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ISSUE 119 VOL 2 PUBLISHED 9/23/2005

Kanye West oversimplifies disaster

By Byron Vierk
Staff Writer

Friday, September 23, 2005

Much of the popularity contest that passes for political debate in America today is dependent on perception In the year 2000, then-presidential candidate Bush was able to convince voters, despite his neo-conservative views and right-wing agenda, that he was a compassionate conservative.

Whatever that meant, the perception of his character was certainly a factor in Bush’s successful election bid.

Indeed, a politician’s image is everything in modern politics, and can even determine the outcome of an election. If you don’t believe it, just ask Michael Dukakis or John Kerry.

Since perception is so vital to political popularity, one would think that President Bush, whose approval ratings are at the lowest levels of his presidency, would be constantly on the lookout for ways to improve his negative image.

Yet Hurricane Katrina, which could have been a chance for Bush to show his compassion and his purportedly devout Christianity, was instead a tragedy of incompetence and cronyism.

Instead of Christian compassion for the poor and the outcast, the government response was sluggish, apathetic, and the definition of “too little, too late.” While every resident of New Orleans suffered loss, no group suffered more than the poor and the disenfranchised – most of whom happened to be African-American.

Rap star and producer Kanye West had his own take on the disaster in the beginning of September. During a fundraiser for the victims of Katrina, West, already spouting an off-script, racially divisive rant, sparked a controversial firestorm when he said “President Bush doesn’t care about black people!”

Since West’s remark, a cornucopia of newspapers and networks have released polls showing, without doubt, that the black community believed that if those stranded by Katrina’s devastation had been rich and white, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) would have been more responsive.

A recent Gallup poll was even more blunt, asking whether or not President Bush cared about African-Americans at all.

The response was shocking, with 72 percent of blacks saying that he doesn’t care and 26 percent of whites in agreement.

The problem here is not that there are some Americans who feel that Bush doesn’t care about the black community. The problem is that this sort of question should never need to be asked at all in an America that is nearly a half-century beyond the civil rights movement.

Every American should feel that Bush cares about black citizens, and the tragedy is that some have been given the perception that he does not. Simply put, Bush’s apparent disregard for the disaster for nearly 72 hours afterwards, coupled with the complete ineptitude of FEMA, are inexcusable.

Katrina didn’t just expose the weakness of the levees in New Orleans. It exposed a racial and social divide in this country which most Americans are never forced to accept or even witness.

West’s comments are further supported by Bush’s own history of interaction with the black community. For example, during the last election season President Bush refused to speak with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) on the grounds that its leaders were opposed to him politically.

In effect, this is equivalent to Bush saying to all the NAACP’s members, “If you’re not with me, you’re against me.”

While Bush did speak to several other similar organizations, the fact that he would refuse to speak to what has been the most respected proponent of black Americans for decades is, in the perception of many, yet another indication of his lack of respect for the African-American community.

So was Kanye West correct? While it is obvious that Katrina disproportionately affected the black population in New Orleans, to say that Bush doesn’t care about black people simplifies a far deeper issue that has nothing to do with race.

Bush does not care about the poor, period, a fact evidenced by his economic strategies, military recruitment plans, and his 72 hours of apathy towards a disaster that hurt the impoverished gravely.

Unfortunately for Bush, most of the poor people in New Orleans were black, and his response has dealt a serious blow to his image. Whether this perception is completely true or not, Bush is now perceived to be a man who does not care about the poor and disenfranchised as well as the black community, and no amount of lip-biting or head-shaking is going to change that image.

In the realm of federal response, the proverbial “buck” stops at George W. Bush, just as it did with Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush before him. If the failing reconstruction of Iraq hasn’t made “W” a lame duck, the morbidly tragic and inept response to Katrina has.

Staff writer Byron Vierk is a senior from Lincoln, Neb. He majors in history and religion.

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