- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 26, 2003

For a variety of reasons, Democratic presidential aspirants Joe Lieberman, Dick Gephardt and Dennis Kucinich were unavailable to participate in the candidate forum sponsored by the NAACP at the civil rights group’s annual convention earlier this month. Mr. Gephardt claimed an “unavoidable family obligation.” Mr. Kucinich committed himself to remaining in Washington whenever House votes are expected, including the Medicare prescription-drug vote that he cast the day of the NAACP forum. Mr. Lieberman, whose empty financial coffers threaten to place his campaign on life support, was in New York City, where his spokesman said the senator was involved in “private meetings.” In a party already prone to pandering to its constituent interest groups, these Democrats are taking obsequiousness to incomprehensible levels. The pandering by Mr. Lieberman was especially distressing.

The perceived snub incensed NAACP chief Kweisi Mfume. Attending candidate Howard Dean was only too happy to compound his no-show competitors’ problems by using the code word “disrespect,” an aggrievement that clearly pervaded the Miami Beach Convention Center.

Mr. Mfume declared the no-shows to be “persona non grata” in black communities throughout the primary process. “If you expect us to believe that you could not find 90 minutes to come by [Miami Beach],” Mr. Mfume thundered, “then you have no legitimacy over the next nine months to come to our communities expecting our support.” In offering abject apologies before all three candidates scampered down to Miami Beach three days later to express even deeper regrets, the spokesmen for Messrs. Lieberman and Gephardt emphasized that both candidates had duly attended the panderfest hosted by Jesse Jackson at his Rainbow/PUSH Coalition’s forum in June.

Where does Mr. Mfume get off telling Mr. Lieberman and the other Democratic no-shows that they are “persona non grata” among black Americans? Black America, fortunately, does not speak with one voice.

It was disappointing to see Messrs. Lieberman, Gephardt and Kucinich apologizing for not attending the forum. If Democratic presidential candidates do not have sufficiently strong backbones to stand up for themselves, how will they ever muster the courage to stand up against the likes of nuclear-aspiring Iranian ayatollahs and a saber-rattling North Korean dictator?

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