Black leaders who had regarded President Bush as "a breath of fresh air" feel an ill wind blowing from the White House in the form of his veto of a civil rights bill. "We don't have to read his lips anymore," said the Rev. Joseph Lowery, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Atlanta-based civil rights group founded by Martin Luther King Jr. "His lips have spoken loud and clear."
The sharp criticism for the veto of the employment discrimination bill ended a relatively peaceful period in the relationship between the White House and minorities. Civil rights leaders who spent eight years bitterly opposed to President Reagan's policies had characterized Bush as more sympathetic to their cause.
"A few months ago, he was talking the talk," said Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., once a King aide. "He met with people. He said good things. It was a breath of fresh air for the civil rights movement.
"I think the only thing that we can do right now in the civil rights community is to encourage the citizens to turn out and vote, to show their displeasure and sense of righteous indignation at the polls with Mr. Bush, with those who didn't support the civil rights bill," Lewis said in an interview.
At a news conference in Washington, D.C., Jesse Jackson said the veto was "a call to a return to massive direct action." He said that could include street demonstrations and other forms of non-violent protest.
Bush, Jackson said, "is betraying the American dream."
The bill Bush vetoed, the Civil Rights Act of 1990, would overturn six U.S. Supreme Court decisions that have made it harder for women and minorities to prove they have been victims of job discrimination.
Bush said he vetoed the bill because he said provisions that would make it easier to win discrimination cases against employers would have led companies to establish hiring quotas.
A Senate vote on whether to override the veto is scheduled for today.