R.Reese, Cal Poly Pomona, Inland Valley Bulletin, October 30, 2005, A15
President Bush Should Show Leadership on Race Issues
The passing of the mother of the civil rights movement, Rosa Parks, should be an impetus for the nation's leadership to reflect on its race agenda. It is an opportune time for President Bush to exert stronger leadership on racial matters. In the wake of the 10th Anniversary of the "Million Man March" and a series of highly charged race-related episodes, the U.S. is once again confronting its most recalcitrant socio-cultural phenomenon: racial bias.
The government's extraordinarily slow response to the desperate black victims of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, the insensitive comments made by Barbara Bush while displaced evacuees were finding shelter in various locations--stating they were better off in shelters because most of them were underprivileged anyway; the hypothetical scenario put forth by former Secretary of Education and national drug czar, that one way to reduce crime is to abort all black babies; the brutal beating of a 64-year old African American retired teacher by three white New Orleans police officers has shown Americans and the world that in the United States race still matters.
President Bush initially attempted to show his compassion for the victims of New Orleans by flying over the evacuees in a helicopter. Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary, called Mother Bush's "let them eat cake" statement a "personal observation. " The initial comment coming from the White House regarding Bennett's reprehensible scenario was that his comments were "inappropriate." As he arrived for his eighth visit to New Orleans Bush had no comment regarding the brutal police beating of Robert Davis.
These race-related episodes have been opportunities for President Bush to display his compassionate conservatism. Indeed, they have been prime opportunities for the President to prove to the African American population that rapper Kanye West was wrong when he stated that, "George Bush doesn't care about black people." The rhetoric of the "Million More March" two weeks ago reflected the rapper's sentiment.
Perhaps George W. Bush the person does care about black people but as President he does not know how to show it. His administrations have had a non-existent urban agenda. Not only is he stymied by the Evangelical Christians who put him in office, neo-conservative ideologues in the Republican party will not allow him to show that he cares about black people. Hence, instead of capitalizing on these high profile race-related incidents the President has dropped the ball.
Bush, ironically, has had opportunities to display stronger leadership on racial matters than former president, Bill Clinton. He has had opportunities to break away from the elements that have controlled his agenda for his tenure as president. He has squandered opportunities to do something that genuine leaders do--the right thing, irrespective of the political fall out.
One reason the African American population overwhelmingly supported Clinton is because he found ways to show them that he cared. Although genuine, much of Clinton's compassion for blacks was symbolic. He was the person that signed the 1994 Crime Control Act and the 1996 Welfare Reform Act, each law has had a devastating impact on the black community. Nevertheless, when opportunities arose for Clinton to exert strong symbolic leadership on racial matters, he always rose to the occasion. For example, Clinton responded to high profile race-related incidents in the mid-1990s by initiating a national dialogue on race relations. He created a race relations advisory board that was headed by the distinguished black historian, John Hope Franklin. Neither the advisory board nor the national dialogue resolved the problem of racial mistrust in the U.S., but this initiative served its purpose. It was a symbolic effort to let Americans know, particularly Africans Americans, that Clinton was deeply concerned about racial matters.
Although Bush's hands are tied with a rising deficit, a budget that is in shambles, and the escalating cost of the war in Iraq, he can still show that he cares about poor blacks. Because of fiscal and ideological constraints, the President is limited in his capacity to initiate the type of transformative social welfare reforms that will truly benefit the downtrodden. Hence, he must rely on the symbolic gestures mastered by his predecessor to prove Kanye West, and millions of blacks who agreed with his statement, wrong.