Democrat John Kerry, taking advantage of a spat between the NAACP and the White House, accused President Bush on Thursday of dividing America by race and wealth, and promised as president to represent “all of the people.”
“The president may be too busy to talk to you,” Kerry told the partisan crowd, “but I have news for you: He’s going to have plenty of time after Nov. 2.”
Bush rejected an invitation to address the NAACP. He has not spoken to the civil rights group since the 2000 campaign, when the NAACP National Voter Fund ran an ad that portrayed Bush as unsympathetic to the dragging death of James Byrd in Texas.
Since the campaign, leaders of the NAACP have called Bush an illegal president, compared his anti-abortion views to the Taliban and called his trip to Africa a photo-op. A Bush spokesman blasted the NAACP on Thursday.
The president “has many friends who belong to the NAACP and respects their proud history of championing civil rights,” White House communications director Dan Bartlett said. “Differences of opinion and opposing views are of course part of the national debate. Yet the current leadership of the NAACP has clearly crossed the line in partisanship and civility, making it impossible to have a constructive dialogue.”
“Despite the current leadership’s intolerant views, President Bush will continue to reach out to members of the NAACP and African-Americans from across the country,” he said. Bush addresses the Urban League, another civil rights group, next week.
Radio ad campaign rolls out
His campaign began airing ads on black radio stations in Philadelphia, site of Kerry’s address, as well as Detroit; St. Louis; Kansas City, Mo.; Cleveland; Toledo, Ohio; and Milwaukee. It calls the Massachusetts senator’s voting record “extreme” and spotty.
NAACP chairman Julian Bond poked fun at Bush for refusing to address the group because of its criticism. “If he didn’t go anywhere people criticize him, he’d never leave home,” Bond said, drawing laughter.
In Washington, Bush’s education secretary, Rod Paige, took aim at Bond and NAACP president Kweisi Mfume for what he called “hateful and untruthful rhetoric about Republicans and President Bush.” At the convention, NAACP officials have described some black organizations as mouthpieces of white conservatives and have said Bush’s education law disproportionately hurts minorities.
When Kerry took his turn on stage to the soul anthem “We are Family,” he said, “I will be a president who is truly a uniter, not one who seeks to divide one nation by race or riches or by any other label.”
He noted the high unemployment rate for blacks, and said Bush had not done enough to improve education, the economy and civil rights for all Americans, including blacks.
In a foreign policy tracked closely by black Americans, Kerry said as president he would use “the full weight of American leadership” to help stop genocide in Sudan. A spokeswoman said that could include military force, but not as a first step.
“This administration must stop equivocating,” Kerry said.
After his speech to the NAACP, Kerry began his “Front Porch Tour” in Philadelphia suburb of Lansdowne. The Kerry campaign is putting a new spin on an old technique — trying to get the candidate more time sharing concerns with regular Americans.
While Kerry is visiting with voters in the swing state of Pennsylvania, his running mate John Edwards will be visiting voters on a front porch in New Orleans. Although Kerry and Edwards were officially kicking off what they say will be a regular feature of their campaign trips, Kerry sat with voters on their porch at least once before.
Last month in Columbus, Ohio, Kerry chatted with two sisters who brought out iced tea and talked about the struggles of raising their kids in a tough economy. The normal intimacy of a front-porch chat was somewhat disrupted by the glare of the floodlights brought in by the campaign and more than a dozen national journalists and staff who watched from the lawn.
Kerry said the importance of the porch visits is “going to the homes of ordinary citizens across this nation and talking with them about the values that matter most to them — values you live by every day — family, responsibility, service, opportunity, inclusion, fairness, faith.”