- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 9, 2002

HOUSTON The Rev. Jesse Jackson yesterday called President Bush and Attorney General John Ashcroft "the most threatening combination in our lifetime," at the 93rd annual convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Mr. Jackson also called the president's comparison of a recent Supreme Court ruling favoring school vouchers in Cleveland to the 1954 desegregation order in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas "unliterate" and "fuzzy history."

The crowd of about 3,000 in a ballroom at the George R. Brown Convention Center cheered Mr. Jackson's attacks, the second day of snipes at the Bush administration.

Mr. Jackson's remarks followed those Sunday night by NAACP Chairman Julian Bond, who accused the president of selling "snake oil" and asserted that Mr. Bush was part of a "right-wing conspiracy."

Mr. Bush gave a dismissive shake of his head when asked at a press conference yesterday about the attacks on his civil rights record.

"Let's see," the president said before quickly moving on to the next question. "There I was sitting around the leader the table with foreign leaders, looking at Colin Powell and Condi Rice," as his voice trailed off.

The NAACP maintains it is nonpartisan, a requirement it must fulfill to keep its tax-exempt status, but critics have long accused the 500,000-member organization of being a tool for liberal causes.

Indeed, the NAACP's legislative agenda closely follows that of the Democratic Party, including adamant opposition to school vouchers and a call for stronger national hate-crime laws.

Additionally, the NAACP has boasted of being the main source of a successful get-out-the-black-vote effort during the 2000 presidential election, in which Mr. Bush received just 8 percent of the black vote. The organization also ran a presidential-campaign ad against Mr. Bush that equated his opposition to a hate-crime bill with the east Texas dragging death of a black man.

As a result, the group has found itself at odds with many Republicans. And with a Republican administration in power in Washington, the convention this year has few big-name attractions. In past years, speakers have included sitting presidents and Cabinet members.

One NAACP organizer noted that this year the esteemed speaker list is "very short."

NAACP officials said yesterday that Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, did not accept an invitation to appear at the opening plenary session yesterday. But a spokeswoman for Mr. Perry said the governor never received an invitation.

Among the invited Cabinet members was Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who also declined.

President Bush for the second year in a row did not accept the group's offer to appear. Last year he submitted a five-minute videotape in his place, but this year he offered a letter.

The missive a simple message that paid tribute to the NAACP for its "commitment to public service" and its "important efforts to support civil rights" was read to the gathering and received tepid applause.

The five-day convention ends Thursday.

Yesterday, NAACP President Kweisi Mfume, in his first public speech of the conference, attacked Mr. Bush for refusing to meet with him.

"I like George Bush, I think he's a likable person," Mr. Mfume said. "But I don't like his presidential practice of divide and conquer when it comes to black organizations.

"There is a reason that George Bush has not had time in his two years in office to devote even 30 minutes to a dialogue with us. In spite of that we continue to reach out to invite."

"And there is a reason that the Republican Party has not urged him to do so. But you can't be president when you only want to deal with some of the people."

In response, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee accused the NAACP of fostering "divisiveness" and of ignoring the president's efforts to address achievement gaps between blacks and whites.

The NAACP "refuses to acknowledge the Leave No Child Behind Act and the president's home-ownership objective," Pamela Mantis said. "These were both designed to help African Americans."

Bill Sammon in Washington contributed to this report.

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