PHILADELPHIA – NAACP President Kweisi Mfume asked President Bush on Saturday to reconsider his decision against addressing the black civil rights group’s convention in Philadelphia this week.

There was no immediate response from Bush, who said Friday that he would not appear because he’d been offended by barbed criticism from the NAACP’s leaders.

A snub of the country’s largest civil rights organization would make Bush – who last spoke to the NAACP in 2000 when he was seeking election – the first president since Herbert Hoover not to address its convention. Many delegates responded angrily to Bush’s decision, some going so far as to say that it would be hailed among some factions of white voters.

Mfume, at a news conference Saturday morning at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, urged Bush to “take a higher road,” then added this barb: “If as president his new mantle for dialogue is to only meet with those who agree with him, we are getting closer to the previous regime in Baghdad than we are to a democracy.”

“Every Republican is not our enemy,” Mfume continued. “I am hoping the president will change his mind and show America he is bigger than that. I have left time on the calendar on Thursday.”

Told of the renewed invitation, White House spokesman Allen Abney said he had nothing to add to Friday’s comments by press secretary Scott McClellan. McClellan said the NAACP’s leaders had made “some rather hostile political comments about the president over the past few years.”

The sharpest criticism has come mainly from NAACP Chairman Julian Bond, who told business leaders and lawmakers In Indiana last month that Bush and other Republicans appeal to a racist “dark underside of American culture”

At the NAACP’s 2001 convention, Bond said that Bush “has selected nominees from the Taliban wing of American politics, appeased the wretched appetites of the extreme right wing and chosen Cabinet officials whose devotion to the Confederacy is nearly canine in its uncritical affection.”

Mfume acknowledged that the NAACP’s criticism of Bush had been “high-pitched,” but attributed it to “frustration” with the White House’s refusal to meet with the group.

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“We all say things we would like to take back,” Mfume said.

If Bush were to come, he continued, “I’m not saying people are going to jump up and do a dance and shout Hallelujah. There would be applause.”

John Kerry is likely to get a lot of it when he addresses the convention’s 8,000 attendees on Thursday.

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The reaction among NAACP delegates Saturday ranged from dismay to gloom.

Some older delegates observed that shunning the NAACP solidifies the president’s standing with conservatives, particularly southern white voters.

“His political advisors are not stupid. There is a white base in Cincinnati that will applaud this,” said Milton Hinton, 78, a delegate from that city. “To a lot of white voters, the NAACP is a dirty word. They will say we are getting our comeuppance.”

Navy Lieut. Carl Bolden, 32, was at the convention in his dress whites to staff a military recruiting booth. “I find it a little disheartening,” the submarine instructor said of Bush’s decision.

The president got only about 9 percent of the black vote in 2000.


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