- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 10, 2001

What nerve I say. What nerve. The same NAACP that bought and paid for the most partisan and racially divisive political ads in recent memory has the gall to act surprised and injured that President George W. Bush has declined their invitation to be the keynote speaker at the NAACP national convention on July 11. In my opinion Mr. Bush did the right thing in not accepting the NAACP's invitation.
This same NAACP — lead by Kweisi Mfume, Julian Bond and Hilary Shelton — made then-Gov. George W. Bush look like a tacit supporter of the brutal lynching of a black man (James Byrd) which took place in Texas back in 1998. Mr. Byrd was dragged to his death behind a pick-up truck by three white men simply because he was black. The ad that the NAACP ran during the 2000 campaign depicted a truck dragging chains on the ground as Mr. Byrd's daughter gave the voice-over which said the fact that Mr. Bush did not support the so-called "hate crimes" legislation was "like my father being dragged to death all over again." The ad was offensive to me as a black American, who has supported the NAACP routinely, because it implied that Mr. Bush is a racist akin to the men who dragged Byrd to his cruel death. The NAACP crossed the line in that ad.
What really smacks of hypocrisy is that these same black leaders continue to lead black Americans in every election to reject bipartisan politics. Instead they go to great lengths to scare black voters and put forth partisan rhetoric (although under the guise of non-partisanship) that only further divides this nation racially. As a candidate for the presidency, Mr. Bush spoke at the NAACP convention this past summer. Mr. Bush, unlike other GOP standard-bearers, entered into the proverbial lion's den and was greeted warmly. Mr. Bush said in his remarks, "There's no escaping the reality that the party of Lincoln has not always carried the mantle of Lincoln." Mr. Bush continued, "There is no denying the truth that slavery is a blight on our history and that racism, despite all our progress, still exists," he said. "Discrimination is still a reality, even when it takes different forms."
I think Mr. Bush said a lot, and extended an olive branch even though he had little to gain politically. The national polls at that time showed Mr. Bush garnering as much as 17 percent of the black vote. The math is simple. Mr. Bush had to be stopped. He was simply not scary to black voters, so the NAACP decided to scare us.
Shortly after the NAACP invited the presidential candidates to attend its summer convention it announced that the NAACP National Voter Fund was creating a drive aimed at registering and turning out black voters to the tune of $9 million to get black voters to the polls. This voter mobilization effort was "unprecedented in its scope and energy." Leaders of the NAACP targeted the 2000 election as one in which the "stakes have never been higher." As a result, the black voter turnout for then-Vice President Al Gore, particularly in Florida, was unprecedented. Mr. Bush received a record low percentage of the black vote, even for a GOP candidate, and has been trying to heal relations with this community ever since the November election.
What the NAACP cannot say out loud is that this effort was designed solely to mobilize black democratic voters who were more than 85 percent likely to vote for Mr. Gore based on past national election trends. Let me be clear. I wholeheartedly support the right of the NAACP to inform its members of the positions of the major political candidates as it relates to its respective organizational goals and agendas. The NAACP has every right to want all black voters to vote in high numbers. What is troubling is that when we as blacks put all of our political eggs in one basket, as we did in 1994 when Congress changed hands for the first time in 40 years, we lose the essence of the meaning of our democracy and individual freedoms. We should align with the candidate who best represents our hopes and goals for the future; as does every other ethnic community in America.
The choice really is ours. Not Al Sharpton's, not Jesse Jackson's or the NAACP's. We as a people can continue to choose the same path that has gotten us very little in terms of political clout in America — or we can choose to forge a new path that gives us a seat at the table of political power and access. I hope we choose the latter, and do not take the obvious political bait that is being thrown at us a full year before the 2002 mid-term elections.
In the final analysis, the civil rights movement of the 1960s was supposed to be about our "full participation" in the government of this great republic. Black Americans like to say that we aren't monolithic, but politically speaking we are. The fact is that until black Americans are willing to exercise "equal" scrutiny for each and every candidate, be they Republican or Democrat, we will continue to be irrelevant in the electoral process.

Sophia A. Nelson is a former congressional committee counsel, a GOP strategist and president of ALN Consulting Inc.

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