Leaders in the nation's largest black organization repeatedly urged the 3,000 attendees successfully to give Bush a respectful reception. They got a respectful speech in return. Bush quoted Jackie Robinson and W.E.B. DuBois, played up his religion and apologized for his party's bad behavior during the 1960s-era civil-rights drive. "There's no escaping the reality that the party of Lincoln has not always carried the mantle of Lincoln," he said in a brief 15-minute address. "That's my job, to say here's where we have fallen short and here's where we will improve."
As for the hot issues for his audience, Bush made no promises. He only alluded to his support of school vouchers (most black organizations fear they will skim educational resources) and took a total pass on Supreme Court appointees and the death penalty (though four Gary Graham supporters loudly brought it up for him before being escorted out). He denounced racial profiling but offered no solutions, and as for affirmative action, he would only say, "Strong civil rights enforcement will be a cornerstone of my administration." Read my lips: No new quotas.
After their candidate left to polite applause, Bush spinmeisters sought to lower expectations. They are wise to do so this is a crowd that goes overwhelmingly Democrat (Dole got 14 percent of the black vote, and Bush's dad did even worse), and will doubtless give Al Gore's Jesse Jackson impression Wednesday a much friendlier response. But the Texan seemed to have gotten credit for showing up and owning up to the GOP's very white track record.
Probably not enough kudos, however, to keep black Oklahoma congressman J. C. Watts on the running-mate list. And speaking of racially based calculations: another hopeful just struck off the veep roster, one supposes, is Christine Todd Whitman, though for different reasons. The New Jersey governor sunk further into her own racial-profiling mess when a photo of her, gleefully frisking a black man on one of her ride-alongs with the cops, hit the papers Tuesday in full glory.
Blacks and the GOP may never be a happy couple. Bush, at least, is remembering to send flowers once in a while.