But, realistically, it was a waste of time. For the NAACP leadership, Bush's gesture was a sign that he might be ready to accommodate them, rather than vice versa. More money, more programs, more statements giving credibility to racism as the cause of poverty.
What will it take to get African-Americans back to the agenda of Lincoln and a belief in freedom and in themselves?
For one thing, understand that much of the NAACP's power and influence results not because it monolithically represents black America, but because so much of white America thinks it does. As columnist George Curry points out, the NAACP has been exaggerating its membership for years. According to Curry, there are less than 300,000 dues-paying members of the NAACP. That's out of a population of 38 million African Americans, 13 million of which voted in the last election.
Millions of dollars of corporate funds go to support the NAACP each year, both as result of intimidation and the mistaken belief that the NAACP is the single national organization representing black interests. The result is that corporate America plays a major role in financing the NAACP's ongoing campaign to keep blacks as Democrats (despite campaign finance reforms that supposedly prohibit this) and on the government plantation.
Note that President Bush's address to the NAACP didn't touch on social issues, such as preservation of traditional marriage, which are of enormous importance to black Christians nationwide. He knows that the NAACP is a regular plaintiff in lawsuits trying to overturn traditional marriage.
Nor did he talk about the enormous success of welfare reform, 10 years old this year, which liberated millions of young black women and their children from welfare dependence. Black liberals uniformly opposed this reform, claiming then, as they do today, that young black women could not be freed from government dependence and take care of themselves.
Lincoln sought the advice of black abolitionist Frederick Douglass on getting the word of emancipation to the slaves in the south. Today's Frederick Douglasses, those many conservative black voices around the country who believe in black freedom and dignity, must be the vehicles for change today.
It certainly won't be the NAACP.