For Bush, ‘Bob Jones’ May Spell T-r-o-u-b-l-e
GREENVILLE, S.C. — In politics, labels can be a blessing or a curse. They can create a mental image that 1,000 words cannot.
For Dan Quayle, “potatoe” spelled trouble. And for George W. Bush, “Bob Jones University” is quickly becoming a phrase that could saddle him with some serious baggage.
Bob Jones University is a Christian school here in the heart of a conservative tract in the state’s northwest corner with a student population of approximately 5,000. Officials say they do not keep records on how large the minority student population is. The school has drawn condemnation for its policies, past practices and the beliefs of its leaders.
In the 1970s, the university lost its tax-exempt status for failing to admit Blacks.
The current president, Bob Jones III, nixed the college’s controversial dating policy earlier this month on CNN’s Larry King Live amidst widespread criticism, and then later reportedly added the caveat that interracial couples would have to have parental consent. But before the fracas, he explained their policy as: “We basically accept that there are three races — Caucasians, Negroes and Orientals. Caucasians can’t date Orientals. Orientals can’t date Caucasians, and neither of them can date Negroes.”
Bush made a beeline to the university last month to shore up his conservative base. The Texas governor addressed an audience of about 5,500 in the school’s auditorium.
Confronted after his speech with questions about the school’s policies and previous statements of its past and present leaders, Bush defended his appearance.
He said it shouldn’t cast doubts on his common refrain, “I’m a uniter, not a divider.”
After taking a beating for not condemning the school’s policies, Bush released to the press a letter he wrote to John Cardinal O’Connor, the Archbishop of New York:
“On reflection, I should have been more clear in disassociating myself from anti-Catholic sentiments and racial prejudice. It was a missed opportunity, causing needless offense, which I deeply regret,” the letter stated.
But the statement may not be enough to save Bush, who even took hits from within his own party for visiting the school.
Black U.S. Rep. J.C. Watts, R-Okla., a Bush supporter, condemned the school’s previous dating policy last month. Watts says Bush’s appearance goes against his advice for GOP lawmakers to tread lightly on racial issues such as affirmative action, but he says Republicans are judged by a different standard on such issues.
Watts says no one notices when Vice President Al Gore appears with Al Sharpton, whose statements on race are viewed by some to be just as controversial.
Bush says that should he become the GOP nominee, he is relishing a fight with the Democrats over taxes and other issues.
What Bush didn’t expect was that he might still have to explain “Bob Jones University.” More than a name, it may become a label he can’t shake.
— Glen Johnson
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com