The Detroit chapter of the Urban League played host to President
Bush last Friday, where he spoke of helping blacks better their
communities. The visit came on the heels of an address by
Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry to the same audience the
day before.

“The thing I like about the National Urban League is you
believe in the future of the African American community.
You’ve got this great faith that the future is going to be
better, and I share that,” Bush said.

The president spoke about his administration’s record,
focusing on minority entrepreneurs, home ownership and education,
all of which culminated in Bush reaching out to black voters
— 92 percent of whom voted for former vice president Al Gore
in 2000.

Bush began his talk with a reference to a second-term agenda,
the “ownership society.” The society aims to increase
economic wealth and to give people greater control of their health
care, education and saving interests. Bush said the society would
“create an environment where people have a chance to realize
their dreams by owning their own business.”

These new business communities would need viable places for
people to live, which Bush seeks to help provide with down payment
counseling and tax credits.

“Progress for African Americans and all Americans depends
on more citizens living the dream of owning their own home.
There’s nothing better than somebody saying, ‘Welcome
to my house,’ ” Bush said.

He added that more families went on to own their own homes
during his time in office than ever before. In June 2002, Bush
pledged to increase minority homeownership by 5.5 million families
before the end of the decade. Since then, the U.S. Census Bureau
estimated that 1.53 million more minority homeowners exist. The
minority homeownership rate is now at a new record of 50.6 percent,
the bureau reported.

Bush moved on to talk about transforming education from a system
that used to “shuffle kids through” its ranks.

“That’s what you get when you get low expectations.
It’s what I call the soft bigotry of low expectations,”
Bush said, adding that he has tried to change that system with the
No Child Left Behind Act.

Increased spending, reading intervention programs, rigorous
standards and higher expectations would all go towards bettering
the educational system, Bush said.

Such words seemed disingenuous to the Rev. Al Sharpton —
who unsuccessfully ran in the Democratic primaries — and
attended the address with Rainbow/PUSH Coalition President Rev.
Jessie Jackson.

“Bush never funded No Child Left Behind, so he
doesn’t believe in it,” Sharpton said. He added that it
was one part in a larger cache of dishonesty and failed promises
Bush made to the black community.

The act has been funded, although below authorized levels.

Senator John Kyl (R-AZ) wrote in an April report that he
doesn’t think full funding and sufficient funding are the
same.

“It is relevant to note that an increase in spending does
not always result in an increase in achievement. Despite the
billions of dollars in increased appropriations between 1975 and
2000, the National Assessment of Educational Progress reading
scores for nine-year-olds stayed the same,” Kyl wrote.

Grade schools aside, the president said he believed that better
higher education was also necessary. More than one million new
students can now attend college because of the dissemination of
additional Pell grants, Bush said.

Urban League member Wynell Neece said she wasn’t swayed by
the statistics.

“Like most politicians, he can take numbers and make them
say what he wanted them to say,” said Neece.

But she said she respected him coming and presenting his point
of view.

“I appreciated hearing (his ideas) first-hand.”

Sen. Kerry got a more enthusiastic response from his speech to
the Urban League the day before, expressed by three standing
ovations. The senator addressed black unemployment, which at 10
percent is a little less than double the national rate. Kerry also
stressed government aid programs.

“We have an obligation to stop being a country
that’s content to spend $50,000 a year to house young people
in prison for the rest of their life, rather than put $10,000 a
year into Head Start, early start, smart start (programs),”
Kerry said.

Bush challenged the Democratic platform and its history with
black voters.

“Does the Democrat party take African American voters for
granted? I know plenty of politicians assume they have your vote.
But do they earn it and do they deserve it? Have the traditional
solutions of the Democrat party truly served the African American
community?” asked Bush.

But the president did not let his party off the hook either.

“The Republican Party has a lot of work to do. I
understand that,” he said, speaking of efforts to get votes
and be inclusive. He cited his nomination of 17 black judges, his
appointment of cabinet members Rod Paige, Colin Powell, Condoleezza
Rice and chairs of the Federal Communications Commission and of
Housing and Urban Development Michael Powell and Alphonso Jackson,
respectively, as evidence of the party’s wider reach.

Indiana native Oliver Crawford, who was in attendance at the
speech, said he noticed Bush’s departure from his party in
regards to his view on blacks.

“President Bush has had a more liberal approach (to
minority concerns) versus past Republicans,” said
Crawford.

Bush finally asked the crowd to look at his agenda, their own
beliefs and the idea of voting for him on Nov. 2.

“I believe in my heart that the Republican Party, the
party of Lincoln and Frederick Douglass is not complete without the
perspective and support and contribution of African
Americans,” Bush said.

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