Condi proudly invoked the name of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during her recent Senate confirmation hearings.
Yes, the same Dr. Condoleezza Rice who’s consistently burnished her conservative career by bashing the Civil Rights Movement craftily told Senators she’s “indebted” to the sacrifices of that movement which enabled her to “be here” poised to become America’s first Black female Secretary of State.
Two days after Rice plucked Senators’ heartstrings with her ‘bootstrapping-out-of-segregated-Birmingham’ autobiographical account, her boss the President made a bold statement about racism in his inaugural address.
America “must abandon all the habits of racism” President Bush declared.
Yes, the same George W. Bush who usually rejects pleas for intervention on race related issues as comparable to a four letter profanity condemned the “baggage of bigotry” during his inaugural, promising to “strive in good faith to heal” divisions in America.
What’s going on here?
Is this the dawning of the long promised era of compassionate conservatism?
Has Condi actually abandoned her of-stated antipathy for affirmative action, antipathy credited with convincing Bush to publicly condemn minority admissions policies at the University of Michigan on MLK’s birthday in January 2003?
Does Bush’s inaugural articulation of realities like “freedom by its nature [requires] protection of minorities” and “there is no justice without freedom” mean he now truly embraces these truths that should be self-evident?
Condi crassly played the race-card during her confirmation snowing some Democratic Senators while George’s sweeping pronouncements criticizing racism constituted a duplicitous attempt to ‘play’ Americans as fools.
Yes, show and not substance motivated the respective Capitol Hill performances of Rice and Bush.
Proof of Bush’s sleight of hand on racism is evident in his choosing Mississippi Republican Senator Trent Lott as the master of ceremonies for his inauguration.
Selecting the racial segregation praising Lott is not a shining example of sincerely showing the asserted reversal of what is one of the worst civil rights records of any president in recent memory.
Actions speak louder than words and Bush’s first term record in the arena of racial fairness is truly repugnant.
In July 2000, when then presidential candidate Bush addressed the NAACP America’s oldest and largest civil rights organization he pledged, “Strong civil rights enforcement will be a cornerstone of my administration.”
Yet, during the waning months of Bush’s first term, the US Civil Rights Commission issued a report analyzing his administration’s record on civil rights that drew dismal conclusions.
“President Bush has implemented policies that have retreated from long-established civil rights promises” in a number of areas from affirmative action to voting rights to issues dealing with women.
The same President Bush who calls affirmative action evilly improper “racial preferences” to non-whites sees no problem in providing special preference, no-bid contracts worth billions to powerful corporations like Halliburton, the firm once headed by his Vice-President, Dick Cheney.
While Bush extolled his intent to “widen the ownership ofbusinesses” during his inauguration speech, his first term policies didn’t dent the deliberate exclusion of Black business from billions in federal highway and transportation contracting opportunities according to a 2003 position paper issued by the National Black Chamber of Commerce.
Black contractors, according to data in this paper, provided 1.4 percent of the work on projects funded by the Federal Highway Administration, down from 6 percent in 1982, despite the existence of an affirmative action initiative known as the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program.
The National Black Chamber described this exclusion as a “sham and national disgrace,” blaming federal officials for “systematically killing Black contractors.”
Given Bush’s repeated praise of his (deadly & federal deficit-raising) campaigns to install democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq, it is disturbing that the Civil Rights Commission’s report criticized Bush’s failure to “act swiftly toward election reform” that ensures enforcement of voting rights across America.
Reports of GOP lead disenfranchisement campaigns against Blacks peppered the 2004 presidential election, repeating voter suppression practices in Florida and elsewhere during the 2000 presidential election.
Bush, in February 2001, told Congress that he wanted to end racial profiling, repeating a pledge he made repeatedly on the campaign trail.
Yet, an Amnesty International report issued last fall rebuked Bush for backing off his pledges to end this ineffective practice that Bush once called wrong.
“Almost four years later [Bush] has failed to support any federal legislative effort to eliminate racial profiling in the United States,” stated the AI report.
This report noted how racial profiling has expanded beyond the traditional targets of African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans.
“Native Americans, Asian-Americans, Arab-Americans, Persian-Americans, American Muslims, many immigrants and visitors, and, under certain circumstances, white Americans” endure racial profiling that now ravages “32 million Americans, a number equivalent to the population of Canada,” the AI report stated.
Also last fall, the Congressional Black Caucus released statistics showing that African-Americans comprised only 7 percent of Bush’s 165 appointments to important federal district court slots.
This appointment record compounds the already persistent problem of under-representation of African-Americans at all levels of the federal judiciary from district courts through courts of appeals.
Further, the CBC statistics pointed out the “stark contrast” between the judicial appointment record of Bush and his predecessor Bill Clinton.
Blacks comprised 20 percent of the 170 district court appointments during Clinton’s first term in office.
“President Bush’s record is truly disturbing and demonstrates a lack of commitment to having a judiciary that looks like America,” noted a CBC press release issued at the end of last September.
Bush’s deliberate exclusion of Blacks from a position as freedom-ensuring/securing as the federal judiciary continues the hollow ring of American democracya brand of democracy that Bush repeatedly said in his inaugural address that he wants to ring loudly around the world.
Bush’s inauguration address articulated a “goal of ending tyranny in our world.”
However, Bush’s stated intent to require “other governments” to treat their citizens decently doesn’t square with his administration’s sabotaging of the democratically elected presidents of Haiti and Venezuela who worked hard to improve the daily lives of their grossly impoverished Black citizens.
As National Security Advisor, Dr. Rice took point in defending Bush Administration assaults on Venezuela’s Chavez while the man Condi called “my mentor” during her recent confirmation former Secretary of State Colin Powell played a scurvy role in the removal of Haiti’s Aristide.
While presidential candidate Bush addressed the NAACP in 2000, President Bush became the first Oval Office occupant in over seven decades to not speak at the organization’s national convention.
Bush spurned a NAACP convention speaking invitation last year, claiming anger over the organization’s ‘harsh’ criticism of his civil rights record.
A passing criticism of Bush’s failure to appear at the July 2004 convention produced a Nixonesque IRS investigation into whether the NAACP violated its tax-exempt status by taking partisan stands during the presidential election.
President Bush also stonewalled the CBC, meeting with the whole group only twice during his first term. The first days after his 2001 inauguration where he said it would be the “beginning of, hopefully, a lot of meetings.” The second meeting occurred when the caucus unsuccessfully sought White House assistance in preserving Aristide’s presidency in Haiti.
The President known for his ‘plain talking’ style seemingly had problems talking with reporters from Black owned media during his first term.
For example, during last year’s presidential campaign, Bush rejected interview invitations from Black Press reporters, Black Entertainment Television and the “Tom Joyner Morning Show,” the most popular program on Black radio.
Bush did respond to a December 2004 request for a fence-mending meeting from outgoing NAACP President Kweisi Mfume.
Additionally, Bush did hold post-inaugural speech meetings with some hand-picked Black leaders and the CBC.
However, the reported focus of Bush during all of these meetings was not new initiatives to combat racism but improving his image among Blacks, expanding Black interest in the GOP and gaining support for his controversial Social Security reform and constitutional ban on gay marriage.
Bigotry is not an irreversible condition so it is possible that Bush can fulfill his inaugural pledges related to racism.
But the real measure here is not possibility but probability and based on past performance it’s a poor bet that Bush will do a real 180 on race.
Linn Washington Jr. is a columnist for the Philadelphia Tribune, America’s oldest African-American owned newspaper. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.