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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Monday, 12 July 2004

Topic: Election Notes

The NAACP and George Bush - Political Theater

Caveat -

This writer has been a dues-paying card-carrying member of the NAACP for almost two decades now. What follows may be colored by that (sorry about the pun).

The basic story broke over the weekend -

Bush Criticizes NAACP's Leadership
Relationship With Rights Group 'Basically Nonexistent,' President Says
Mike Allen, The Washington Post, Saturday, July 10, 2004; Page A05
YORK, Pa., July 9 -- President Bush said Friday that he has a "basically nonexistent" relationship with the NAACP's leadership and he refused for the consecutive fourth year to speak to the group's national convention.

Bush's assessment of his relationship with the nation's largest civil rights organization was a sharp reversal from his rhetoric during his last campaign. Then he spoke to the group's convention as part of an effort to show he was a different kind of Republican and said that "there is much we can do together to advance racial harmony and economic opportunity."

Bush will not be speaking before the 2004 convention, which will open Saturday in Philadelphia.
Bush, during a day-long bus tour through Pennsylvania, said in an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer and two other state newspapers that he "admired some" NAACP leaders and said he would seek members' support "in other ways."

But he castigated the group's officers, who include President Kweisi Mfume and Chairman Julian Bond. "I would describe my relationship with the current leadership as basically nonexistent," Bush said, as reported by Knight Ridder Newspapers. "You've heard the rhetoric and the names they've called me."
They hurt his feelings?

No, they didn't show him the proper respect. They disagreed with him.

Some perspective -
Let's first be clear that the Bush campaign isn't simply not going to the NAACP convention, they're deliberately and publicly snubbing the NAACP, and this snub was planned well in advance. The White House and the Bush campaign would have known probably a year ago that the NAACP would be in Philadelphia this weekend, and they would have planned the Pennsylvania bus trip months ago. Not only did they decide not to go to the convention, they deliberately planned on being in Pennsylvania at almost the exact time of the convention to draw more attention to the fact that Bush would not appear before the NAACP.

The bigger issue here is that George Bush is effectively saying "screw you" to one of the most prominent and esteemed organizations in America, an organization that is the most important representative of African-Americans and which still leads the fight for civil rights in America. This isn't a failure to send a message to supporters of civil rights, this is a deliberate decision to send a message that, forty years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, there are still two sides to the debate on civil rights, and Bush is on the side of those opposed to "special" rights for people who aren't white, Christian, and heterosexual. By deliberately blowing off the NAACP four straight years, Bush has signaled that he doesn't view himself as President of all Americans. He's the President of just those Americans who look like him and agree with him.
It is, thus, a message to his base.

Also from the Post -
Earlier this week, the White House said the invitation had been declined because of scheduling commitments, and officials said that was the reason cited in the letter to the group. But when asked about the matter by reporters on Air Force One on Friday, White House press secretary Scott McClellan made it clear that a lot more was involved. "The current leadership of the NAACP has certainly made some rather hostile political comments about the president over the past few years," he said.

The NAACP said Bush is the first president since Warren G. Harding not to meet with the group while in office.

Bond has accused Republicans of "playing the race card in election after election." He said they have "appealed to that dark underside of American culture, to that minority of Americans who reject democracy and equality," and "preach racial neutrality and they practice racial division."
Oh heck, Bond and Mfume are still grumpy about Ted Olson and that University of Michigan case. And Bush and Ashcroft speaking at Bob Jones University in South Carolina, where interracial dating is strictly forbidden. And Ashcroft saying his political hero is Robert E. Lee. They seem to take this stuff seriously.

But there is a larger question. Bush can win easily without the black vote, and without the gay vote- he doesn't need them.

Bush is, really, depending on voters who know what it is like to be insulted, to be disrespected, and see Bush as they guy who just won't put up with that. Bush is making himself into a kind of hero to the common man here - the person people wish they had the courage themselves to be, but cannot. Bush can smirk "Like I need YOU?" to the NAACP. And Cheney can tell the senior senator from Vermont, on the floor of the Senate, to go fuck himself. And people cheer, or that's the theory on how to win in November.

Is this approach to the election planned? Is it instinctual? That's hard to say, and frankly it doesn't matter much. It simply works.

Much has been said about how odd it is that Bush is seen as "the common man" while John Kerry is seen as a rich, removed, elite patrician sort. Bush's antecedents are a president (formerly the VP and head of the CIA and an ambassador) and a senator (Prescott Bush) and a long line of bankers and financiers (the Harriman and Walker families). And we're talking major money here. Kerry is the son of diplomat, schooled in Switzerland as a kid, who speaks a number of foreign languages fluently and who is married to one of the richest women in America, who herself is sophisticated and brilliant in her own way. Both went to Yale. Both were in the famous, and socially elite, Skull and Bones. Neither guy is exactly Joe Six-Pack.

