Whore City, Jan. 18 — One of George W. Bush's selling points during
campaign last year was inclusiveness. In two campaigns for governor, he and his backers
argued, he had done better among blacks and other minorities than most other Republicans, and he
would do so in the presidential race.
Mr. Bush urged his party to remember that it carried "the mantle of
Lincoln." As if in response, the
Republicans gave unusually prominent roles to African-American speakers and performers at their
convention in Philadelphia.
None of it made much difference. He won only 9 percent of the black
vote, tying Ronald Reagan for the
worst showing by a Republican presidential nominee in many years.
On Saturday, African-Americans will be prominent among those protesting
at Mr. Bush's inauguration,
even though he has chosen for his cabinet the first black secretary of state and a widely respected black
Ask black politicians about the appointments, and they quickly change
the subject to Florida, where, they
assert, antiquated voting equipment and unfriendly electoral officials in minority precincts illegitimately
tipped the outcome to Mr. Bush.
"A majority of African-Americans think that the election was stolen,"
said David Bositis, an analyst of
minority voting at the Joint Center for Economic Studies, a think tank here.
The bitterness that many black voters and their white allies feel toward
the president-elect was on vivid
display as the Senate Judiciary Committee pressed Mr. Bush's choice of former Senator John Ashcroft
as attorney general.
With attention centered on Judge Ronnie L. White of the Missouri Supreme
African-American, and Mr. Ashcroft's success in blocking his nomination as a federal judge, the session
was supercharged with racial tension.
Senator Charles E. Schumer, the New York Democrat, said Mr. Ashcroft
had applied a double
standard, campaigning for Judge White's defeat last year on grounds that he was soft on crime while
voting to approve other, more liberal white judges. Senator Alan J. Dixon of Illinois, regarded as a
moderate Democrat in his home state, joined in the attack, suggesting that Judge White had been vilified
for Mr. Ashcroft's selfish political ends.
Describing Mr. Ashcroft as "racially insensitive," Senator Joseph R.
Biden Jr. of Delaware said at a
committee hearing on Wednesday: "People are suspect not because they believe you are a racist. They
are suspect because they believe your ideology blinds you not just to the law but to the facts."
As they always do, the senators cloaked the intensity of their feelings
in polite legislative language. But
Senator Dixon's suggestion that Mr. Ashcroft had derailed Judge White's nomination in an effort to save
his own political skin in an ultimately unsuccessful re-election campaign went well beyond the politesse
usually observed by sitting senators in dealing with a former colleague. So did Senator Edward M.
Kennedy's red-faced suggestions that Mr. Ashcroft had spoken treasonously, or something close to it, in
arguing that citizens needed firearms to defend themselves against a potentially tyrannical central
Senator Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, said that today's
session was the roughest he had sat
through in more than 21 years on the committee — rougher even than the notably contentious Supreme
Court confirmation hearings for Robert H. Bork and Clarence Thomas. Several other Republicans
warned the Democrats to moderate their language and remain collegial.
In a sense, Mr. Ashcroft has reminded African-Americans of some of the
missteps. Mr. Bush spoke at Bob Jones University in Greenville, S.C., during the campaign, although it
had a history of forbidding interracial dating; Mr. Ashcroft, it turned out, spoke there, too. Mr. Bush
refused to call for the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the South Carolina Capitol; Mr.
Ashcroft, it turned out, gave an interview to a magazine called Southern Partisan that avidly celebrates
In a brief time, the Missourian has become the leading symbol of Mr.
Bush's difficulties with black
voters. He is highly likely to be confirmed, and as attorney general he will help Mr. Bush solidify his
political base. But his presence at the Justice Department will make it very difficult for the department
and the administration to establish effective communications with African-Americans other than the tiny
group of black Republicans.
No matter how many black judges Mr. Ashcroft has voted to confirm, no
matter how vocally he has
decried segregation, the black community seems determined to view him as walking, talking evidence
that Mr. Bush is deaf to its interests.
Speaking at Northwestern University early this week, before he was knocked
off stride by the revelation
that he had fathered a child out of wedlock, Jesse Jackson stated the indictment: "Ashcroft, if he gets
through, will determine who is prosecuted, who is targeted, who will be judged, who will go to jail. He
cannot be trusted."
Mr. Bush's popularity among black voters apparently sank with the attempt
to use the Philadelphia
convention as a symbol of a new, open attitude.
Black leaders denounced the convention as phony, and several described it as "a minstrel show."
Mayor Willie Brown of San Francisco said that it reminded him of a National
game: "All the people on the stage are black, and all the people in the audience are white."
Studies by the Joint Center found that Mr. Bush's favorable rating among
black voters dropped from 43
percent in May 1999, when he was pondering a run for president, to 29 percent at the end of September
2000, when the campaign was nearing a climax. The more African-Americans saw of Mr. Bush, said
Mr. Bositis, who designed the polls, "the less they liked him."
More fuel went onto the fire in the November imbroglio in Florida, with
Kweisi Mfume, president of the
N.A.A.C.P., charging that there had been disproportionate purging of voter rolls and other chicanery in
mainly African-American precincts.
Now Mr. Bush, about to cross the threshold of the White House, faces
continuing challenges from a
new black militancy to his legitimacy and his ambition to be the president of all Americans, as he put it