Bush speech to NAACP falls flat

For the first time since being selected president, George W. Bush last week decided to accept the NAACP’s invitation to address its convention. He’d previously ignored their invitations each year, preferring to give the esteemed civil-rights group the middle finger instead.

And by his policies, he’s continued to give black America the finger, along with poor America, middle-class America, in fact every segment of America except the oil and arms industries.

For a man who likes to talk while chewing, and who addresses foreign leaders like they’re his personal aides, the text of the speech struck some much-needed grace notes.

“For nearly 200 years, our nation failed the test of extending the blessings of liberty to African-Americans,” Bush said. “Slavery was legal for nearly a hundred years, and discrimination legal in many places for nearly a hundred years more. Taken together, the record placed a stain on America's founding, a stain that we have not yet wiped clean.”

He spoke of his visit to the Lorraine Motel, the site where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered in 1968, and how King’s dreams of social and economic justice have not yet been fulfilled.

For more than 30 minutes, he spoke with frankness, compassion and determination to mend the gigantic rifts his administration has caused.

It was like hearing Lex Luthor apologize to the citizens of Metropolis. Something didn’t compute here.

So, after reading the transcript of the speech on the White House Web site, I watched the video of the speech on the NAACP site. My suspicions were confirmed.

The video was filled with so many smirks, winks and forced smiles, it was easy to see that Bush didn’t believe a damned word of what he was saying.

When Bush was briefly heckled during the speech, and before armed Secret Service thugs hauled the heckler off to Gitmo, the anger in the president’s eyes was much more reflective of his attitude towards African-Americans.

Tellingly, the White House site — which regularly posts streaming video of Bush meeting with sports team champions, Boy Scouts and every press briefing — chose not to post the video of his NAACP speech.

The speech could have been one of the defining moments of Bush’s presidency, when he began to work together with his adversaries and start the difficult task of uniting this severely-divided nation.

Instead, he delivered the speech with the same degree of enthusiasm I showed as a child when my dad ordered me to take out the trash.

At one point, he praised President Lyndon B. Johnson for signing the 1965 Voting Rights Act into law. But Bush should never invite comparisons between himself and Johnson.

They have many shared characteristics. Both are Texans. Both share a history of vote fraud, lying to the American public, starting unwinnable wars and driving the nation to the brink of civil war.

Unlike Bush, however, Johnson was a master of the art of compromise and of the ability to recognize the political necessity of justice for all Americans.

Even his admirers concede that Johnson had racist beliefs in his heart. But Johnson ultimately knew that eliminating segregation, ensuring the right of all Americans to vote and creating opportunity for the disadvantaged weren’t just the right things to do. They were necessary for the survival of the nation and for the fulfillment of the rights guaranteed in the Constitution.

It’s ironic that a racist Texan ended up doing more good for African-Americans than any other president, even possibly Lincoln.

By the end of Johnson’s administration, the country was in as big a mess as it is now, but nobody could say that Lyndon Johnson didn’t care about black people.

In his final two years, with conservatives and liberals both ridiculing him daily, Bush could embrace his political enemies for the good of the country. His almost-universal unpopularity gives him a freedom other presidents haven’t had.

It’s a unique opportunity, one he could have seized in his NAACP speech. He could have announced bold initiatives on racial and economic issues. He could have taken steps to truly end all forms of racial discrimination.

Bush literally has nothing to lose. He could still go down in history as a great president if he wanted. It would require courage, willpower and a propensity to tell Americans the hard truths.

Bush, the beneficiary of two suspect elections, could announce ballot reform that makes sure every vote is counted fairly. The architect of war could become a driving force for peace in the world.

Short of killing and then eating a baby on live TV, Bush can’t become any less popular. But, if he so desired, he could spend his remaining days in office fighting for economic and political justice. He could build a legacy as a uniting force in politics rather than the man who ensured his party is never again entrusted to run our government.

His speech last week, however, proves that his mission all along has been to destroy this nation’s credibility, deplete our treasury, send our armed forces to every oil-producing country and to allow future elections to be as rigged as his were.

Mission accomplished, Mr. President. You’re doing a heck of a job.