The NY Times Recalls the 'Escape of Willie Horton,' but not NAACP's Notorious Anti-Bush James Byrd Ad

As President Bush speaks today at the NAACP convention for the first time, political reporter Adam Nagourney found the G.O.P.'s black outreach failing in Tuesday's "Republicans Coming Up Short in Effort to Reach Out to African-American Voters."

"There has been no end to speculation about what the party was up to. Was it simply a ploy to improve the party’s image with moderate white voters? Did the White House see an opportunity to make small though significant changes in the American political system by pulling even a relative few black voters into its corner in important states like Ohio? (Yes, and yes.)

"But as Mr. Bush is tentatively scheduled to speak at the N.A.A.C.P. convention in Washington this week -- after five years of declining to appear before an organization with which he has had tense relations -- it seems fair to say that whatever the motivation, the effort has faltered.

"Mr. Mehlman’s much-publicized apology to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People seems to have done little to address the resentment that built up over what civil rights leaders view as decades of racial politics practiced or countenanced by Republicans. One example they point to is the first President Bush’s use of the escape of Willie Horton, a black convicted murderer, to portray his Democratic opponent in the 1988 election, Michael S. Dukakis, as soft on crime.

"That perception of Republicans as insensitive to racial issues was fed again by the opposition mounted by some House conservatives to an extension of the Voting Rights Act. The House approved the extension last week."

Catch that? Nagourney falsely states Horton escaped from jail. Horton was actually out of jail on a furlough program. (The July 9 Boston Globe confusingly claims that Horton ”escaped while on furlough”).

The racism of the Willie Horton ad is a comforting liberal myth. The official Bush ad was a generic ad that never even showed Horton’s face. (That was another, independently produced ad.) And it was none other than Al Gore, in the 1988 Democratic primary, who first raised the issue of Dukakis’ wacky furlough program for murderers.

But while pondering whether Republican outreach to groups like the N.A.A.C.P. has been adequate, and listing alleged GOP failures in that regard, Nagourney makes no mention of the nasty vitriol about Bush coming from the N.A.A.C.P. itself. Julian Bond, chairman of the organization’s governing board, accused Bush in 2001 of reaching into "the Taliban wing of American politics" to fill his administration and of appeasing "the wretched appetites of the extreme right wing and chosen Cabinet officials whose devotion to the Confederacy is nearly canine in its uncritical affection."

And then there was the notorious ad from the NAACP Voter Fund from 2000, comparing then Gov. Bush’s refusal to endorse hate-crime legislation in Texas as equal to the brutal murder by dragging of James Byrd in 1998.

Perhaps "outreach" goes both ways.

Fox News Channel ran a clip featuring the NAACP's inflammatory ad during the 2000 campaign. To watch a clip of the ad in RealPlayer format, visit TimesWatch.



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