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Nadira Hira (below) arrives at Detroit's Cobo Center exhausted but determined; (bottom) George W Bush wows the crowd,

Our

writel Nadira Hira,went in

search ol a President out of touch

with Black America. What she found both shocked and awed her

us BY NADIRA A. HIRA In the world of presidential politics, the word

ourcan be a candidate's best weapon. From promises

to support our communities to anecdotal instructions on raising our children, only the most qmical-and some might say the most sawy-citizen can turn away when a would-be leader of the free world puts himself right there in the glammatical trenches with us. Of course, no one employed this principle with more success than former President Bill Clin-

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ton. And his reward, at least from Black America, has been unabashed love and acceptance. We welcomed him in our churches, chuckled at his saxophonic stylings, and didn't disagree when Toni Morrison called him "our first Black President." But the Clinton era was one of relative peace and mainstream economic success, which allowed us and our issues a comfortable spot at the fore. In the post-9/11 United States, though, political attention has been focused on warding off terrorism and stimulating the economy, and our issues have faded. This has left many of us wondering, .Is this President pagingi ang attention to our concerns? To find out, in fuly I headed to the 2004 National Urban teague Conference in Detroit. President Bush had tumed down the invitation to appear at the annual NAACP convention for the fourth time in a row (the first president to refuse the invitation since Warren G. Harding), but in the next week amounced that he had accepted one from the Urban league. I tried for a week to finagle an interview with President Bush at the event, to no avail. So I went gUerrilla-re$stering for press credentials and catching a redeye from New York to nab the lTesident without the benefit of a scheduled interview. And when it was over-after I had spent a whole morning waiting to be underwhelmed-I found myself in the throes of a painful admiration for the ever-affable "Dubya." lcorurrruurD oN NEXT PAGEI EssENcE

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Bro Bush? Mv expectations weren't terribly higlr. I was all too

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wourdhappenirhetried'to endear himselJ with some Ebonic I was wrong.

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with few resources' in ln the ul down-home'good-naturedstyIethatishisInaddition,Bushhasappointednearly

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hallmark_and,formany,theioundationot200federaljudgeswhoareamongthe hisso-ca]ledelectability'mostconservative9i1ceRonald.Reagan. Hereminisced:..Idon'tknowifyoure-Theimpactoft}rese]ifetimeappointments member,Willard,butwewereontheporchwillreachfarbeyondBush'sownterm., ofthegovemor'smansioninTexas'I'mnotthreateninga{{i1.ma|1eactionandcivil saying-youdranka]lmybeer,but..."Andliberties.But1ll.tftsirrelevantifitisn't trecon*gratutated:"IaskedI(wameifhediscussed,anditdoesn,t]ooklike.Presitookcreditfor[thePistons'2004NBAdentBushisgoingtoholdpublicforums Championshipwin].Hesaid,.Ofcourse.,"ontheseissuesanytimesoon. And he teased: 'And it's hard to run for of-

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Audience members sit in

for the NUL His $fts are concentrated in the of Greater Miami; r<*"-" pronouns, his all-purpose smirk, his ability of use ma4;ins-inhis had a no one at the time But sharpton. Rev. and of Detroit; gesticulating to a room of hundreds as he migltt name, and everyone was part of the club. And it was impossible to control a crowd, Bush exited to applause, as trifrat buddies. room of dorm piece to a of not to laugh, not to stake claim to one's own small The audience trickled out, shocked him. seen as I've ever umphant criticize. to impossible quipping. It felt almost camaraderie and

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And similarly unaisaitalte was the president's early reasser,,They asked me before the speech," he said, "whether or not I would object to a prayer. I said, i{bsolutely not. All of us need prayer, and I appreciate t}rat.' " Now if there,s one person that conservatives and Black people can aâ&#x201A;Źi^ree on, it's the tord. And in a moment of brilliance, Lefore potitics had even made its way into the conversation that morning, the president had already tied and tightened the one undeniable bond between him and Black America. In the ensuing speech, president Bush did what he ought to do. Without getting into the kinds of details that might do him more harm ttran gtod, he stressed the gains made d.uring his administration, oqganizing his points undlr one theme: "Progless progtess for all Americans." That, for African-Americans, "nd said the hesident, "requires goodichools," "depends on more citizens 1iving the dream of owning their own home,' and "depends on full pr6tection of civil righis and equality before the law," .*orrg oth".r. These aren't debatable points. But despite whatever links the president drew, the vocabulary of his speech un-

tion of his commitment to faith.

into a kind of stupor, I think, by the President's oQert handling. Fiveweekslater,theBushcampofferedupanothersurprise:the

responses to the questions I had E-mailed aJter being assured that I wouldir't get face time with the President. What was no surprise were ttre ansurers: more of the same rhetoriche gave the NUL,with little relationship to the questions. (For the complete interview

visit essence.com.) when I asked what particular value he finds in courtin$votes from the urban community, the President's response mnged fur and wide enough to mention how he had "institutedanationalinitiativetoexpandandcoordinatetheAMBER Alert networK which notifies the public about child abductions."

whatdoesthathavetodowiththepowerof

theurbanvotingbloc?

appreciated the effort from the President's camp, but I could have done without the doublespeak and non sequiturs' Even so, I'm struck by one last epiphany which $ves me renewed respect for the Bush machine' The President's NUL appearance could have been just another stop on the urban cam-

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paign fiail, but the controversy heightened anticipation for the speech. The reluctant enthusiasm he received might not mean the derscoredpreciselywhathasbeenatissueformanyAfrican-Amer- much in the long term, but for that moming, George Bush tranalmost promised land that picture gave of a us a preacher the talk, he talks Though administration. icans throughoulhis at least in a broad sense, our country's leader has been unwilling scends criticism, and he all but called it our America' tr Nadira A. Hira is a wribr living in New York GiV. to tackle the specific issues of the Black community. EssENcE

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Finding George Bush