Hazel Trice Edney, Wilmington Journal, Jul. 6
WASHINGTON (NNPA) — NAACP President and Chief Executive Officer Kweisi Mfume says President George Bush is treating the Black community like prostitutes by claiming to want the Black vote while snubbing the NAACP’s annual convention for four consecutive years.
“We’re not fools. If you’re going to court us, court us in the daytime, but not like we’re a prostitute where you run around at night or behind closed doors and want to deal with us, but not want to deal with us in the light of the day,” says Mfume. “Mr. Bush has now distinguished himself as the first president since Warren Harding (1920-1923) who has not met with the NAACP. So, we’ve got a 95-year history and a president that’s prepared to take us back to the days of Jim Crow segregation and dominance, an era where dialog is required, not distance.”
Bush was invited to be keynote speaker at the convention, which starts Saturday in Philadelphia.
Mfume says the non-partisan civil rights group, the oldest and largest in the nation, had hoped to have both Bush and his Democratic challenger, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) at the event. Kerry has confirmed. In a brief letter from the president’s scheduler, Melissa S. Bennett, the White House said:
“Your request has been given every consideration. Unfortunately, due to scheduling commitments, we are unable to accommodate your request. Thank you for understanding. The President sends his best wishes.”
Mfume was not surprised.
“It’s business as usual at the White House,” he says. “They don’t view the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization as any way of significance or importance. In their minds, we do not exist. And that’s a dangerous course to take and a dangerous path to go down because you immediately then begin to write off a whole community of people simply because ideologically you may not agree with one another.”
Hilary Shelton, director of the Washington Bureau of the NAACP, says the letter of invitation was sent to Bush in December inviting him to speak at any time during the five-day convention. Shelton says he is concerned that some people have raised the question of how Bush would be treated if he came to the NAACP?
“Well, if you look at every other president who has come before us, whether we overall disagree with their politics or agree with their politics, they have always been treated with the utmost respect and appreciation for being with us,” Shelton says. “Our position has been when we invite people into our house, then indeed we will treat you with respect and care.”
Mfume scoffs at the excuse that Bush could not fit the convention into his schedule. “My mother always told me you always make time to do what you want to do. Clearly, the President doesn’t want to do this.”
A former U. S. representative from Maryland and former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, Mfume says he sees the Bush rejection as a pattern of behavior he has exhibited toward Black organizations.
“The fact of the matter is that the president has refused to meet with the Congressional Black Caucus, refused to meet with any real civil rights organizations, did a drive-by at the Urban League conference last year, where he whisked in for 15 minutes and whisked out, refusing to even meet at
length with their delegates or their leadership,” he says.
The rejection letter was dated June 21, less than two weeks before Bush’s White House celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, attended by civil rights veteran Dorothy Height and Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League.
“Those things are insulting,” Mfume says. “These are not the good ol’ days where all you had to do is show up and take a picture with a Black person and be considered a friend or an ally. These are the days in which you have to do something. Well, Mr. Bush, is, in my opinion, losing a huge
opportunity to do something and for whatever reason believe that photo opts will get it done and I don’t think they will.”
Given the fact that Bush received only 9 percent of the Black vote in the 2000 election, his rejection of the NAACP will have little political impact from his standpoint, says University of Maryland Political Scientist Ron Walters. But, it does make a statement, he says.
“It continues to confirm that Bush doesn’t have a receptive posture towards African-Americans,” Walters says. But, the even greater meaning to the NAACP is that
“Access to the White House has always been the currency of the NAACP. For it not to have it says to both parties that you’re out of favor.”
Bush and his policies have consistently been out of favor during each of the past four NAACP
In his 2001 convention speech, NAACP Chairman Julian Bond likened the Bush
administration to “the Taliban.” In 2002, he characterized Bush’s civil rights policies as “snake oil.” Last year, he described Bush’s Africa tour as an “exotic photo-op.”
Mfume says he now wants to speak at the Republican National Convention in New York. He says he has been confirmed as a speaker at the
Democratic convention, but has not received an answer yet from the Republicans.
“Our approach to both of them was pretty much to say, ‘Hello. Here’s what we are doing. Here’s how we would like your party to participate and we’d like to participate in some sort of way by speaking or having the opportunity to speak at your respective conventions,” Mfume says. “We asked four years ago and the Republicans said, ‘No, we can’t find any time on the agenda for you.’ And the Democratic Party said, ‘Yeah. You’re free to speak and we welcome whatever message you would bring.’”
Despite his distance from Bush, Mfume says it’s just the opposite with RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie.
“Ed Gillespie and I have a good working relationship. The fact that he’s the head of the Republican Party and I was a Democratic congressman for 10 years really is secondary. I knew him from my days on the Hill,” Mfume says. “I have a lot of respect for him in his current role. He will do good things. But he can not make the president do something that he doesn’t want to do.”