It’s an Unfair Rap

Musically, George Bush Doesn’t Care About Black People (mp3) is a real catchy bit of rappy pop. [Warning: lots and lots of ‘bad’ words.] And the feeling is raw and real, and I always appreciate that in my music.

But politically, the title, and a good part of the content, is an unfair rap. The Bush administration has an admirable record of appointing African-Americans to top posts. And despite the occasional strange incident, I don’t think it is a racist administration. Rather, it’s thoroughly classist. Kleptocratic even.

For as far as I can tell, what George Bush — and his team — don’t care about is poor people. All poor people. No sympathy (in the sense of a sympathetic or shared understanding) at all.

[Spotted via Boing Boing, which has full details on this remix (“by The Legendary K.O, Words by Big Mon and Damien a/k/a Dem Knock-Out Boyz”) of the Kanye West single “Gold Digger” — it’s a mash in of his unscripted comment on an NBC special, which NBC then censored when it provided a delayed broadcast to the west coast.]

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20 Responses to It’s an Unfair Rap

  1. MFA says:

    I might possibly be convinced that GWB and numerous others in his administration and around the Republican party are not actively and overtly racist (nor homophobic), and obviously they will allow the presence on their platform of minorities who are sufficiently ‘white’ in character and culture, or gays who are sufficiently closeted (or even borderline blacks or gays if they are sufficiently useful–as with Armstrong Williams).

    There is no denying, however, that the Party’s political operatives who delivered them to office and who keep them there have used racism and homophobia to do so. And to assert that Bush and other key players in the Republican party are unaware of this tactic would strain one’s credibility to, and perhaps beyond, the breaking point.

    I therefore must disagree with the thrust of your post. My view is that those who countenance the use of bigotry against relativley powerless minorities in order to gain and retain power–even if their actual goal is a classist/oligargical state, not a racist one–are themselves morally no better than bigots, and by their actions (and inactions) are, at minimum, de facto racists.

  2. wcw says:

    While I agree that the thinking of this administration is deeply unable to conceive of poverty as anything but the just deserts of sloth and inability, I could not disagree more about its racism. Rice, Powell, Gonzales and friends are the house negroes of the white men who run the place, no more, selected primarily for their loyalty. Rice, notably, was promoted after doing a terrifyingly bad job as NSA but remaining steadfastly and irrationally on-message, while Powell was eased out once he threatened in his puny little way to think for himself.

    The face of administration racism is John “War Between The States” Roberts, a man who very likely is a true heir to old Separate-But-Equal William Rehnquist. Superficially he seems to be a mere pro-business conservative, but the casual sexism and racism of his early memos belies that stealth-candidate equanimity. (For more on Roberts and his attitudes towards race, see Lederman at

    Compare the solicitude or at least lip service granted working class white concerns, or the change in attitude and language when talking about poor whites, versus parallel situations with any nonwhites, especially blacks. There is no real secrecy. Kanye West was right.

  3. DrLaniac says:

    I’m weighing in as well in disagreement. There’s plenty of racism to befound in the (now) mainstream of the Republican Party. And Bush is plenty willing to go along with it. If you go along with something, you’re an accomplice. So, don’t tell me about Colin Powell and Condi Rice. And I agree, the class nature is the over-riding prejudice. However, if you are a rapper who just saw thousands die because of actions taken by the president (like cutting the funding for levee maintenance and having no appearant concern for those trapped in NOLA), I think it’s entirely fair to draw that narrower interpretation.

    Another thing I see brewing is the discussion of his attempt to get the LA governor to turn over all control to the feds under the Insurrection Act (Josh Marshall has mentioned this today). If it can be demonstrated that Bush’s clear intent was bringing in the troops to keep order and impose martial law rather than to evacuate survivors, that will further lend credibility to the racism contention. We know from watching the TV at the end of the week that people were being checkpointed and detained in horrible conditions. There was a choice, a decision to take that approach, but not a sufficient effort to get them food, water and medicine. FEMA was blocking resources from getting into the city, focusing on those who’d self evacuated. And it looks like there’s some questionable treatment of many of the evacuees, tending towards being treated like detainees.

