Jewish World Review July 20, 2004 / 2 Menachem-Av 5764
Jay D. Homnick
His Bond is not his word
The broadside launched against our President by Mr. Julian Bond has left me shaken, not stirred. The tenure of Mr. Bond at the helm of the NAACP has not been marked by a climate of good faith or good will. Still, the President's plea of a prior engagement leaves the NAACP at the altar, making him the first sitting President to flout their convention. Thus Mr. Bond, Julian Bond, is not without foundation when he dubs Mr. Bush as Dr. No.
Now, it is true that the appearances by prior Presidents were mostly symbolic. In fact, none of them uttered anything so memorable as to have earned a place in our national conversation. Yet that very fact should be flipped around by an astute political advisor to make the point that nothing is lost by attending; if a few boo, or nap instead of clap, it is they who will be rude that day. Instead, we have a good President setting a bad precedent.
In fact, the wholesale rejection of Mr. Bush by the black electorate is a matter that invites some perplexity. This Presidency, unlike the Age of Clinton which foreran it, has been notable for its placement of African-Americans in positions of real power. Colin Powell is Secretary of State, which puts him fourth in line for the Presidency. Rumors that Rumsfeld has occasionally outmaneuvered him in securing policy objectives are unremarkable: the Secretaries of State and Defense always engage in a perpetual arm-wrestle. No Administration has ever functioned otherwise.
Nor is Colin the only Powell with clout. His son has flexed some muscle lately in his position as head of the FCC. If you think that he is insecure, or that his job is a sinecure, ask Howard Stern. He'll give you an earful about how the younger Powell is manhandling his right to discuss the process of excretion and other rites of the human constitution. This Powell has real power; some wags have begun to call him "Semi-Colin".
More importantly, Condoleezza Rice is a very influential National Security Advisor who is always at the side of the Commander-In-Chief. This is no token appointment at Housing or Commerce where your only chance of getting Presidential attention is by shooting a spitball down the full length of the Cabinet table. Everyone knows that the appointment of Condi meant more than an effort to create a salt-and-pepper effect in photo ops. She is a pillar of this Administration.
Yet, Clinton is hailed as "the first black President" by Toni Morrison, a sentiment loudly echoed in the public square. W, on the other hand, faces an implacable front of angry black folks, who would like to make him ex.
It is facile, although not altogether false, to note that Democrats have lined the pockets of the NAACP with lots of spare governmental change. Blacks consider them patron saints, and this ain't just because of patronage. Somehow, the mythology of "Democrats good, Republicans bad" has captured the African-American heart in a profound way.
This will not be undone by a few feeble election-year maneuvers. Only strenuous efforts invested in the first, second and third years of a Presidency will be seen as sufficiently selfless to help reorient perceptions. Take the case of the young black girl who escaped her kidnapers in Philadelphia by chewing through her duct-tape restraints and climbing out a basement window. That occurred after just one year of Mr. Bush's term. What a wonderful moment to highlight! She should have been awarded a special medal of courage, presented by the President amid much fanfare, surrounded by her family and community leaders.
How about Chief Moose, who led the task force to apprehend the Washington-area sniper? If offered the chance to be honored for his work in a highly visible White House meeting, would he have turned it down? And would not such hands-on interest by the White House served the Administration well in other ways, too, making it seem more alert in the War on Terrorism?
The chances for inroads in this first term are past. We nervously pray only for small wonders, like not adding to the batch of botches. There is no need to hand the NAACP a snub which they can brandish as proof positive of an attitude negative. Mr. Bond believes that the Democrats are giving him the gold; Mr. Bush could at least avoid giving him the finger.
JWR contributor Jay D. Homnick is the author of many books and essays on Jewish political and religious affairs. Comment by clicking here.
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© 2003, Jay D. Homnick