Wednesday, September 07, 2005

On government for the people

Okay, so many people were understandably distressed by Kanye West's comments during NBC's fundraiser for victims of hurricane Katrina Friday night. I'll grant you several things: that wasn't the time or place for an unscripted outburst like that; just in terms of content and delivery, West came across more as a crazed paranoiac than anything else; and if you manage to piss off Mike Myers, you've really put your back into it.

And there's another point on which I disagree with Kanye West: I don't think the New Orleans disaster was about race. Yes, the vast majority of those left behind were black, but the crisis was a factor not of race, but of poverty. The most well-off 80 percent, regardless of race, were able to evacuate when the order was given, and the least well-off 20 percent were trapped. Even in light of that, I don't think that the pathetic disaster response was a result of Bush hating the poor, or even not caring about the poor. Because Bush didn't know the poor were there at all.

I'm not trying to make a partisan attack here. I'm not trying to lay blame on or exonerate any party; there's plenty of blame to go around, to liberals and conservatives alike. I'm simply making an observation, and it's this: George W. Bush has spent his entire life insulated from such unpleasantries as the impoverished. He grew up rich in Connecticut, graduated from Yale, ended up in Texas drowning companies and getting bailed out before he could even see insolvency in the distance. I'm sure that he, as the son of a politician, was dragged to the odd homeless shelter or soup kitchen, but in the prettied-up, sanitized, choreographed settings arranged for presidential photo ops. He even managed to find himself in an Air National Guard unit full of other Republican sons of privilege. Real porverty has never snuck within a hundred yards of him.

I sincerely believe that when the poor of New Orleans were drowning and the president was napping or reading in Texas or flying off to San Diego, he thought that New Orleans was all evacuated. The rich made it out in their SUVs, the middle-class trailed in their cars, and... that's it, right? The existence of 110,000 Orleanians too poor to secure their own transport simply didn't register with Bush, because in his experience, people just don't get that poor. That people were starving and dying at the convention center and the Superdome was foreign to him, because all of the people had been evacuated.

Again, I'm not trying to lay blame or to attack Bush's character or even to say that there aren't any Democrats that have been similarly spared the sight of real poverty. Bush does not hate or disdain these people. But for all his "man of the people" routine during the 2004 elections, he has never really known the people. For all his Texas country-boy routine on his ranch vacations, he spends more time with $1,200-a-platers at lavish fundraisers than he does with anyone who really could use those funds.

Elie Wiesel said, "The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference." Beyond indifference is invisibility, and beyond that is nonexistence. The pity is that in his sanitized, insulated world, Bush has been shielded from the people that he, above any other American, has both the power and the authority to help.

We can help them. When no one will look out for us, we can always look out for each other:
American Red Cross
Salvation Army
America's Second Harvest
Convoy of Hope

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