- The Washington Times - Friday, March 9, 2001

House Majority Leader Dick Armey and NAACP President Kweisi Mfume yesterday agreed to work together to end racial polarization, both calling for renewed coexistence and cooperation between the Republican Party and the civil-rights organization.
Following an hour-long meeting at the Capitol, Mr. Mfume and Mr. Armey who last month angrily scolded those who spread unfounded and racially charged falsehoods against the Republican Party for political advantage promised to begin "serious discussions" on a number of topics affecting "all Americans."
"The NAACP clearly does not believe that all Republicans are bigots or racists, nor do we believe that all Democrats are saints or saviors," said Mr. Mfume during a joint news conference with the Texas Republican in front of the Capitol. "At some point in time, we've got to tone down the rhetoric so that we are not disrespecting people."
"We can disagree but we don't have to be disagreeable," Mr. Mfume said.
Mr. Armey described his closed-door meeting with the civil-rights leader as a "wonderful visit" and said the two men talked about a wide range of issues education, economics, hate crimes, racial profiling, Social Security reform and even slavery in Sudan during what he described as a "candid session."
"We had a very serious discussion on how government can work for the benefit of all Americans," Mr. Armey said. "Although we have some broad differences on policy, our friendship prevails and I believe we can work together as friends and former colleagues."
Mr. Armey said the two men discussed "the casualness with which racial allegations are hurled around."
Mr. Mfume, former four-term congressman from Maryland named in 1995 to head the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), had requested the meeting after a letter from Mr. Armey in which the majority leader described "racial McCarthyism" or "reverse race-baiting" as an "all too common practice to spread unfounded, racially charged falsehoods against Republicans for political advantage."
Mr. Armey, in the Feb. 22 letter, said the practice, deliberate or not, would continue to "divide our nation, polarize our political parties and do untold harm in the lives of real people who are unjustly accused of conspiracy against the civil rights of African-Americans."
His letter was in response to comments last month by NAACP Chairman Julian Bond, who said the Bush administration, instead of uniting the country, "almost daily separates and divides."
Mr. Bond also said President Bush's political nominees were from the "Taleban wing of American politics" and that Mr. Bush had "appeased the wretched appetites of the extreme right wing and chose Cabinet officials whose devotion to the Confederacy is nearly canine in its uncritical affection." Mr. Bond's critical statements were expressed during the contentious nomination hearings of John Ashcroft to be attorney general.
Mr. Bond later responded to Mr. Armey's letter by saying, "This is a typical complaint of those who oppose justice and fairness and who accuse those of us who insist on fairness of this tactic."
"People have to be willing to give this up, on both sides this whole racial rhetoric," Mr. Armey said, noting that Republicans had been associated with church burnings and the dragging death of a black Texan, James Byrd, and that some had compared the Florida election to the 1965 civil-rights conflict at Selma, Ala.
Republicans came under fire from black groups in the wake of the November presidential election, when some claimed Florida election leaders including Gov. Jeb Bush and Secretary of State Katherine Harris worked to keep minority voters from the polls.
Some members of the Congressional Black Caucus objected in January to the seating of Florida's electors for Mr. Bush, claiming that some blacks had been prevented from voting.
Mr. Armey and Mr. Mfume both were critical of a comment over the weekend by Democratic Sen. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, who used the term "white niggers" during a television interview. Mr. Byrd later apologized, saying the phrase dated back to his boyhood and had no place in today's society. Mr. Armey and Mr. Mfume both said they were "appalled" by the comment.


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