Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Bush on Katrina: Race had nothing to do with it

From the Post:

Speaking to reporters after touring New Orleans yesterday, Bush sought to dispel the view that race played a role in the government's response to the disaster. "When those Coast Guard choppers, many of who were first on the scene, were pulling people off roofs, they didn't check the color of a person's skin," Bush said. "They wanted to save lives."

Bush vowed that the massive federal response, which already has received funding of more than $62 billion and involves more than 71,000 federal personnel on the ground, would be managed fairly. "The storm didn't discriminate, and neither did the recovery effort," he said, adding: "The rescue efforts were comprehensive, and the recovery will be comprehensive."

I've been awfully critical of President Bush, but I'm tempted to believe him on this one. I suspect that the response would have been quicker if the storm had hit, say, San Francisco or Boston, but that probably has more to do with the fact that they're richer, more prosperous, and ultimately more important cities in terms of media attention and, more broadly, in terms of America's sense of self (which is why a disaster in New York means so much more than a disaster anywhere else).

But race and poverty were indeed important factors -- before the storm hit, according to Matt Yglesias:

The race and class issues entered the picture earlier. Poor people face a distinct set of challenges when faced with things like evacuation orders, and I think it's undeniable that a big part of the reason nobody seems to have given consideration to those realities is specifically that the people in question were poor and largely black. That, after all, has been the general pattern of this administration. The federal government runs various programs designed to help the poor. That set of activities has been made uniformly less generous under the period of Republican rule. And they haven't been made less generous thanks to broad, across-the-board spending cuts. Virtually nothing has been cut except anti-poverty spending.

The point is, many of the poor (including the black poor of New Orleans) had no chance. Not because Bush is a racist or because there was some racial component to the relief and recovery efforts, but because they had already been beaten down and left hopeless and helpless by a society that largely ignores them.

They're the "other" America, and they're still suffering.

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