, but I’ve got news for you: He’s going to have
plenty of time after November 2nd.”

In addition to Kerry’s NAACP appearance, the announcement
that Barack Obama (the African-American Democratic nominee
expected to win the Illinois Senate race) will be giving a
prime-time speech at the Democratic National Convention was
also seen as an effort to boost the party’s appeal among African-American voters.

Finally, in a long-awaited — and belated — move, the
Kerry campaign has unveiled a $2 million ad campaign
targeting African-American voters. But African-American
politicians are highly disappointed with the new ads. The Kerry campaign has said
that changes will be made. It will need to fix much more
than the ads — and soon. Most African-Americans will not
vote for Bush this November; the danger for Kerry is that
many may not vote at all.