between the White House and black American leaders slumped to a new low yesterday
after President Bush gave a dismissive answer when asked why he was not addressing
the convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Peoples,
the most respected black pressure group in the US.
At his press conference on Monday night, Mr Bush answered: "Let's see. There I was sitting around the table with foreign leaders looking at Colin Powell and Condi Rice _ " His voice then trailed away, he shook his head and moved on to the next question; the implication being that two black people in his inner circle was a substitute for outreach to the rest of the community.
His words were certain to cause outrage, and seemed an uncharacteristic piece of political ineptitude.
"You can't be president of all the people when you only want to be president for some of the people," said the NAACP chief executive, Kweisi Mfume.
Julian Bond, the NAACP chairman, said of Mr Bush: "We knew he was in the oil business - we just didn't know it was snake oil."
Mr Bond said that groups opposed to civil rights now held "unprecedented power" in the Bush administration.
A justice department spokeswoman, Barbara Comstock, said the speeches ignored the administration's actual record.
The Houston Chronicle suggested that the snub had been deliberate: "In search of a more receptive audience, Bush is taking his message of home ownership, welfare reform and faith-based initiatives directly to the African-American churches, service providers and others who may be more likely to embrace it."
The Chronicle reported that in a recent internal White House memo on political strategy African-Americans were the only group listed under "areas for improvement".
At the 2000 election, Mr Bush won just 9% of black votes, and there is bitterness that without the effective disenfranchisement of many black voters in Florida, Al Gore would be president.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2002