The long-standing feud between President Bush and the nation's pre-eminent African-American organization, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, is about to end with the president addressing the group's 97th annual convention this week.
But let's get real about why Bush is making an appearance: It is all about votes in November's upcoming congressional elections. Yes, the president traded barbs with former NAACP President Kweisi Mfume through much of his first term. But in 2004 even Mfume "opened the civil rights organization's 95th annual convention yesterday by expressing hope that President Bush would re-examine his decision not to meet with the group's 8,000 delegates." Current NAACP President Bruce Gordon is more moderate than his predecessor and has met with the president much more often, beseeching him to address the group's convention. But for an African-American group to give Bush this precious podium stretches the term "bending over backward" and places it into spine-cracking territory.
Let's hope audience members have strong memory skills. Some 11 percent of black voters supported the president in 2004, which was slightly higher than the percentage in 2000. Intervening events suggest the percentage of blacks voting Republican could be smaller in this fall's congressional elections. As Reuters reports, "the Bush administration…was widely criticized last year for a slow response to Hurricane Katrina that some charged was tinged with racism because the storm devastated mainly poor and black communities along the Gulf Coast."
Do the words Ohio and Florida ring a bell? If not, I refer you here
There, it is written, "Mr. Palast's most recent book, Armed Madhouse, details how votes of African-Americans can be challenged in a process referred to as 'caging.' Independent analysis of so-called 'spoiled' votes in the 2004 election showed that the chances of a black vote being spoiled and not counted (blacks vote 90 percent Democratic) was 500 times more likely than the spoilage of a Latino vote (Latinos vote about 40 percent Republican). Even the votes of black soldiers serving in Iraq were successfully challenged when they returned to the states. Not having enough voting machines or functioning machines in predominantly black districts and poor neighborhoods, or at liberal colleges; stopping and searching cars with black occupants on the way to the polls; searching the households of blacks for potential voting fraud; not allowing Election Day to be a holiday or not extending the time for voting or having voting on weekends; not allowing D.C. to have representation in the Senate: All are ways of suppressing the black democratic vote. Gerrymandering and voter picture IDs (many poor blacks don't drive and may not have picture IDs), or some other test of voter eligibility, are more traditional tactics."
Independent polling confirms that the president's appearance is unlikely to change many African-American minds. According to Gallup polling, 2 in 3 Hispanic registered voters and more than 8 in 10 black voters say they will vote for the Democratic candidate in their congressional district in the November midterm elections. There has been little change in these attitudes compared with two years ago.
So keep talking, Mr. President. But most members of this audience know better than to listen.