- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 11, 2000

George W. took his Clinton strategy to Baltimore yesterday to woo if not wow the NAACP, and he's counting on the old reliables in his party's base to catch the nudge and the wink.

The Clinton strategy worked for Bill Clinton in '92, when he pretended to be less liberal than he really was to persuade the country that he wasn't really a clone of the little Duke.

The temptation to see whether a similar strategy can work from the right is irresistible, and so far W.'s conservative friends seem to understand that he's got to talk a lot of mush, strained apricots and mashed bananas because baby food is all that the red-blooded American voter, distracted by demands of belly and telly, can tolerate this year.

This is not so much cynicism as compassionate concern for the soft psyche of the constituent, and the strategy seems to be working, as W. nudges farther ahead of Al Gore in the pre-convention polls that might or might not mean anything after Labor Day.

"Bush is a bit more inclined to using government than I like," Lyn Nofziger, a strategist in the Reagan White House, tells Scripps Howard News Service. "He would expand the federal role in education. That's an area where I'm a little uncomfortable but not to the point of running around and saying, 'We got to do something about this guy.' Some conservatives worried that he would be a replica of his father and surround himself with his father's top aides. I've been assured that's not the case."

Some of W.'s friends had to avert their gaze yesterday, when he begged for votes in a place where he won't get any. He went to Baltimore to scratch the delegates where they itch, and watching any pol at work, like watching a butcher make sausage, is not a pretty sight. W. didn't quite do a Clinton, offering the president's fill-in-the-blank apology for whatever slights and affronts the NAACP shakedown artists could think up, but neither did he do the number Mr. Clinton did on Sister Souljah in '92, when she was the reigning queen of racist rap.

When Bill Clinton put Sister Souljah in her place with a nudge and a wink, he knew Jesse Jackson and his friends would understand that it was all a scam. There was a similar dance yesterday in Baltimore, when W., affecting to act as a surrogate for the good ol' boys, put on a little sackcloth and ashes, but it was a bit of an act. W. doesn't really think of himself as a racist any more than Bill Clinton was offended by Sister Souljah's bigotry.

Over the past fortnight, W. has been making nice to a range of minorities. He spoke last week to two major Hispanic organizations, the League of United Latin American Citizens and the National Council of La Raza, lapsing into Tex-Mex Spanish that is considerably closer to fluency than Al Gore's Sidwell Friends Spanish.

He rehearsed his NAACP speech for an audience at the Congress of Racial Equality, promising a "school liberation movement," tax cuts, economic empowerment and his riff that racism remains a staple of American life.

W. cheerfully ignored the racist insults that Kweisi Mfume and Julian Bond threw at the white folks, counting on his friends to consider the source. Nobody thinks Mr. Bond, the chairman of the NAACP, or Mr. Mfume, the president of the NAACP, are fans of the History Channel, and when they call the Confederate flag "the equivalent of the swastika" they're only demonstrating that neither knows very much about the origins and meaning of either flag or swastika. They were just reaching for the low and ignorant insult. Anyone who invents a name like "Kweisi Mfume" for himself can only appreciate a quasi-history of America.

W. no doubt figures that the trashing of American history is an egghead issue that sails above the heads of many conservatives, who count taxes, abortion, vouchers, defense and keeping the electric chair hot as the issues dearest to their hearts, not necessarily in that order.

These are the issues attractive to a growing number of black voters as well, as the black middle class expands and younger black men and women respond to issues of the middle class, not necessarily to ancient hurts and grievances that were once relevant but no longer are. New polling shows Al Gore with a wide and commanding lead over W.; 71 percent to 17 percent, according to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll. But the raw numbers are misleading.

W. could never reverse the numbers. He doesn't have to. A shift of 4 or 5 percent would devastate Democratic prospects in a number of big states, and given the number of black voters the NAACP hopes to register for November, this could transform a close race into a landslide.

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