- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 17, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The relevance of the NAACP’s role in the civil-rights movement is unquestionably significant, even monumental. Its impact and effectiveness on today’s political landscape can be debated amid dwindling membership, a one-sided platform, and troubled, ever-changing leadership. That hasn’t stopped either of the presumptive presidential nominees from addressing the organization’s 99th annual convention in St. Louis this week.

Sen. John McCain, who spoke Wednesday, chose a mostly educational theme. This was an issue at the time of the civil-rights movement that demanded educational opportunity and access for all. Today, students have achieved equal access to be replaced with an inexcusable achievement gap afflicting mostly poor black children. As Mr. McCain pointed out: “What is the value of access to a failing school?”

Many conservatives, from President Bush to Condoleezza Rice, Rod Paige and Colin Powell, have argued that the glaring disparity in black and white educational achievement is this nation’s present-day “civil rights” issue and that our challenge is to overcome “the soft bigotry of low expectations.” These arguments have merit and we concur. When the Baltimore and Detroit school districts can only graduate 30 percent of their students even though they receive the most per-pupil funding in the nation, that is not only a moral travesty, but a moral mandate. A mandate for change and choice. We applaud Mr. McCain for using his opportunity at the NAACP to shed light on such a critical issue, by touting more choice and access to better schools for “our children.” As Mr. McCain pointed out, the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program serves nearly 2,000 low-income families a year. It is a program this editorial page has endorsed, a majority of black parents support and Barack Obama has opposed. In fact, Mr. Obama, in his speech to the NAACP, referred to such programs as “tired rhetoric.” Tell that to the 7,000 families who have applied for the scholarships and don’t want their child’s education squandered while Democrats like Mr. Obama “work on” reform. For his part, Mr. Obama’s message on Monday centered on the theme of self-responsibility. Education would have been a fine policy with which to start.

The irony is, new polling this week revealed that only 5 percent of blacks view Mr. McCain “favorably,” while 83 percent view Mr. Obama the same way. Not surprising. And there is no question which candidate will garner the larger share of the black vote this election. But, having opposed school choice at every turn, (and in spite of the overwhelming support garnered from the black community), both the NAACP and Mr. Obama remain tragically out of touch with their own constituency in addressing this present-day “civil-rights” challenge.

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