HOUSTON -- The Rev. Jesse Jackson criticized Clarence Thomas, President Bush's Supreme Court nominee, for first benefiting from affirmative action and now attacking it, but he also cautioned the civil rights movement against getting drawn into an all-out fight to block the nomination.
In a speech to the annual convention of the National Association for the Advancement for Colored People, Jackson said yesterday the nomination was just another effort by the administration to distract attention from profound social and economic problems by heightening racial divisions.
"It seems to me that President Bush is a bully," Jackson said, "and has us in a buzz saw. If he continues his race signals and sinister plots, from Willie Horton, to quotas, to the Supreme Court nominee, if we do nothing, we are humiliated. If we spend all our energy on it, we martyr him."
The convention delegates also took aim at the president in a resolution that criticized his decision to lift sanctions on South Africa. The resolution called the president's decision, announced yesterday, premature and short-sighted, and it urged Congress to reimpose the sanctions.
The convention also adopted a resolution supporting the findings announced Tuesday by the independent commission that investigated brutality in the Los Angeles Police Department, and it called on Chief Daryl F. Gates to resign immediately.
Throughout his speech, Jackson warned the civil rights movement not to get caught up in what he called Bush's "politics of decoy and deception."
Instead of battling the administration on its own terms, he said, "we must take the moral offensive, and put forth a national agenda."
Jackson outlined such an agenda, calling for minority businessmen to be given greater access to former savings and loan properties now being sold off by the government. He also urged investment in urban areas with money from public pension funds.
Jackson's criticism of the Thomas nomination was the longest and most forceful public attack by a black leader since the nomination last week.
Earlier yesterday, Bush defended his record on civil rights. He insisted that he did not use a racial "quota" when he named Thomas to succeed another black, Justice Thurgood Marshall.
Bush said he was convinced that the public "knows I want a civil rights bill."