ON THURSDAY, PRESIDENT BUSH gave the sort of pedestrian speech to the NAACP that, but for a few obvious applause lines and anecdotes, could easily have been delivered to the Rotary Club or the AARP. The president deserves credit for resisting the urge to pander. But his speech also raises a question: If that's all he wanted to say, did he have to wait five years?
Bush's address to the NAACP convention was a model of cautious conciliation. He had notoriously snubbed the NAACP throughout his first term, the first president since Warren G. Harding not to speak to the group. The NAACP's leadership wasn't exactly playing nice with the Republican Party, either; former NAACP Chairman Julian Bond memorably referred to the "the Taliban wing" of the GOP in 2001 (he spoke before 9/11). Still, given candidate Bush's rebuke in 2000 of Republicans who avoided the NAACP, it seemed petty for him to do just that as president.
In his remarks, Bush invited the audience to embrace his domestic agenda, urging them to find common ground with him on privatizing Social Security, creating charter schools and education vouchers, subsidizing faith-based community organizations and even ending the estate tax.
The president also mentioned a few areas in which he and the NAACP are genuinely in sync, such as giving Africa more help to battle HIV/AIDS. And he drew a standing ovation when he called on Congress to renew the expiring provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which has been one of the NAACP's top priorities. (Congress obliged a few hours later when the Senate passed a 25-year extension.) Meanwhile, he scrupulously avoided any mention of the war in Iraq, for which his leadership has drawn sharp and sustained criticism from NAACP leaders.