Fuddy-Duddies of the NAACP

The presumption was, if any leader understood the futility of appeasing the morally inflexible, that leader was George W. Bush. Doesn’t Bush, after all, grasp from experience in the Middle East and elsewhere that the high-handed don’t want their way in just a few things, they want it in all things?

Sure he knew — up to the minute he trundled off to the annual convention of the NAACP, determined to appease; in which determination he succeeded, with the usual consequences. The delegates, celebrating Bush’s first appearance at an NAACP bash, gave a foot-stomping welcome to his call for renewing the Voting Rights Act. Then, "a somber silence fell over the room as the president discussed his policies on education, jobs, and housing," reported The New York Times. "When he endorsed charter schools," said The Times, "the president was booed" — just as he ought to have expected when undertaking to reason with Western civilization’s most unreasonable organization. That is, next to the National Education Association, which shares the NAACP’s hostility toward charter schools and vouchers, among other needed national reforms.

The seasons pass, the earth renews itself, and yet the spectacle of two nettlesome "liberal" organizations — liberal in the 20th century collectivist sense — never changes. What was "bad" 50 years ago — e.g., cessation of government interference in private transactions — remains "bad" today. Change? Rethink? Re-evaluate? Aargghhhh! Not around here, sir.

The good part about Bush’s reception by the NAACP — which takes the line that the federal government is most useful when it’s pretending that racial "inequality" yields only to federal orders and control — is that whoever talked Bush into making nice with the NAACP may have less influence with him next time. The bad part is our rekindled understanding that fuddy-duddies don’t listen, no matter what you say to them.

Why would a hail of boos have greeted the presidential call for more charter schools? Why, indeed, when the whole idea of charter schools is to help the mostly minority victims of bad public schools bypass those schools? A charter school, using state money, has freedom to experiment with new ways of teaching and to apply different standards of discipline than do the publics. Not a lot of charters exist at present, owing to the obduracy of the teachers’ unions. Same with voucher programs, such as those the Education Department recently proposed.

What’s with the NAACP defending bad schools? The victims of bad schools are chiefly black and Hispanic, as Abigail and Stephan Thernstrom of Harvard noted in their book "No Excuses: Closing the Racial Gap in Learning." "By 12th grade, African-Americans are typically four years behind white and Asian students, while Hispanics are doing only a tad better than black students." The Thernstroms, national authorities in these matters, have singled out charter schools and the choice they afford as "essential ingredients in any serious effort to close the gap."

To which the NAACP says what when it boos the whole idea of charter schools — the idea of giving them so much as a fair test? The NAACP says love that learning gap! Make it bigger, wider — just so long as no Republican president (George W. Bush comes to mind) gets any credit for sincerity in trying to improve life for American blacks.

Off to the NAACP convention went Bush (the only president to appoint back-to-back African-American secretaries of state), hoping, however naively, that the delegates might actually be interested in ideas from a source other than Edward M. Kennedy’s speech-writing shop. Guess again. The NAACP, volubly committed to its identity as a subsidiary of the Democrats and the teachers’ unions, cranked up the old boo machine whenever delegates weren’t sitting on their hands.

"We recognize rhetoric when we see it," huffed an NAACP official from Mississippi — proving that a few of the delegates recognize something. What more seem unable to recognize is the possibility that somebody other than themselves might know something worth knowing.