MILWAUKEE - Appearing unfazed by a pending IRS audit spurred by his stinging criticism of the Bush administration, NAACP Chairman Julian Bond continued to assault the president's policies in a speech last night opening the civil rights organization's 96th annual convention.
Calling the Bush administration's approach to civil rights "deceptive," Bond suggested that the White House has "tried an aggressive campaign to seduce black clergy" to support the administration through its faith-based grant campaign.
"The president likes to talk the talk, but he doesn't walk the walk," Bond told a crowd of about 3,000 gathered at Milwaukee's Midwest Airlines Center to hear his introduction to the annual convention.
Bond said the administration "at best has neglected civil rights issues, and at worst has been aggressively hostile to them" - buttressing that remark with mention of a recent U.S. Commission on Civil Rights report that was critical of the administration.
Bond landed the Baltimore-based National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in hot water with the Internal Revenue Service after a speech last summer, in which he attacked President Bush on the Iraq war and for being the first sitting president since Herbert Hoover not to address the group.
Bush declined an invitation to this year's convention as well - a point Bond underscored early in his speech.
The IRS has said its investigation is limited to whether Bond stepped over the line into partisan politics in his critique of Bush, which could cost the NAACP its tax-exempt status. But the NAACP is continuing to fight the federal investigation, and Bond - unapologetic for his remarks - has denounced the audit as partisan bullying.
Bond also gave a much-anticipated introduction of NAACP President-elect Bruce S. Gordon, a retired Verizon executive who has made repairing relations with the Bush administration one of his top goals.
Bond, known for his fiery addresses, didn't level criticism at Bush alone.
Bond named and condemned eight U.S. senators who he said dodged an apology for the federal government's failure to pass anti-lynching laws as the Senate - on a voice vote rather than a roll call - passed a nonbinding resolution of apology last month.
Bond also criticized Democrats for not blocking Bush's judicial nominees. He called confirmed U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Janice Rogers Brown the "female Clarence Thomas."
Bond accused black conservatives and blamed foundations that finance conservative groups for rolling back gains for which civil rights leaders have fought.
"Having stolen our vocabulary, they also want to steal the just spoils of our righteous war," he said. "They've had a collection of black hustlers and hucksters on their payrolls for more than 20 years, promoting them as a new generation of black leaders."
Reiterating comments from his keynote convention address two years ago about Bush and his black supporters, Bond said, "Like ventriloquists' dummies, they speak in the puppet master's voice, but we can see his lips moving, and we can hear his money talk."
Bond also called for a replacement for retiring Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor who will hold civil rights as a priority.
The seat being vacated by O'Connor is emerging as a big issue at this week's convention. Among others to be addressed by the more than 8,000 attendees are voting rights, health, juvenile justice and education.
Bond's address wasn't the only one to focus on politics. Most notably, Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., a Wisconsin Republican, received raucous applause when he promised to lead federal lawmakers in extending provisions of the voting rights act that are to expire in 2007.
Bond ended his speech by encouraging people of all backgrounds to fight for today's civil rights issues, including economic justice.
"Anyone who shares our mission and values is welcome," he said. "Our values are American values. We believe in tolerance, inclusion, equality, celebrating the worth of every human being."
Portia Johnson, vice president of the NAACP branch in Duluth, Minn., said Bond's speech is always the highlight of the convention.
"I think it's great; it's energizing," she said. "It encourages us to go home and do the work that needs to be done. He tells it like it is and how it should be told."