Monday, February 07, 2005


I know Dubya isn't a details man. Frankly, I don't see much wrong with a "CEO" style of political leadership, where details are delegated--so long as underlings are held accountable for performance, of course. But you can take any good idea too far, and Bush's tenuous grasp on reality makes one wish he'd spend a bit more time getting to know the facts and a bit less making stuff up.

The thing about Bush is that no matter how low your opinion of him is, he's still capable of astonishing you. That's what happened to me when I read an article in the Chicago Defender, the great African-American newspaper celebrating its centenary this year. I couldn't find the article on line, but this opinion column by Executive Editor Roland S. Martin summarizes the facts. I'll let Martin tell the story and express his moral outrage, but I'd ask you to think about this as you read: have you heard anything about this in the mainstream media, liberal outlets, or the lefty blogosphere?

On Jan. 26, Bush met with all of the members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), the first time he had done so since the first year of his first term....

At the end of the meeting -- in which CBC members said Bush pretty much said nothing or nodded his head and took a few notes -- Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., asked Bush if he would support a re-authorization of the Voting Rights Act of 1965....

Jackson, Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., and a number of others were astounded at what Bush said next. Paraphrasing, Bush said that he was "unfamiliar" with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and according to Jackson, a hurried Bush said that "when the legislation comes before me, I'll take a look at it, but I don't know about it to comment any more than that, but we will look at it when it comes to us."

"It was so unbelievable to me that as soon as I walked out, I got Frank (Watkins, Jackson's top legislative aide) on the telephone, put (Congresswomen) Maxine (Waters, D-Calif.) and Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) on, so that I could confirm what he just said is what I heard," Jackson told me for a story in the Chicago Defender.

Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) said he recalled the president saying he was "unfamiliar" with the Voting Rights Act.

"I was surprised and astounded," Rush said....

Now for all of you Bush lovers who see this as nothing to get excited about, here is what the Justice Department reports on their Web site about the Act: "The Voting Rights Act, adopted initially in 1965 and extended in 1970, 1975, and 1982, is generally considered the most successful piece of civil rights legislation ever adopted by the United States Congress."

For those of you who missed it, it is considered the most successful piece of civil rights EVER adopted by our Congress.

Furthermore, the site says: "The Act codifies and effectuates the 15th Amendment's permanent guarantee that, throughout the nation, no person shall be denied the right to vote on account of race or color...."

For those who think Saddam Hussein was ruthless in denying his people freedom, whites in this country, especially in the South, did the same to African Americans.

Men (and women) who fought for this country in Nazi Germany and Korea were forced to take literacy tests to vote, as well as pay poll taxes. We were good enough to die on the battlefield to liberate others, but were not liberated in our own country.

No president should be let off the hook for not understanding this critical issue.

Bush is trying to make inroads in the African-American community, especially after receiving only 11 percent of the black vote in the last election. Mr. President, knowing what is arguably the most important legislative achievement of the Civil Rights Movement is a good place to start.

Hear, hear.

I'd add only a couple of points.

First, Bush was an undergraduate at Yale when the Voting Rights Act was passed. Sure, everyone can joke about his misspent youth, which apparently extended to about age 40, but this is something any American who gives a damn about government, politics, and those "freedom" and "liberty" thingies from the State of the Union address should know, particularly those who were adults at the time.

Second, the astonishing thing here isn't that Bush doesn't support reauthorization; it's that he apparently had no idea that there was even an issue. There are legitimate arguments against reauthorizing the particular provisions at issue. The upcoming decision on whether to reauthorize is the single biggest federal civil rights issue on the agenda. Just as civil rights advocates have been digging in for this fight for years, so have conservatives in Congress who want to let the provisions die. For the President not to know about this really is stunning.

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