So how does Bush pull it off?

Bush laughs at how he did so badly in school. He barely slid by. Folks can relate to that.

Bush doesn't hide that he was drinking heavily and not doing much of anything before he turned forty. And look at him now. Folks like that - he pulled himself up from all that.

And Bush does the visuals - he bought that Crawford ranch in Texas just before the 2000 election and hangs around down there in jeans and a work shirt, clearing brush. The press is kind enough to not mention how recent an addition that is to the Bush family holdings, and how unlike the rest of the Bush residences. Folks relate to working around the yard.

But most importantly, think of the present times. The world now seems, at least over the last almost three years, a far more dangerous place and complex place than we ever imagined. Any number of peoples hate us, or our policies, or both - and murderously so. And it is not getting any better. Much of the rest of the world distrusts us - questioning our motives, and our actions, and often, even our intelligence (in both the military and general sense). Our list of allies grows thin, as they say.

What to do with this complexity? Simplify it. Good and evil. With us or with the terrorists. Enough has been said on that. Is this way of thinking cynically planned to win the next election? Is it instinctual? That's hard to say, and frankly it doesn't matter much. It also simply works.

Kerry offers complexity of thought and consideration of various options. For "the common man" this is far too dangerous. And he resents it.

And the key to all this is playing on resentment. What's this NAACP snub about? Imagine you're a regular guy crossing the street in the city on your lunch hour, worried about your mortgage and your kids and the bills and your taxes and all that stuff. You see next to you a tall black man in a three thousand dollar tailored suit, with his fancy attach? case, talking on his cell phone to someone about a bank merger or such stuff. You seethe with resentment. Because of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society and Affirmative Actions and the 1964 Civil Rights Act and all the rest of what the Democrats said was the right thing to do, there he is, and you cannot remember where you parked your ten-year-old tinny Civic. That's what the NAACP snub is about. Saying fuck you to the whole business.

What's happening in Bangkok, over in Thailand, this week? The international AIDS (SIDA) conference. And that too is another political stage for the same drama. The politics of resentment.

What has been staged for the American voter? First, we sent only on quarter of our usual array of doctors. Many papers will not be read or discussed. The folks excluded were, you see, going to present studies that were just plain wrong. What would those be? Papers suggesting anything about the use of condoms in preventing disease, and papers with any direct or indirect data or sponsorship from family planning groups that might have, at some time, offered abortion counseling. But we will participate vigorous on the panels discussing drug therapies for AIDS, to protect the patents on the drugs developed here, to make sure our pharmaceutical industry isn't undermined by cheaper versions of these drugs. Business is business. You see, folks are uncomfortable with all these people dying, and with many of them being those odd and awful gay folks. And all this costs so much! Our meager participation in the Bangkok conference? A message to the uncomfortable, resentful American voter - our guys, and Bush, are saying in-your-face, you losers! There are a whole lot of votes in that message.

Why vote for this guy? Because he doesn't shit for anybody - and lives our fantasy life. It's a Walter Mitty thing. Kerry has no clue how to counter that.

The leader now is the guy who doesn't have to explain anything. He just does what you wish you could do, if you had the balls and weren't such a damned coward. He knows you'll lap it up. You love it, secretly or not.

See September 14, 2003 Opinion: Leadership, Management Theory and Saying You're Sorry or That You Need Help for a bit on that.
When Bob Woodward was interviewed by Mike Wallace on Sixty Minutes regarding Woodward's research on the book he wrote about George W. Bush, Woodward made some interesting comments.

Woodward said Bush told him that when Bush chairs a meeting he often tries to be provocative. When Woodward asked him if he tells his staff that he is purposely being provocative, Bush answered: "Of course not. I am the commander, see? I do not need to explain why I say things. That's the interesting thing about being the President. Maybe somebody needs to explain to me why they say something, but I don't feel like I owe anybody an explanation."

... The issue is one of temperament. On one end of the scale you have the "I'm the boss and you're not" school of leadership. On the other end you have the "We're all in this together so let's figure out how to make this work" school of leadership. One assumes unquestioning obedience while the other assumes the leader draws on all the available resources and shapes some sort of plan everyone can pretty much agree to.

The next national election may be a matter choosing between two leadership/management approaches. "We're all in this together so tell me what you think and what your ideas are..." - not words that come naturally to the current leadership. And I wonder if those who will vote in the next national election think those are words any leader should speak.
I still wonder.

Posted by Alan at 22:06 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 12 July 2004 22:07 PDT home

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