Bush's next step 

Addressing the racial divide

Addressing the racial divide
It was refreshing to see the president of the United States make a prime-time speech about the hurricane relief effort last week. Acknowledging not only that his own policies had failed, he came forward with an initiative to rebuild the region and address the racial and class divides he's helped accelerate.
The redistribution of wealth from the poorest to the richest has increased since Bush stole the 2000 election.
Of course, it could be too little, too late. Perceptions about Bush's performance during this crisis are already set in stone. The racial divide in the country has deepened and become more dangerous. Bush's chief argument in his 2004 campaign was that he is a bold leader in times of crisis. Since that can no longer be credibly argued, he's looking to salvage whatever he can from these crises. Public opinion polls show something interesting. When whites are asked whether the Katrina response would have been faster had the victims been primarily well-off and white, around 70 percent say no. Around 70 percent of blacks polled on the issue say the opposite. And, amusingly, around 5 percent of people argue that Bush doesn't care about anybody, not just black people. These are interesting times. Racial divisions haven't increased exponentially in the last month; it's that a small spotlight has been focused on them now. The results are not encouraging. Back in the old days, whites who participated in the civil rights movement were called "N***er-lovers." Now, they're being accused of "wanting to be black" or "creating trouble." That's why Kanye West's statement on the telethon a few weeks ago was so important. For the first time on national television, someone stood up and said what's been on the minds of a lot of people, both black and white: George Bush doesn't care about black people. Whether the president is a racist, I can't say. But I can say that his policies have increased poverty, brought about human suffering on a massive level and that until last Thursday night, he'd never brought up the issue of poverty. Or race, for that matter. It's a dangerous pot to stir. Bush doesn't want to bring up racial issues because his entire political career has been built around polarizing and dividing people. If we acknowledge that Bush doesn't care about blacks, then we have to similarly say he doesn't care much about poor whites, either. And if that secret ever gets out, that means the doom of the Republican Party. In the 1960s, Richard Nixon devised what he called the "Southern strategy." It meant saying the right things and using the easily recognizable codewords to draw whites away from the Democratic Party. Those words are still used today. Nixon, like Bush, argued in favor of equality. They both claimed to be against "big government," i.e. anti-poverty initiatives, affirmative action and enforcing civil rights laws. Ronald Reagan campaigned against "big government" and won. Both blacks and whites knew what he meant when he said he was against big government. Bush is the same way. Never mind the fact that government today is bigger than it's ever been before. "Big government" doesn't mean a government that's big, but rather one that will not push the envelope on troublesome social issues. It's built around fueling racial jealousies - look at all those handouts black people get! - while ignoring the underlying problems. When Reagan spoke of a mythical "welfare queen" who drove a Cadillac and bought steaks with food stamps, there was no need to explain what race she was. (Turned out she never existed, but facts never got in Reagan's way.) When President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, he told his advisers he'd just lost the South for the Democrats for a generation. Johnson was wrong. It's been two or three generations with no end in sight. For many whites, the trouble of racism went away when the civil rights movement did. There's no significant discrimination now, the argument goes. Black people want something extra just because they're black. Right or wrong, that notion is enforced by the actions of the Republican Party. If whites can be persuaded that their president isn't an "N-lover," and uses anti-big government terminology, most of us are content to support him. West's statement was important because it allows the rest of us to say, Bush doesn't care about us, either. It's not a racial issue as much as it is a class issue. The redistribution of wealth from the poorest to the richest has increased since Bush stole the 2000 election. It will continue to increase during the rebuilding of New Orleans. A real president would immediately announce a war on racism and a war on inequality. He or she would hold summit meetings and solicit input on how to celebrate diversity, not attack it. We had such a president. Coincidentally, not too long after announcing such an initiative, a 2-year-old sex scandal came to light and the president had to spend all his time fighting, literally, to keep his job. Bush has shown he's successful at acting like a man in charge during crisis, but woeful in actually being one. His second term is in shambles just a few months into it. Most, if not all, of his legislative agenda is going to be shelved permanently. In other words, we won't have a government for the next three and a half years. As in 1964, we'll have a weary Texan in the White House, trying to manage an intractable war abroad and fighting increasing social unrest at home. Again. But Lyndon Johnson put his political career on the line because it was the right thing to do. George Bush has shown no such courage in his public life and there's no reason to expect it to emerge now.

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