  4. shmuel says:

    How about a compromise? Bush is a color-blind racist.

  5. Joe says:

    He assists racists and his policies are de facto racist … I guess it depends if this is enough.

  6. Aidan Maconachy says:

    There is absolutely no evidence to support these slurs against Bush. You know, otherwise intelligent people really do themselves a disservice by reverting to these knee jerk caricatures and slurs. I mean a white President doesn’t HAVE TO BE a saxophone playing Oval Office diddler-of-interns in order to claim some type of cool status. Just because a politician is a capitalist and Republican on principle, it doesn’t therefore follow that he/she is a hater of the poor and disenfranchised. I agree with Michael on the racist stuff … that is simply absurd given the man’s record.

    The tone of the discussion on this blog is generally pretty decent, which is why it is so disappointing to hear people put their brains into neutral and descend to banal put downs when the subject of Bush comes up. I have no doubt the guy has his short comings, but the “blame Bush” mindset at times comes perilously close to a lynching mentality. What next … Bush responsible for erratic meteor activity … for the crucifixion of Christ? It seems there are no limits to these excesses.

  7. janinsanfran says:

    The folks who run a video store near me are completely clear on the question of whether Bush is a racist — you can see what they think here.

  8. wcw says:

    I guess if nominating a racist to the Supreme Court and living and dying by the whims of Southern white racist voters is “no evidence” then these are, indeed, “slurs” against Bush.

    I would welcome evidence to the contrary, as I would love to believe the executive who runs the country is not a racist. What policy substance have you got for us?

  9. Sven says:

    The other day lefty blogs were citing Arthur C. Clarke’s aphorism, “Any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice.” It works just as well with indifference.

    Yesterday Jacob Weisberg tackled the issue in Slate:

    Had the residents of New Orleans been white Republicans in a state that mattered politically, instead of poor blacks in city that didn’t, Bush’s response surely would have been different. Compare what happened when hurricanes Charley and Frances hit Florida in 2004. Though the damage from those storms was negligible in relation to Katrina’s, the reaction from the White House was instinctive, rapid, and generous to the point of profligacy. Bush visited hurricane victims four times in six weeks and delivered relief checks personally. Michael Brown of FEMA, now widely regarded as an incompetent political hack, was so responsive that local officials praised the agency’s performance.

    The kind of constituency politics that results in a big life-preserver for whites in Florida and a tiny one for blacks in Louisiana may not be racist by design or intent. But the inevitable result is clear racial discrimination. It won’t change when Republicans care more about blacks. It will change when they have more reason to care.

    As the great social critic Flava Flav once exclaimed, “9-1-1 is a joke, yo.”

  10. Aidan Maconachy says:

    Sven I’m sorry, in the wake of a storm of this magnitude the hit is on the United States itself – not some imagined “constituency”. I have read Islamic blogs that go to great lengths to argue that this was a hit by Allah against Great Satan. If you honestly think that the administration was unaware of the high stakes involved … the perceptions involved … and were somehow tardy because “damn there are one too many commies down there”, then I think you have watched one too many natural disaster movies with disingenuous sub-plots.

    I mean come on – who were the slackers here? Blanco and co were extremely lax about putting emergency procedures into place, and late with warnings. When the folks trundled in confusion to the doors of the Superdome, the supplies were woefully inadequate. The mind-set locally was best demonstrated by the partiers in the French Quarter the day before the storm hit. They believed the media was hyping it out of all proportion, and seemed convinced they would ride it out. One dude even told Shep Smith of Fox news to go @##!! himself. If you think the state authorities were giving the right message to the Feds based on all we have witnessed, then obviously you are apprised an inside information I’m not familiar with.

