Jewish World Review March 1, 2001 / 6 Adar 5761
Bush needs group to promote ideas
in Black America
WHAT can President Bush possibly do to improve his standing
among African-Americans? Despite high-level appointments,
efforts at outreach and programs aimed at helping the
disadvantaged, his approval ratings continue to lag.
The latest Pew Research Poll reveals that only 22 percent of
African-Americans approve of Bush's job performance and 40
percent disapprove. In 1989 the numbers for his father were 53
percent positive and 12 percent negative.
In the election, of course, Bush received less than 9 percent of
the black vote.
Both the Republican National Committee and the White House
are trying to figure out what to do. RNC Chairman Jim Gilmore is
hosting a discussion Wednesday on how to make GOP ideology
appealing to African-Americans, and the White House has a
secret confab scheduled for early March.
Such meetings should produce a group of
moderate-to-conservative African-American executives,
ministers, academics and activists, akin to the Independent
Women's Forum, who will challenge the conventional wisdom of
civil rights groups and defend "compassionate conservatism."
The first task of such a group would be to defend Bush against
what the White House rightly regards as the "demonization" that
led to the worst election performance among blacks for a
Republican since 1964.
Most effective was the low-blow ad put out by the NAACP
attacking Bush for opposing a new Texas "hate crimes" law after
the brutal murder of African-American James Byrd.
In the ad Byrd's sister compared Bush's action to the murder
itself. In states where the ad ran, Bush consistently received
less than 10 percent of the black vote. In some states where
the ad didn't run, he topped 15 percent.
Bush answered the ad by saying that Byrd's murderers were
facing the death penalty and that he'd previously signed an
expanded state "hate crimes" statute, but there was no
aggressive effort to make those points in the African-American
media, White House aides admit.
Bush needs black advocates because the demonization drive
continues. Democrats are making it an article of faith in black
communities that African-Americans were massively
"disenfranchised" in Florida and elsewhere and that Bush was
"selected," not "elected," president.
House Democratic leaders have decided to intensify the
anti-Bush campaign by assigning perhaps the most incendiary
single member of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Maxine
Waters (Calif.), to head a task force studying voter
Although multiple breakdowns occurred in the balloting system in
Florida and other states, even the liberal-dominated U.S. Civil
Rights Commission hasn't yet produced evidence to support
charges that blacks were denied the right to vote. Indeed,
Florida's African-American turnout increased by 50 percent in
2000 over 1996.
And contrary to widely repeated charges, a national study by
academics Stephen Knack and Martha Knopf shows that
predominantly African-American counties are no more likely to
use old, error-prone punch-card voting machines than
In the long run, Bush's ability to appeal to African-Americans will
depend on whether his economic and education policies help
minorities and whether civil rights laws are vigorously enforced.
However, Bush also needs to encourage the emergence of
African-American voices to challenge the dogmas of traditional
liberal civil rights activists.
There is a clear difference between the Democratic Party's
dominant attitude on race and the Bush-Republican one.
Democrats tend to indulge what African-American Professor
John McWhorter of the University of California at Berkeley calls
"victimology" - the notion that African-American social problems
are overwhelmingly the result of persistent white racism that
can be corrected only by guilt-tripping whites into enacting
preferences that favor blacks.
McWhorter, in his new book, Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America, argues that while racism certainly
exists, it is being overemphasized in a way that diverts black
from strategies - academic achievement and entrepreneurship -
that will help them take advantage of the opportunities that the
civil rights movement has won for them.
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The standard strategy of Democrats and civil rights leaders
such as the Rev. Jesse Jackson, McWhorter said in an interview,
"is to keep fear alive, not keep hope alive."
McWhorter said he didn't vote for Bush, but likes what he's
doing, especially appointing excellence-oriented Dr. Roderick
Paige as secretary of Education and linking up with black
churches through his faith-based initiative.
He also said he doubts that Bush will ever succeed in even
reaching 20 percent of the black vote. "Victimology is too
ingrained," he explained. Moreover, he believes that Bush has a
permanent "bad smell" about him among blacks.
Whether or not that's true, fighting back is worth the effort - so
is fostering an ethic of achievement in black
JWR contributor Morton Kondracke is executive editor of Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. Send your comments by clicking here.
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