George W. Bush's Republican Party is unsurpassed in messaging -- better even than Bill Clinton, simultaneously its greatest nemesis and most revered model for successful politiking. But when it comes time for puttin' it on the line -- there's no there there. And, for maybe the first time in five years, many American people see through the smoke and mirrors. A CNN poll released today shows that African-Americans in particular are not only paying close attention to the "new" Republican Party's work after the hurricane, they simply don't believe that Bush cares for folks like them. Only 21% of African-Americans believe that Bush cares about black people.
Bush and the Republicans claim that they have abandoned not just the racial politics of the past 40 years, but that their compassionate conservatism benefits all Americans. Well, Mr. President, that dog don't hunt. The stories of despair and disparity from the Katrina disaster are well-documented. Poor folks, disproportionately African-American, bore the brunt of the hurricane and suffered the most from Bush's failure to provide minimally adequate disaster relief. (Unless you ask Barbara Bush, of course, who thinks the evacuees in Houston's football stadium have it pretty good.)
No, Mr. President, your failure is not because the government can't do jobs like Katrina required. FEMA operated exceptionally well under Bill Clinton. The disaster relief agency was held up as a model after the Oklahoma City bombings that even the private sector could not have replicated. (Don't forget that it was Clinton's FEMA under James Lee Witt that responded so remarkably well after 9/11. Bush had not yet been in office long enough to screw it up.)
No, Mr. President, it's not because there weren't enough tax cuts to spur enough growth to give enough money to Halliburton to build better levees. Though it appears clear that you and your ilk might still push for that same "tax cuts solve all" snake oil once again.
No, Mr. President, your Republican Party has a long way to go on its road from racial division.
Yes, Mr. President, your wife was right that accusations that you and your minions are insensitive to African-Americans are disgusting. The charges are most disgusting because they are true. It feels good to tell yourself that you and your people are compassionate and caring, but feeling it does not change your policies and your priorities.
All the Republican messaging has been well and good as a political strategy, but now their rhetoric has run up against the reality of those who are actually suffering from conservative policies of abandonment and, even worse, outright neglect. Tax cuts for the wealthy drained the treasury so that disaster preparation and levee-building were impossible. And a war in Iraq driven by ideology and lies has distracted Bush from taking care of folks at home.
Jim Wallis was right today in his blog. One good thing that may come out of this disaster is that Americans may once again put poor folks -- African-American, white, Hispanic, Asian, and anyone else -- back on the agenda. Maybe Bush's claim that he wants an "ownership" society will mean that poor people who didn't own homes in the Deep South will now find that government finds better ways to move toward that goal. Maybe Bush's claim that he wants to leave no child behind will mean that rebuilt schools in Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana will actually be adequate for students when they return. Maybe Bush's purported desire that we become a more compassionate society will result in a tax structure that helps the working poor -- those who wake up every day and do their job and take care of their family -- so that they will not bear a disproportionate economic burden because of an uncaring conservative government in Washington, DC. Mr. Bush, the proof will be in the puttin'.