NAACP board Chairman Julian Bond might not know it, but he just proved a black Republican is right.
When I met Christopher Alan Bullock during a reception at the Venezuelan Embassy this month, the Delaware Republican told me that President Bush, whom he supports, "hasn't done enough to get the message out about what he's done for African-Americans." Bullock then elaborated.
Homeownership among blacks has risen under Bush, Bullock said, as well as Small Business Administration loans to black entrepreneurs.
According to a Feb. 22, 2006, New York Times article, homeownership among black Americans was less than 43 percent before 1995, rose to 49.7 percent in 2004 and dipped only a wee bit to 48.8 percent in 2005.
A July 15, 2005, Louisville Courier-Journal article quoted Bush as saying that SBA loans to black businesses increased 28 percent in 2004. But black elected officials - Democrats, as you might have guessed - were quick to point out that Bush slashed funding for the SBA.
Bullock also praised the number of blacks Bush selected for his Cabinet, figures that are hard to dispute. Bullock mentioned former Secretary of State Colin l. Powell, current Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former Secretary of Education Rod Paige and current Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Alphonso R. Jackson, to name a few.
Clearly, one of the people who didn't get the memo about the historic occasion of a president naming the first two black secretaries of state in the nation's history is Bond. You'd think, as board chairman of the country's oldest civil rights organization, Bond would at least give the president credit for it.
In fact, genuine nonpartisanship - which Bond claims is a principle the NAACP cherishes ever so dearly - requires mentioning it. But did we get it from Bond in his opening address at the NAACP annual convention this week?
Ah, yet another "Do rich folks eat welfare cheese?" question!
"We need balance," Bullock told me Monday night. "If [Bond is] going to criticize the president for what he's not doing, he should give him credit for what he is doing, especially in the area of economic development for African-Americans."
Bond's speech this year wasn't any more balanced than the invective he has hurled at Bush in prior NAACP convention speeches, but at least it wasn't as nasty. Gone were the references to Bush Cabinet appointees being from the "Taliban wing" of American politics. Absent were remarks about Republicans having an idea of equality that amounted to "the American flag and the Confederate swastika flying side by side."
Still, there was plenty of criticism of Republicans and Bush, enough for a skeptical reader to wonder whether Bond's speech had been written at the Democratic National Committee headquarters. But Bond prefaced the criticism by saying he had extended yet another invitation for Bush to speak to the NAACP annual convention.
It occurred, Bond told NAACP delegates, at a reception held before the White House correspondents' dinner. Bond said Bush asked him how old he was. Bond answered that at 66, he was now too old to be president.
"You're not too old," Bond said the president told him. "[Sen.] John McCain is 70."
"I guess I'll ask John McCain if I can be his vice president," Bond answered.
"No," Bush said, "A confident man would ask John McCain to be his vice president."
Bond told the delegates he felt confident enough to ask Bush to address the convention. He said the president "made a sound, which at the time I took to mean either 'I'll think about it' or 'not in your lifetime.'"
Bullock, for one, was hoping Bush meant "I'll think about it."
"I think the president should accept the invitation to speak this year," Bullock said. "It would be a good gesture."
Bullock and Bond will get their wish. Bush is scheduled to speak to the NAACP convention tomorrow, though I have no idea why. NAACP leaders - notably Bond - and NAACP offshoots such as the National Voter Fund have treated Bush the past five years as though he were the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, not the president of the United States.
Tara Wall, the director of outreach communications for the Republican National Committee, indicated Bush might have accepted the invitation for precisely the reason Bullock spoke of - to spread the word about the president's policies that have benefited blacks.
"I think it will be a great opportunity for the president and for us to get our message out," Wall said. "This president has shown distinct and clear leadership."
Wall also listed what she said were Bush's achievements regarding black Americans. Among them: closing the educational achievement gap with the No Child Left Behind Act, funding for AIDS research in Africa and in black communities in the United States, and an increase in funding for historically black colleges and universities.
If anyone is to make the case for any gains blacks have made under Bush's presidency, Bush will have to do it.
You can bet that NAACP leaders won't.