Gulf Coast Isn't the Only Thing Left in Tatters;
Bush's Status With Blacks Takes Hit
By ELISABETH BUMILLER
From the political perspective of the White House,
Hurricane Katrina destroyed more than an enormous
swath of the Gulf Coast. The storm also appears to
have damaged the carefully laid plans of Karl Rove,
President Bush's political adviser, to make inroads
among black voters and expand the reach of the
Republican Party for decades to come.
Many African-Americans across the country said they
seethed as they watched the television pictures of the
largely poor and black victims of Hurricane Katrina
dying for food and water in the New Orleans Superdome
and the convention center. A poll released last week
by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center bore out that
reaction as well as a deep racial divide: Two-thirds
of African-Americans said the government's response to
the crisis would have been faster if most of the
victims had been white, while 77 percent of whites
The anger has invigorated the president's critics.
Kanye West, the rap star, raged off-script at a
televised benefit for storm victims that "George Bush
doesn't care about black people." Howard Dean, the
chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said in
Miami last week that Americans "have to come to terms
with the ugly truth that skin color, age and economics
played a significant role in who survived and who did
At the White House, the public response has been to
denounce the critics as unseemly and unfair. "I think
all of those remarks were disgusting, to be perfectly
frank," Laura Bush said in an interview with the
American Urban Radio Network, when asked about the
comments of Mr. West and Mr. Dean. "Of course
President Bush cares about everyone in our country."
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the
administration's most prominent African-American,
weighed in, too. "Nobody, especially the president,
would have left people unattended on the basis of
race," Ms. Rice said, en route to her native Alabama
to attend a church service.
But behind the scenes in the West Wing, there has been
anxiety and scrambling - after an initial
misunderstanding, some of the president's advocates
say, of the racial dimension to the crisis.
One of Mr. Bush's prominent African-American
supporters called the White House to say he was aghast
at the images from the president's first trip to the
region, on Sept. 2, when Mr. Bush stood next to Gov.
Haley Barbour of Mississippi and Gov. Bob Riley of
Alabama, both white Republicans, and praised them for
a job well done. Mr. Bush did not go into the heart of
New Orleans to meet with black victims.
"I said, 'Grab some black people who look like they
might be preachers,' " said the supporter, who asked
not to be named because he did not want to be
identified as criticizing the White House.Three days
later, on Mr. Bush's next trip to the region, the
president appeared in Baton Rouge at the side of T. D.
Jakes, the conservative African-American television
evangelist and the founder of a 30,000-member
megachurch in southwest Dallas.
Bishop Jakes, a multimillionaire and best-selling
author, is to deliver the sermon this Friday at the
Washington National Cathedral, his office said, where
Mr. Bush will mark a national day of prayer for
Hurricane Katrina's victims. The bishop's style of
preaching is black Pentecostal - he roars and rumbles
in performances that got him on the cover of Time
magazine as "America's best preacher" in 2001. More
important to Mr. Rove, he has become a vital partner
in the White House effort to court the black vote.
Last week, the White House continued its political
recovery effort among African-Americans through its
network of conservative black preachers like Bishop
Jakes. Many of them have received millions of dollars
for their churches through Mr. Bush's initiative to
support religious-based social services - a factor,
Republicans say, in Mr. Bush's small increase in
support among black voters, from 9 percent in 2000 to
11 percent in 2004.
On Tuesday in the Roosevelt Room, Mr. Bush met with
black preachers and leaders of national charities, and
sat next to Bishop Roy L. H. Winbush, a black
religious leader from Louisiana. On Thursday, two
senior White House officials, Claude Allen and James
Towey, held a conference call with black religious
leaders to ask what needed to be done. Mr. Towey is
the director of the White House Office of Faith-Based
and Community Initiatives, and Mr. Allen, who is
African-American, is the president's domestic policy
One Bush supporter, the Rev. Eugene F. Rivers III, the
president of the National Ten Point Leadership
Foundation, a coalition that represents primarily
black churches, said last week that something positive
might come out of the crisis. "This is a moral and
intellectual opportunity for the Bush administration
to clearly articulate a policy agenda for the black
poor," Mr. Rivers said in an interview.
Ken Mehlman, the chairman of the Republican National
Committee, who has made reaching out to black voters a
priority, put it simply. "We're going to work with
them," Mr. Mehlman said. "This disaster showed how
important it is that we do these things."
· Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company
I can see why they would come to this conclusion.... however I don't feel any more cared about as a single-parent low-income white woman... and it's going to take more than a handful of photos of him hugging other poor white single mothers to change my mind too... being poor doesn't make me stupid.
Freelance Writer, & CEO
...inspiring leaps of faith