George W. Bush can do only one thing to satisfy the NAACP: Resign.
President Bush “has selected nominees from the Taliban wing of American politics,” NAACP chairman Julian Bond told the civil-rights group’s New Orleans convention on July 8. “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.”
That’s the thanks Bush gets for numerous decisions that should have pleased America’s so-called black leaders:
He appointed America’s first black secretary of state, Colin Powell. Condoleezza Rice, also black, is national-security adviser. Earth to Bond: Black people run U.S. foreign policy.
Bush’s education secretary, Rod Paige, is black, too. While the president should have prevented Congress from transforming his education initiative into a spending bonanza, Bush’s critics cannot realistically accuse him of defunding ghetto schools and defenestrating minority students.
Bush reappointed Roger Gregory — a black, Democratic Clinton nominee — to the federal appellate court. Conservatives complain that Bush should have embraced Gregory only after Democrats green-lighted several Bush candidates. Still, what kind of pro-Confederate president would give a black Democrat a federal judgeship?
Bush hosted the all-Democratic Congressional Black Caucus in the Cabinet Room on January 31. “They had a warm meeting,” White House Assistant Press Secretary Anne Womack told me. “It was scheduled for 30 minutes and actually lasted nearly an hour.”
Bush instructed Attorney General John Ashcroft to find a way to end racial profiling (without, one hopes, preventing cops from legitimately pursuing crooks of color).
Bush acceded to the demands of reverends Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton that the Navy end live-ammunition training at Puerto Rico’s Vieques Island. Pro-military Republicans angrily denounced this obvious pander to black and Hispanic liberals. They, in turn, screamed more loudly than ever to stop the bombing “NOW!” — not in 2003, as Bush proposed.
To promote his faith-based initiative, Bush has visited black congregations across America. He spent July Fourth at a church-sponsored block party in downtown Philadelphia where he hugged gospel singers and played touch football with black children.
These actions seem rather generous for an administration supposedly plotting to resurrect Jim Crow. Alas for Bush, the only way to appease the black Left is to exile himself to his Texas ranch and play horseshoes in silence.
Bond’s broadside highlights the yawning gap between Bush’s snarling critics and a president with a touching if futile commitment to cooling Washington’s political rhetoric.
“I’ve tried to speak in a tone that brings us together, and unites us in purpose,” Bush told the NAACP in taped remarks the day after Bond’s outburst. “I believe that even when disagreements arise, we should treat each other with civility and with respect.” Bush addressed the NAACP last summer. It later ran TV campaign ads tying Bush to James Byrd’s 1998 truck-dragging death in Jasper, Texas.
Wouldn’t it be lovely if American politics adopted the gentility of high tea at Harrods? Who wouldn’t hold hands with Newsweek’s Eleanor Clift to secure a century of freedom and prosperity?
But today’s liberals are loath to cooperate with Bush. They want him humiliated, paralyzed and vanquished.
Where was the decency among Senate and House Democrats, the vast majority of whom snubbed an April 30 White House unity luncheon to celebrate the Bush administration’s 100-day relationship with the 107th Congress?
Where was Robert Redford’s courtesy when Interior Secretary Gale Norton last May invited him to join her in releasing several endangered California condors into the wild? “You have compiled an abysmal record of capitulation to big businesses at the expense of the nation’s public health, public lands and wildlife,” Redford rebuffed Norton in a public RSVP.
Where was California Governor Gray Davis’s civility when he met President Bush on May 29? Even before Bush left California, Davis announced he would sue him in federal court over electricity prices.
Where is the Democrats’ bipartisanship in delaying confirmations of sub-Cabinet officers, thus leaving Cabinet secretaries “home alone” to implement Bush’s agenda with little if any top-level assistance?
President Bush can turn the other cheek until he develops whiplash. By pleading for politeness when he and his administration get clocked, Bush may purify his soul, but he shrinks as a leader. He must push his agenda — constantly, energetically and ubiquitously — with a toughness that subdues his opponents. He can do so with a smile, but also with a spine.