GOP Needs More Than Rhetoric on Civil Rights

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“Bush moves to heal old wounds,” runs a headline in the Boston Globe today, describing the president’s appearance, after five straight no-shows, at the NAACP’s annual conference. Admitting that his party hasn’t exactly endeared itself to African Americans, he told his audience “I want to change the relationship.”

A good editorial in USA Today points out how much work that will take.

Healing the rift — and bringing his party along — will take more than words, particularly in advancing civil rights. In 2000, Bush promised to make civil rights enforcement a “cornerstone” of his administration. He has done better than some critics contend, but no one could argue with a straight face that he kept that vow.

From protecting voting rights to preventing job discrimination, Bush’s Justice Department has failed to provide the enforcement power that such delicate programs need to survive.

The department’s civil rights division, for example, signed off on a Georgia voting plan and a Texas redistricting map that later were blocked by the courts for discrimination against minority voters. And the department’s position in a case involving retaliation against a female worker who filed a discrimination claim was so weak that the Supreme Court rejected it, 8-1.

After Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, leaving thousands of poor African-American residents homeless and jobless, Bush promised “bold action” to confront poverty with “roots in the history of racial discrimination.” But that pledge, too, dissipated quicker than a summer squall.

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