So Much for GOP Outreach to Black America
Republicans have long been unpopular among African Americans. Too often, the GOP purposely played on racial fears and hatred among many White conservatives to win elections. From the Southern Strategy, to “Welfare Queens,” to opposing a Federal holiday to commemorate the life and work of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., to “constructive engagement” in South Africa, and “mandatory minimums” that warehouse Black men in the prison-industrial complex, the GOP has rarely missed an opportunity to turn away from Black America. Add New Orleans to the long bill of particulars that African Americans have for the GOP and it’s no wonder why Republicans get almost no support in Black America. The pathetic, disgusting response of the Republican-controlled Federal government will long be remembered in the Black community and will explain why recent Republican outreach efforts to the Black community are now shot to hell, perhaps never to return.
Now I know some will say it’s too early to think about the political implications of New Orleans. I say politics explains everything and ignoring it is naive. You better believe that Karl Rove and the political arm of the White House as well as the Republican National Committee are surveying the political damage that is now following the physical and emotional pain caused by Hurricane Katrina. The Rove gang is building strategies to minimize the damage to President Bush and congressional Republicans while silently heaping as much blame as possible on New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin and Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco, both Democrats. I’m sure they’ll figure out a way to blame Bill and Hilary Clinton too–the former first family is the GOP’s default source of criticism.
Republicans have controlled the House of Representatives for the last ten years and the Senate nearly as long. They’ve held the White House for 16 of the last 24 years. Their budget cuts are partly responsible for the flooding that has submerged New Orleans. Republicans reduced or stripped altogether money from Federal budgets intended to strengthen the levee system. The penny wise and pound foolish Congress thought the $14 billion dollar price tag presented years ago by the Army Corps of Engineers and other state and Federal agencies was too high. That figure looks like a bargain now given what it will cost to rebuild New Orleans. Republicans, no doubt, will point out that the Democrats didn’t do anything about the levees when they were in charge. That is true, but irrelevant. The GOP is in charge now and they failed. They have to take the weight for their failure to act efficiently and compassionately for New Orleans.
Ken Mehlman, chairman of the Republican National Committee and leader of recent GOP/Black outreach efforts, may not know it yet, but his job just became impossible. That’s because what is going on in New Orleans elicits angry and negative responses throughout the Black community. Some shake their heads in pain after watching for television for hours seeing American citizens stranded for days waiting for their government to help them deal with the greatest, widest, most expensive natural disaster in American history. Some note the concern they have for friends and family who are trapped and possibly dead. Others note how a Black mayor wasn’t properly supported when he called for the evacuation of his city.
The most common response, though, is one of anger and disgust about how the Federal government has handled this and is voiced in two questions. First, how is it that the U.S. government can be so efficient in dealing with crises in other parts of the country (e.g. Florida hurricanes) or the world (e.g. Tsunami response) and leave so many Americans in the lurch, struggling to live? The second question is more pointed: would the Federal response be the same if New Orleans were two-thirds White and middle-class instead of two-thirds Black and poor? Conservative protestations aside, the only correct answer is: of course not. Who among us believes that it would have taken President Bush five days to get to Austin, Texas, San Diego, California, Orlando, Florida, or Phoenix, Arizona? Who among us believes that White bodies would be allowed to rot in the streets of New Orleans?
Black people are rightly livid with President Bush and the Republicans; only an apologist would argue otherwise. Bush’s performance through all this has been abysmal, callous, and inept and only feeds the growing belief in some segments of America that he has been a catastrophic failure as president who doesn’t care about the well-being of America’s poor. A few minutes of Black talk radio, Black Internet sites, and conversations in Black barber shops and hair salons reveals a rage in the Black community that far exceeds what was heard during the Rodney King fiasco, for example. Indeed, this kind of anger hasn’t been seen since the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Inflaming matters was the disgusting site of President Bush holding a press conference with Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, Alabama Governor Bob Riley, both Republicans, and Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Michael Brown. It was a mutual admiration society as they heaped accolades upon one another. Bush praised the work of Brown, who has incompetently presided over the worst ever Federal response to a natural disaster. He also lauded Barbour and Riley for being “leaders.” Barbour, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee who can never be expected to express criticism of the President or the party, and Riley, have fallen all over themselves to praise and defend the Federal response. All this while dead Black people are floating in filthy water throughout New Orleans.
The Republicans' failure will be duly noted in the Black community.
© Michael K. Fauntroy, September 3, 2005