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December 19, 2004
Latino Advocates Learn Lesson From Election; NAACP Clueless?

Darryl Fears reports in today's Washington Post that the 2004 elections taught at least one ethnic-advocacy group the dangers of a strictly adversarial relationship with Republicans, and the incoming leadership has decided to shift directions:

At [the National Council of] La Raza, a change in strategy is in the works. Yzaguirre, who was the group's president for more than 30 years, approached issues and politics with direct confrontation. "My posture has been we are going to award our friends and come down on our enemies," Yzaguirre said. "We are going to speak out on [Bush's] policies if they hurt our people."

But [Janet] Murguia, who served as deputy director for legislative affairs for the Clinton White House and as a liaison between the Gore-Lieberman presidential campaign and constituent groups in 2000, said she is planning to improve La Raza's relations with the White House.

"One of the first lessons you learn in Washington is you have to work with people on both sides of the aisle," she said. "I am certainly going to take every opportunity I can to reach out to this administration."

Part of the impetus for Murguia's strategic shift is Bush's increasing popularity among Hispanics; he took over 40% of their vote this year, narrowing what had been a normally substantive gap that favored Democrats. Her constituency has pushed NCLR to adapt its rhetoric to the new reality on the ground. When almost half of your target audience remains sympathetic to the GOP, you have to engage them in a positive manner to maintain your own credibility.

On the other hand, the NAACP has not yet felt that kind of pressure from their membership, and so far their leadership does not feel particularly interested in leading their constituency away from the patronizing relationship the Democrats have offered for decades:

At the NAACP, the committee searching for Mfume's successor is being led by Julian Bond, the organization's chairman, who dismissed recent reports that his fiery rhetoric did not mesh with his president's attempts at diplomacy.

"Mfume and I have met at least every other week face to face, and we have communicated almost daily," Bond said. "I disagree that we've had a difficult relationship."

Still, their differences in approach were clear. The day after this year's U.S. presidential election, for example, Mfume sought to end the chilly relationship between the White House and the NAACP with a congratulatory letter. But Bond had repeatedly disparaged Bush and his party over the years -- in the days leading up to November's voting, he said the Republicans "draw their most rabid supporters from the Taliban wing of American politics" -- and now the IRS is investigating whether his remarks during the campaign violated the NAACP's tax-exempt status.

Some voices in the African-American community speak out against the perpetual war footing that the NAACP takes with the GOP. Earl Ofari Hutchinson warns against taking an outdated approach to civil rights, and recommends focusing on social issues and reaching out to the Bush administration to push that agenda. "This is not 1960," Hutchinson warns in the article.

However, other forces feel that Mfume was simply too diplomatic with Bush and that the NAACP needs a leader like Julian Bond. Ronald Waters argues that the GOP wants to "marginalize" the black community, but what Walters doesn't see is that their lock-step voting pattern has marginalized themselves. Why should the GOP prioritize for the African-American community when their votes are in the bag for Democrats? After all, Bush went to the NAACP as a candidate in 2000, only to be rewarded by an ad campaign that accused him of sympathizing with the lynchers who dragged James Byrd to death. After assigning prominent and historic positions to African-Americans in his cabinet, the GOP only took a paltry 11% of the vote in his re-election.

Bush won without them, and that's why the NAACP strategy is doomed to failure. The bloc-voting threat only works until its shown to be an empty bluff, and that's happened in two successive presidential elections. The GOP doesn't need the current black leadership, and everyone except Julian Bond, Ronald Waters, and Jesse Jackson appears to understand that. Janet Murguia certainly does, and she's bright enough to keep her community from marginalizing itself.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at December 19, 2004 8:31 AM

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