    In the wake of this disaster, communications were down. The place was an unplugged wasteland the size of the UK. It was difficulty for anyone, including the Feds, to get a clear understanding of the scope of this disaster. Sure they could have dispatched a disoriented crew of first responders in a panicky off-the-cuff fashion, but my reading is that preparations continued FURIOUSLY as information came in. To mount a rescue effort of this magnitude is no small matter.

    These attempts to politicize the disaster and play the blame game, diminishes all of us.

  11. Sven says:

    I think we can add denial to the list. Aidan, it’s time to hop off the “It’s a Small World, After All” ride. “Imagined constituency?” Why do you think that 90% plus of African Americans vote Democratic? Could it be because a Republican president will interrupt his vacation and hop on a plane to sign legislation on Terri Schiavo with a few hours’ notice, but takes days to respond to 100,000 black people trapped in New Orleans? Yeah, there are perceptions involved alright.

    Ok. Let’s change tack. Since you’re obviously convinced Gov. Blanco screwed the pooch, let’s apply Weisberg’s constituency politics theory. The Democrats’ relationship with the black community is the mirror image of the GOP, and the results are exactly the same.

    When she ran for governor, Blanco’s reputation in the black community wasn’t sterling, to put it mildly. Black leaders accused her of ignoring issues important to African Americans. She paid accordingly in the Democratic primary, but managed to squeak by.

    She knew she could count on black votes in the general election, however, because she knew African Americans would vote for a conservative Democrat over a Republican. NOLA mayor Ray Nagin (a lifelong Republican who became a Democrat days before announcing his candidacy) endorsed the GOP candidate, Bobby Jindal, thinking black voters would be swayed by his ethnicity instead of the issues.

    Blanco was right. 91% of black voters in NOLA backed her, helping give her a slim 50,000-vote margin in a state that last year went for Bush by 11% (IIRC).

    Yet apparently she didn’t feel any particular obligation to reward or recognize that support. Because she took the black vote for granted; there was no risk in ignoring their concerns. And I’m not talking about special favors here, just run-of-the-mill health and safety issues.

    After New Orleans escaped a near-miss by Hurricane Ivan, the state put $7.5 million into a “contraflow” traffic study to avoid the snarls that resulted from an evacuation order. The state budgeted not one thin dime to evacuate those without their own vehicles. It’s excuse was that it didn’t have the resources. If that’s not neglect, I don’t know what is.

    Does this prove that Blanco is a racist? No. But it’s abundantly clear that she – and other Democratic elected officials – blew off black voters’ needs for the opposite reason Weisberg lays out in his article. Where Republicans ignore blacks because they don’t need them to win, Democrats ignore them because they know their votes are guaranteed.

  12. Aidan Maconachy says:

    Ok point taken, and I agree with some of your take on the politics – but all I am saying is that with respect to the Federal response to this specific calamity, it is rash to attribute machiavellian indifference to the Bush administration. They, more than any other, understand that with the PR disaster Iraq has become worldwide in the eyes of many, there is simply no way in hell they can be seen to be under-responding to an American disaster of such epic proportions. As we know there are all sorts of turf tensions between the Feds and State authorities, between various departments. Were there problems? Yes, definitely … but these problems were proceedural, not a product of Bush and Cheney engaging in an act of wilfull neglect.

  13. Sven says:

    Aidan, I have no idea whether it’s wilful. I sure hope not. It’s certainly not Machiavellian, which would imply that what’s happened over the past two weeks was craftily designed to help the GOP. Obviously, that isn’t the case.

    Calling the problems “procedural” is a cop out. Come on. When has procedure ever stopped the Bush administration from pursuing a goal? Remember “international law?” And even if this was a “procedural problem,” it doesn’t distract from my point: why weren’t these procedures worked out ahead of time? NOLA flooding was in the top three of FEMA’s list of probable disasters.

    I’ll tell you why: indifference.

    Note Weisberg’s construction in his description of the Bushie reaction to the Florida disasters: “instinctive, rapid, and generous.” There were no “procedural” problems in Florida because (other than the fact that the prez’ bro was governor) it was a huge electoral prize. The incentives – i.e., white voters who just might vote Republican – simply weren’t around in New Orleans. The same lack of incentives led to the slashing of the levee construction budget.

