The Politics of the President's NAACP Address

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Juan Williams discusses the top political news of the week with Ron Walters, a professor of political science at the University of Maryland, and Robert Traynham, a political strategist in Washington, D.C. They talk about President Bush's address before the NAACP convention.

FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

I'm Farai Chideya, and this is NEWS AND NOTES.

It's Thursday and NPR's senior correspondent Juan Williams is here with a recap of the news from inside the Beltway in our Political Corner. Juan?

JUAN WILLIAMS reporting:

Thanks, Farai.

We're joined now by Ron Walters, professor of political science at the University of Maryland. We're also joined by GOP political strategist Robert Traynham. He is a political leader - should I say that, Robert?

Mr. ROBERT TRAYNHAM (GOP Political Strategist): You may, thank you.

WILLIAMS: All right. A political leader when it comes to strategy here in Washington. He works for the Republican side of the aisle. Both are in our NPR D.C. studios.

Before we get going, let me just say that Ron Walters is a man who is the subject of great honors. Mr. Walters was given a medal from the NAACP this week for his leadership of a 1958 sit-in in Wichita, Kansas, which was identified as one of the first - some followed by Oklahoma City, but neither got the national media attention that later followed in Greensboro. So congratulations, Ron Walters.

Professor RON WALTERS (Professor of Political Science, University of Maryland): Thank you very much.

WILLIAMS: Obviously the big story at the NAACP is President Bush's address to that group. It's the first time in his administration that he is taking time out to speak to the group. If he didn't do it, he would've been the first president I believe since Harding to fail to address and NAACP convention while he was in the White House.

Robert Traynham, why the changed of heart?

Mr. TRAYNHAM: I think because the NAACP finally has become a civil organization, truly a non-partisan approach in terms of being respectful of the president. I recall back in 2001 and 2002, and also in 2003, the chairman of the NAACP, my good friend, Julian Bond, along with Kweisi Mfume, were very critical to the president and also just very disrespectful.

I believe one of the comments was that the president and his party is to the right of the Taliban regime, and that type of rhetoric is just completely uncalled for. And so I thought the president did the right thing by saying, look, I'm not going to go into an environment where I'm just going to be booed and hissed.

What I believe happened was is there was a civil dialogue between the White House and the new NAACP administration where they said, look, Mr. President, we disagree, fundamentally disagree with a lot of the policies, but at least let's just have a conversation here. And I think the president said, I'll take you up on your offer.

WILLIAMS: Ron Walters, do you expect when you look at this that somehow there's going to be a breakthrough. that there will be now a new political relationship?

Prof. WALTERS: Let me say with respect to Bob Traynham's comments, I think that Julian Bond was accurately reflecting the sentiment in the black community when he made those statements. Because coming out of the 2004 election cycle, the White House, I think, probably could've stopped the Internal Revenue Service from trying to investigate the NAACP. This really angered that organization, its board of directors and its executives, and I think rightly so.

I think we're really talking about the fall campaign. I can see Karl Rove writing a memo, which says, Mr. President, go on over there. Because you know what we want to do is we don't want to go back of the scenario of the 2004 election. We want to use some of these values issues and we want you to put the nail in the coffin.

WILLIAMS: Do you agree with Professor Walters that it's about the midterm elections?

Mr. TRAYNHAM: This is about his legacy. This is about breaking bread and at the very least just saying, look, we can agree to disagree but respect me and I respect you. I disagree with you policies and I disagree with your policy, Mr. President, but the fact of the matter is, thank you for coming, thank you for listening to our concerns and thank you very much for at least giving us the time of day. I think that's very, very important.

Prof. WALTERS: The evil genius in the White House who runs political strategy probably doesn't agree with you.

WILLIAMS: But, Ron, I mean, there's nothing else to gain for the president except from a legacy standpoint.

Prof. WALTERS: Well, the president has a lot to gain. He has at least a couple of years left and he wants to run his program through the Congress of the United States. Guess what? He's likely not to be able to do that if he doesn't do something to help a few of those people hold onto their seats in the House and the Senate.

WILLIAMS: Let's talk about a real surprise in black politics this week. Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney of Georgia was expected to win her primary easily. Instead, what has happened is this: McKinney got 47 percent of the vote but it was just about 1,400 votes more than former DeKalb County Commissioner Hank Johnson, also an African-American, who got 45 percent of the vote. A third person in the race got nine percent.

This means that McKinney and Johnson are going to be in an August 8th primary runoff. Did anybody see this coming?

Prof. WALTERS: I did.

WILLIAMS: You did?

Prof. WALTERS: Yeah, I saw it coming. And there's a pretty good reason for that. When you look at her district and you look at the Georgia voting laws, you've got something strange there, which is that that district allows - not only that district but other districts - allow crossover voting.

So Democrats and Republicans can vote for Cynthia McKinney. Guess what? Republicans don't like her very much, so they tend to come out in large numbers. And in the election previous to that, she lost. As long as she runs, she's going to be a lightning rod for drawing Republican votes into her campaign. And she's probably always going to have this kind of result.

Mr. TRAYNHAM: You know, Juan, the saga continues. I mean, she continues to put her foot in her mouth. And she continues to make political stupid - rookie mistakes. A couple of years ago she mentioned something about Jews and the Holocaust and it obviously just - literally just set that community on fire and they mobilized against her.

Former Congresswoman Majette obviously ran against her and won. And so this is something where she will always have a problem in her district because she is very polarizing. And I actually will disagree with you, Ron. I actually think that a lot of Democrats probably have very, very strong feelings towards her and say, you know what, she's an embarrassment and, frankly, I don't want her representing me in Washington, D.C.

I think there's a deep sentiment there against her and for her where she always has to run against herself. I think she's her worst enemy.

WILLIAMS: Robert Traynham is a GOP political strategist here in Washington. And Professor Ron Walters, professor of political science at the University of Maryland. His latest book is called Freedom is Not Enough. Thank you for joining us on political corner.

Prof. WALTERS: Thank you, Juan.

Mr. TRAYNHAM: Thank you, Juan. Once again, congratulations, Ron.

Prof. WALTERS: Yeah. Thank you very much, Bob.

WILLIAMS: Back to you, Farai.

CHIDEYA: Thanks, Juan. You can join NPR's Senior Correspondent Juan Williams in his Washington insiders every Thursday on Political Corner.

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