New Orleans and Race — Revisited

September 19, 2005

Some conservatives are concerned with President Bush’s New Orleans speech because of the unlimited federal spending it seemed to promise, but I was far more concerned with his arguable vindication of the wrongheaded notion that racial discrimination is responsible for the disproportionate impact of the flooding on blacks.

After all, opening up the federal coffers for a disaster is far less objectionable than so many of the projects presently funded by the government. And, the president is using this as an opportunity to launch market-based ideas, including enterprise zones and private ownership, rather than giveaways with no accountability. Plus, we can always fantasize that the monies expended toward rebuilding the damaged areas might lead to more scrutiny and the eventual scaling back of federal pork and other largesse across the board — like the prescription drug plan.

But I don’t see any silver lining in the president’s seeming adoption of the Jesse Jackson school of thought concerning Katrina’s racist component. The president said: “As all of us saw on television, there is also some deep, persistent poverty in this region as well. And that poverty has roots in a history of racial discrimination, which cut off generations from the opportunity of America. We have a duty to confront this poverty with bold action.”

I was more than a little disappointed when I heard him utter these words. I thought to myself, “President Bush is so unwilling to give quarter on other issues, such as his commitment to the war in Iraq and preserving his income tax cuts. Why is he so malleable on the subject of race?”

You will recall that the president railed against affirmative action during the presidential campaign all the way up to the Supreme Court’s Grutter case, in which his team filed a brief in support of race-based preferences in a law school admissions policy.

Perhaps he’s just not as convinced as he earlier appeared to be about the destructiveness of “remedial” racial preferences or has had a change of heart on the subject. Or, concerning his New Orleans speech, maybe he didn’t mean to imply that this “history of racial discrimination” was recent — within the last generation or so. Surely most would agree the government has taken bold steps to end state-sponsored discrimination.

Either way, his injection of race into the speech is troubling if for no other reason than it gives ammunition and a degree of legitimacy to the race-hustlers’ unconscionable ploy to blame delays or inadequacies in the federal response on the administration’s alleged racial prejudice against blacks.

I’m not talking about the political downside to Republicans in the president’s remarks, but the way others will use those remarks to further divide and alienate the races against each other.

After close to $7 trillion has been spent on the war on poverty, how can anyone seriously argue that liberal solutions have any remote prospect of eradicating poverty or its often-disproportionate effects on blacks?

Isn’t it time we consider other possible contributing causes, such as cultural ones? It’s hardly an original idea that illegitimacy leads to poverty, and there are very high rates of illegitimacy among blacks in New Orleans. Is that because of too little federal attention or money dedicated to programs designed to lift up the poor? Or too much?

As long as liberals own the vocabulary of compassion in this country, I suppose many are too afraid of being branded racist for saying that simply throwing money at poverty is not going to make a dint in it. Even less likely are they to say that other factors may be contributing to black poverty as well — including the perpetuation of the sinister and patronizing idea that blacks simply can’t lift themselves up without the white man’s largesse.

I happen to believe that promoting permanent victimhood and dependency is what is racist, not according all races equal respect and dignity. It is difficult to quantify the cumulative destructive impact of all the reckless, knee-jerk charges of white racism leveled by race-exploiters of both races who have something to gain by their accusations and by fanning the flames of racial tensions. When sanctimonious white guys in positions of authority, like Ted Kennedy, jump on this infernal bandwagon, it can’t help but reinforce fears in blacks of white racism.

I am disappointed that President Bush’s words could be construed as an admission that racism played a role either in the federal response or in current federal law or policy. But I am encouraged that his policy proposals cut the other way — toward helping the poor lift themselves up through entrepreneurial and investment opportunities.