    My original point was that it doesn’t really matter whether it’s wilful: “Any sufficiently advanced indifference is indistinguishable from malice. It didn’t matter a whit to the tens of thousands of African Americans who waited outside the Superdome dying of thirst whether George Bush is a callous honky or just a well-meaning incompetent.

    All they wanted was water.

  14. irked says:

    Just because someone appoints black people to “high” offices doesnt mean he or she likes black people, it just means that he or she doesnt want to be seen as an open racist. I’m not saying GWB loves or hates black folk, but just because condie and colin have big time jobs doesnt really prove much of one thing or the other (after all didnt the administration lie to colin powell about WMDs in Iraq…)

  15. kth says:

    But politically, the title, and a good part of the content, is an unfair rap. The Bush administration has an admirable record of appointing African-Americans to top posts

    How on earth does the first proposition follow from the second?

  16. Sven says:

    The incomparable Tony Pierce:

    anyone who saw the news over the days, anyone who saw the AFP f**k up, anyone who saw the lootings and the accusation by kanye on national tv knows that there was a racial element to this and when youre the leader of the parade youve gotta wave to the left side of the street and the right side which means on one day of your life mr president you f***ing hang out with black people.

    and no you dont get a ghetto pass for hiring condi and colin. anyone would have hired colin, plus hes jamacian, so it doesnt really count. and condi is the biggest sellout to the black race since larry elder so get it right.

    you prove that you care about black people when you actually do things for black people as a whole. otherwise its tokenism. how much has unemployment for african-americans gone down since you took office. how many more blacks are in college since you got into office, how many more own homes, how many more have started businesses. how many more are now voting republican. thats how you know what youre doing is good for blacks. we’re as loyal as can be.

  17. Sven says:

    More random impressions, this time from Time’s Mike Allen:

    Finally, if the Bush team initially missed the significance of a city with a majority of black citizens in peril, it may be because he has organized his presidency around a different segment of the population. Bush has governed largely from the right after winning the election decisively with his people on his issues, with few concessions to the center. Bush said at his re-election victory celebration that the new term would be “a new opportunity to reach out to the whole nation”—a pledge that now carries fresh urgency.

    Indifference, yo.

  18. Sven says:

    Here’s the sum total of the president’s response to accusations that his guvmint doesn’t care about black people:

    “The storm didn’t discriminate and neither will the recovery effort,” Bush said. “The rescue efforts were comprehensive. The recovery will be comprehensive.”

    Alrighty then.

  19. Sven says:

    Since I’ve made this a repository of Bushian race relations, Matthew Yglesias:

    I don’t like to play mind reader, so I’ll leave it an open question as to whether or not this reflects a subjective hostility to poor people on the part of Republicans, but there’s no denying that, in practice, they have a governing agenda that singles the poor out for pain. Not just because the poor depend more on federal spending, but because spending on behalf of the poor is consistently singled out for reduction. On top of all that, there’s fairly good reason to believe that American conservatism’s hostility to the poor — fairly unique among conservative movements in rich countries — is linked to the quasi-accurate perception that poverty is a problem of urban minorities. The Republican Party has consistently sought to define its political constituency — overwhelmingly white, rural and exurban — as not only more correct on the issues than those outside it, but more authentically American than the racially diverse, city-centered political coalition that opposes it. It’s not a coincidence that those defined as less than wholly American wind up ill-served by their leaders.


  20. Don says:

    George Bush does not like any person of color especially black people, and muslims.

    leadership Is simple Mr. Presisent you should have got off your ass as you were watching the horrible seen of people dying In the convention center, put on some hip boots and flown In with a fleet of helicopters and saved lives. To help with proticol you are the president and your athourity supercededs everyone else.The two or three camera crews who fimed this shamless scene exposed not only people left to die but a picture of poverty which has been sweeped undre the carpet In this country.

    If there were thousands of rich white people stranded In Crawford Texas would this have happened

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