Jewish World Review Dec. 21, 2000 / 24 Kislev, 5761
http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- WHEN IT COMES to the African-American vote, Republicans just can't win. This week, George W. Bush announced he was going to hold a summit with black ministers. The two-term governor of Texas made so-called faith based initiatives - allowing churches, parochial schools and other religious groups to cooperate with government agencies to help the poor and needy - a centerpiece of his administration. He now wants to do the same thing at the national level.
There is talk of Bush appointing his most trusted policy aide from the campaign, former Indianapolis Mayor Stephen Goldsmith, as a Cabinet-level czar for such efforts. So, what has been the response from black leaders?
Silence and derision.
Tennessee Congressman Harold Ford echoed the most common refrain among the black leadership when he told The Washington Post that Bush's "symbolic" approach to the black community is "condescending as if he's doing us a favor just giving us an audience."
California Rep. Maxine Waters, who often refers to those who disagree with her as "the enemy," said, "Actions speak louder than words. One of the things African-Americans have to do is be smart enough not to let them divide us."
These comments came just days after Bush appointed Colin Powell as secretary of state and Condoleezza Rice as national security adviser - two of the most important and sensitive positions in his administration and the highest appointments of African-Americans in U.S. history.
This is a small illustration of the challenge facing the GOP. In the eyes of the black Democratic elite, short of simply taking dictation from Jesse Jackson, Republicans can't do anything right.
Take Ford's criticism that Bush's efforts are merely "symbolic." Racial liberals say this whenever Republicans reach out to minorities. Both the 1992 and 1996 Republican conventions were ridiculed for their lack of diversity and for not "making an effort" to reach out. So, in 2000, the Republicans embraced minorities so much it seemed like a parody of a Democratic convention - or perhaps a new TV show on the WB network.
But did Republicans get credit for "reaching out"? Of course not. Instead, the Republican convention was ridiculed by talking heads, print journalists and every spinner in the Democratic Party as a meaningless "minstrel show."
It's particularly ironic because so much of the minority political agenda is itself symbolic. Why else would anyone care that the Cabinet "looks like America"?
Take so-called hate-crimes laws. Nobody has ever even attempted to make an intelligent case that these laws have any tangible effects. After all, even leftist activists concede that it's already very illegal to murder anybody. Instead, proponents like Jesse Jackson and the NAACP - which ran hateful ads suggesting Bush favored the brutal murder of blacks -say hate-crime laws would "send a message" to racists. But if message-sending isn't just another way of saying "symbolic" politics, I don't what is.
Symbolism matters, of course. Role models - another topic we hear so much about from the African-American community - are symbolic. And no one would dispute that good role models are better than bad ones.
No appointee is a more important role model than the president himself. The best way for Bush to live up to that responsibility is by ignoring politicians determined to demonize him and his party.
Bush lost the black vote by a margin of 9 to 1 - more than any Republican in 16 years. His margin of defeat was 10 points worse than Bob Dole's showing in 1996. The reasons behind this will be dissected for years.
But no one should doubt the job done on him by black leaders like Jesse Jackson, Maxine Waters and Kweisi Mfume of the NAACP. They accused Bush of being a racist and a happy warrior in the cause of bigotry. They are now protesting his efforts to go over their heads to ministers who might be more interested in helping their flocks. It seems to me that the more these leaders protest, the more progress Bush is