It must be a strange day to be George W. Bush. He's just returned home from a summit where he was verbally smacked down by Russian president Vladimir Putin in front of an adoring media. For a person who's not fond of being exposed to opposing opinion, one has to wonder why he chose 2006, of all the years of his administration, to finally address the NAACP.
Presidential spokesman Tony Snow said Bush decided to speak to the group Thursday because of "a moment of opportunity" for the president to tout his civil rights record and mend fences.
"He has an important role to play, not only in making the case for civil rights, but maybe more importantly, the case for unity," Snow said. "Because as long as we have a nation that's in any way divided along racial lines or where politics become a source of division rather one of civil debate and trying to perfect the democracy, that's a problem."
Such an Orwellian statement makes one contemplate what kind of bullshit Bush's speechwriters will cook up for this event.
Consider that the Bush administration publicly denounced affirmative action, even though the president was himself a product of that system, albeit the kind that we don't need more of - legacy. How about the fact that his tax cuts have done nothing to help out the lower and middle classes, even though demographic data shows African-Americans to be predominantly in those income brackets? What about his pathetic response to the onset of Hurricane Katrina, and the federal government's treatment of displaced residents, the vast majority who are African-American? Maybe someone should show Bush this poll to remind him of just how unpopular he is with this particular demographic:
In what may turn out to be one of the biggest free-falls in the history of presidential polling, President Bush's job-approval rating among African Americans has dropped to 2 percent, according to a new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll.
Those numbers haven't gotten much better since that lowest of lows. In one of his more lucid articles, New York Times 'reporter' Adam Nagourney chronicles the Republican Party's utter failure to create much of a shift in the political makeup of African-Americans.
But as Mr. Bush is tentatively scheduled to speak at the N.A.A.C.P. convention in Washington this week -- after five years of declining to appear before an organization with which he has had tense relations -- it seems fair to say that whatever the motivation, the effort has faltered.
That perception of Republicans as insensitive to racial issues was fed again by the opposition mounted by some House conservatives to an extension of the Voting Rights Act. The House approved the extension last week.
"I have heard Ken Mehlman talk about the Republican Party as the party of Lincoln," said Bruce S. Gordon, the president of the N.A.A.C.P. "I have not seen that evidence itself as much as Ken would suggest. If the party wishes to reflect the principles of Lincoln, it has a long way to go."
As RNC chairman, Ken Mehlman has made it a point to do more outreach within the African-American community. Most of their hopes, rightly or wrongly, seemed to be set on playing up - surprise! - socially divisive issues that may find more support amongst African-Americans, who are more socially conservative than most Democrats are. However, even JC Watts, the former GOP African-American congressman from Oklahoma, dismissed his party's strategy.
At the same time, Republican strategists have appealed to socially conservative blacks by emphasizing social issues like same-sex marriage.
Mr. Watts, the former Republican congressman, called that a "lame strategy" and said the top concerns of African-American voters were racial and economic issues.
"It's a little bit insulting to all those pastors out there and people who stand with the party on the social issues,'' Mr. Watts said, when the party then does "nothing" to help blacks on opportunity issues.
Mr. Watts, you might want to apply that statement to the entire administration and your party in Congress for all races - unless you have money, they are not concerned about giving you more opportunity.
Democrats shouldn't take the African-American vote for a given. We need to continue to show a commitment towards reaching true equality amongst all Americans, be they white, black, Hispanic, and so forth. Our congressional platform for the fall, A New Direction for America, addresses a lot of these issues of opportunity - increasing the minimum wage and making college more affordable, to name a couple. However, it's important that we don't forget that there are still inequalities in today's society, and we must be vigilant in protecting the progress that has been made - progress that the right wing so eagerly wants to set back.
It won't be happening soon, though. One only needs to look at Mehlman's poor math skills to understand.
"As I said from the day I started this,'' Mr. Mehlman said, "there are going to be ups and there are going to be downs -- this is going to be a difficult process. It took the Republican Party 40 years, since 1964, to get 8 percent of the vote."
He evidently doesn't want to remember the time before 1960, when African-Americans used to support the Republican Party because it was the party of Lincoln, not because it said it was.
As for Bush? One can only imagine the reception he'll get from this crowd after the unwelcome reception that greeted him at Coretta Scott King's funeral.
He'll be facing the music, that's for sure.