January 26, 2007

Katrina Glaringly Missing in Bush’s State of the Union

By Earl Ofari Hutchinson
New America Media

ANALYSIS

It’s hard to say what’s worse: President Bush’s abject failure to utter a peep about Katrina reconstruction efforts in his State of the Union speech, or the media’s equally abject failure to call him out for not saying anything about it.

Bush’s duck and dodge on the pace of Katrina rebuilding has been the pattern since his shame-faced admission in his nationally televised speech in New Orleans’ famed Jackson Square a few days after Katrina struck. He commented that poverty and racism were on shocking and disgraceful display for the world to see in the TV shots of the disaster. In the months since that speech, Bush has been close-mouthed about federal aid efforts, and only brought up the issue again in a speech to mark the first anniversary of Katrina last September. Bush boasted of the great effort his administration made to provide assistance to the victims and made even more promises that the pace of reconstruction would continue.

Yet, despite Bush’s first Katrina anniversary rhetoric, the poor in and around New Orleans are still just as numerous, needy and dispersed nationally. New Orleans is still a shell of its former self, with the city’s population at half of what it was before Katrina. There are still blocks of vacant and crumbling houses in the poorest sections. Thousands of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast poor are still jobless, live in FEMA constructed trailers, and subsist on private donations.

The problem is not just that Bush is indifferent or disingenuous about Katrina rebuilding, or even that the administration doesn’t want to spend marginally more on rebuilding. Bush, like many GOP conservatives, simply doesn’t feel comfortable talking about poverty and the government’s responsibility to aid the poor.

The poor are too diffuse and amorphous, and have only a scattering of anti-poverty focused activist groups and no full time congressional lobbyists working on their behalf. They can’t dump money into Democrat and Republican campaign coffers, and many are non-voters. That makes them even more politically expendable. Katrina rebuilding is still fundamentally seen as the government’s having to dole out money to the poor, of whom a significant number are black.

The administration’s continued foot-drag on massive spending on rebuilding, and Bush’s silence is yet one more reason why the vast majority of blacks hammer him for defending and calling for an escalation of the Iraq war and making no mention of Katrina in his address.

Blacks expressed their displeasure and low opinion of Bush in a BlackAmericaWeb.com poll. A solid majority still called Katrina the most pressing issue facing black America. Rainbow Push and the Congressional Black Caucus pounded Bush for failing to make any mention of Katrina reconstruction in his speech. They saw it as another glaring example of the Bush administration’s neglect of the needs of the black poor, and his being badly out of touch with black public opinion.

In the end, the speech was business as usual for Bush. There was the same tired, hand-wringing defense of his failed and flawed war effort and anti-terrorism campaign, and more promises to do more about education, immigration reform and America’s dependency of foreign oil.

Meanwhile, New Orleans and the Gulf poor remain scattered to America’s four corners. They wait and wonder if Bush still knows that they exist.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson, a political analyst and social issues commentator.

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