WASHINGTON -- A visit by President Bush is expected at this week's NAACP convention, but judging from a fiery speech by the civil rights group's chairman last night, the president may feel less than welcome.
Julian Bond, chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, delivered what has become an annual refrain: a searing critique of the Bush administration's policies in opening remarks at its annual convention.
Bond's speech served in part to energize the thousands of rank-and-file NAACP members who gathered this weekend at the Washington Convention Center for the group's 97th annual convention. But it also succeeded in taking jabs at the administration on such issues as voting rights, the war in Iraq and disproportionate rates of poverty among African Americans.
"The war has as much to do with democracy as the administration has to do with compassion," Bond said. "They know about cut-and-run. That's what they do - cut taxes for the rich and run the country into the ground."
Early in the speech, it seemed that Bond might be willing to extend an olive branch to President Bush. He lauded the NAACP President and CEO, Bruce S. Gordon, for working to cultivate a relationship with the White House after years of animosity.
Bond said he hoped the president would accept the group's invitation after declining the last five years. Gordon said late last week that he was optimistic the president would attend the convention, and Paul Brathwaite, communications director for the Congressional Black Caucus, has said it would likely take place Thursday - the convention's final day.
Nevertheless Bond, a 66-year-old civil rights stalwart and former Democratic member of the Georgia legislature, launched into his speech with a critique of Bush that was peppered with sarcasm.
"We think the President, like [embattled former FEMA director] Michael Brown, is doing a heckuva job," he said.
He blamed the administration for assaulting civil liberties and civil rights, among other problems. "They have ... orchestrated a massive transfer of wealth from the bottom to the top, increased poverty every year they have been in office, created dangerous deficits, substituted religion for science, ignored global warming, wrecked environmental protections," he said.
Bond also attacked the president's domestic spying program and policies toward detainees held at Guantanamo Bay.
"We had wondered - if the president has inherent authority, not sanctioned by law or court ruling, to eavesdrop, to kidnap and torture, to detain indefinitely, what is it that he cannot do?" he said.
Bond said the organization would continue to fight an Internal Revenue Service examination of the NAACP's tax-exempt status. The IRS has said the investigation stems from whether Bond's 2004 speech criticizing the administration constituted partisan politics - which is barred to nonprofit, tax-exempt organizations.
Bond said Republican members of Congress asked the IRS to launch similar investigations into the civil rights group. He made reference to those politicians, including then-Representative and now Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who sent a letter to the IRS in 2001, following up on a constituent's complaint about the NAACP.
Bond also took a jab at Ehrlich as governor, for vetoing early-voting measures passed by the Democrat-controlled General Assembly.
But the NAACP chairman did not single out Republicans in his criticism. He blasted Congress in general for being "awash in corruption," and took a shot at Democrats.
"One party marches in lockstep while the other does the two-step: two steps forward and two steps back," he said. "Some of the Democrats won't take their own side in a fight."
Bond said voting rights, which will be the theme of this year's NAACP convention, continues to be among the nation's largest civil rights concerns. He urged Congress to adopt full voting rights for District of Columbia residents and to renew expiring provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
The House of Representatives passed the renewal of the landmark voting law last week and the Senate is set to take up this issue this week.
"Our troops may be fighting to secure democracy abroad," he said, "but we must fight to make our democracy secure at home."