Recently, critics have argued that the tax-exempt status of the NAACP should be withdrawn because of attacks that the leadership made upon President Bush and the Republican Party. But those same critics fail to mention that Julian Bond, chairman of the board of the NAACP, was also critical of the Democratic Party in the same speech about their spineless posture in failing to speak out on vital issues.
The flap was raised because Bush was recently invited to speak at the NAACP's annual convention held in Philadelphia, but declined. The NAACP has invited Bush to speak at the annual convention every year since he has been president. Bush is the first president since Hoover to reject an invitation to speak to the oldest civil rights organization in the U.S. It may be that the president is taking a calculated risk, believing that there are few votes to be had at the convention, but that he may alienate votes on the far right by attending.
But the president has asked for such a response based upon his behavior. Bush used the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. to push right-wing and racially insensitive policies in the media. In 2003, while visiting the King memorial in Atlanta on King's birthday, Bush announced his stand against affirmative action at the University of Michigan. This year on King's birthday, Bush announced the recess appointment of Charles Pickering to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Pickering's background and decision in a cross-burning case raise race-related issues.
After Bush declined the invitation, Rod Paige, the black Republican secretary of education in the Bush administration, and a native Mississippian, stated that he was ashamed to be associated with the current leadership of the NAACP, even though he is a member. Paige argued that the current leadership has become partisan and irrational in its thinking about President Bush. After all, the president has given us "No Child Left Behind" and the appointments of Condoleeza Rice, Colin Powell and Paige to his Cabinet.
The NAACP is made up of liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans. People on the left and people on the right. To assert that the NAACP is a partisan entity beholden to the Democratic Party belies the history of the organization and its public posture on issues, policies and presidents. Since it was formed in 1909, in part as an anti-lynching organization committed to full civil rights of African Americans, the NAACP has pressured and criticized both parties on issues related to freedom, justice and equality. This includes President Eisenhower, who initially mishandled the Little Rock racial integration crisis and was indifferent to social justice. President Kennedy was criticized for his handling of the Ole Miss racial integration debacle, and President Johnson for not moving faster on racial lynchings in Mississippi and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This criticism includes candidate Nixon's "law and order" presidential campaign and President Nixon's venture into "Black Capitalism," as well as President Carter's cuts in social programs that disproportionately affected African Americans. The NAACP also criticized President Reagan's insensitive and stereotypical comments on "welfare queens," attacks on civil rights laws, and bashing affirmative action as "reverse discrimination." President George H.W. Bush was criticized for his appointment of Clarence Thomas to the U.S. Supreme Court. And President Clinton was criticized for his crime and welfare proposals that Congress enacted into law.
Examined in historical context, it is apparent that accusing the NAACP of partisanship has no foundation in fact. To be sure, what appears to be partisan politics in attacks on George W. Bush is really a systemic and historical pattern of equal opportunity assaults on presidents of both political parties for their policies, statements and political behavior that are considered detrimental to civil rights. It would be more accurate to note that the NAACP has attacked both political parties and their public policies that would "turn back the clock" of civil rights progress. If this is what constitutes a partisan attack, then the NAACP is a partisan entity, committed to equal opportunity criticisms of presidents regardless of their political party affiliation. As Bond pointed out, it is one thing to be nonpartisan, quite another to be noncritical. Criticism in an election year is a more sensitive matter to an incumbent president.
Dr. Mfanya D. Tryman is president of the Oktibbeha County NAACP, a vice-president of the Mississippi State Conference of the NAACP, and a professor of political science at Mississippi State University. Attorney Derrick Johnson is president of the Mississippi State Conference of the NAACP.