NAACP Convention: In Shift, President Ben Jealous Highlights Cooperation With Tea Party

I’m blogging from the 102nd annual convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) at the JW Marriott in Los Angeles, CA.

At last year’s convention, the NAACP passed a resolution condemning racism in the Tea Party after claiming (falsely) for months that Tea Party members had used the “N-word” against members of the Congressional Black Caucus at an anti-ObamaCare rally on Capitol Hill in March 2010.

A year later, after the Tea Party helped lead Republicans to sweeping electoral victories in November 2010, the political landscape has changed nationwide–and so, apparently, has the NAACP’s rhetoric.

Today, at an introductory press conference, NAACP President and CEO Ben Jealous appeared to strike a conciliatory tone, highlighting areas of cooperation with the Tea Party and prominent conservatives, even amidst broad policy disagreements.

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One place of agreement we have found with the Tea Party this year, in places like Texas, has been the urgent need to reform our nation’s criminal justice system. Even as we battle on 99% of the issues, we have found one place to work together.

Grover Norquist, and the California state prison guards’ union, the CCPOA, joined us and the U.S. students’ association and the ACLU. Newt Gingrich sent a statement to say it is time that this state and this country get back to investing in education, and away from investing so much in incarceration.

In the brief question-and-answer session that followed, a local reporter asked Jealous to respond to plans by a Tea Party group in predominantly black South Central Los Angeles to protest against the NAACP on Sunday.

He brushed aside the question with a dose of humor–and a hint that the NAACP’s attitude had changed: “You know, at a certain level, I think we take a bit of pride in helping to diversify the Tea Party.”

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Jealous focused on the theme of the conference, “Affirming America’s Promise,” and highlighted problems with unemployment, incarceration, and poor education in the black community. Despite growing, and overwhelming, evidence that left-wing approaches to these problems are making them worse–and hurting black families most–it’s clear that the NAACP remains committed to big government policies and to its big labor allies.

It’s also apparent that the NAACP expects to weigh in on President Barack Obama’s side in debates with Republicans over the debt ceiling, with Jealous criticizing what he called the “obstructionists” in Congress. He also castigated states that had passed voter ID laws, favored by many Tea Party activists.

Yet Jealous sought to avoid direct confrontation with the Tea Party. It is a sign of the Tea Party movement’s new power–and, with that power, new respect.

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