Topic: Government & Politics

Snubbing the NAACP
(7/25/2004)

It is tempting indeed to excuse President Bush for declining the NAACP's invitation to speak at its national convention. After all, this is the same organization that spent money during the 2000 campaign to imply, in one of the more unforgivable examples of negative TV advertising, that Bush's opposition to hate crime legislation made him complicit in the horrendous dragging / beheading murder of James Byrd. Certainly he would be walking into a likely partisan ambush, with an audience pre-programmed to signal loudly its disapproval at every opportunity. He could count on the cable news shows to highlight every jeer and stony silence, followed by endless analysis of the administrations unpopularity with African Americans. Who among us would eagerly subject ourselves to such an experience?

None of us…but then none of us is President of the United States. As president, George Bush is bound to embody the virtues that the rest of us should aspire to even though we may seldom achieve them, virtues like tolerance, self-restraint, empathy, generosity and forgiveness. He is also supposed to forgo the negative conduct that springs from emotion and non-ethical instincts, like scorn, vindictiveness, and retribution. No, Ethics Scoreboard can't blame the President for wanting to snub the nation's oldest civil rights organization. Its leader, former Congressman Julian Bond, has made statements about Bush, his administration and the Republican Party that were excessive, uncivil, unfair, and insulting. No rational person would go to a party whose host had treated him in like fashion. But this is different. Like it or not, Bush has a duty to include all groups and voices in his Presidency, even those who don't like him, even those who treat him disrespectfully and unfairly, even those who may richly deserve a comeuppance. One of the most flourishing of ethical fallacies is that the bad behavior of others justifies unethical conduct towards them. Vice-President Cheney is obviously a devotee, given his defense of the F-bomb he gleefully dropped on Senator Leahy. So were Jack and Bobby Kennedy, LBJ, Richard Nixon, John Sununu and Bill Clinton: the fallacy knows no partisan barriers.

The NAACP had Bush in a no-win situation, but not necessarily in a must-lose situation. Bush could and should have taken a deep breath and displayed the qualities of character his high office demands: face his political enemies, weather the ambush that was sure to come, but do the right thing, as painful as it might be. Undoubtedly, this would have taken courage, and courage is a value this President speaks about a great deal. It is unfortunate and disturbing that in a circumstance where he could have displayed courage, and perhaps won, if not the affection of his adversaries, at least their respect, he chose to engage in payback instead.

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