Bush's rhetoric about race is troubling

Posted: Sep 19, 2005 12:00 AM
I didn't find much in President Bush's Katrina speech that surprised me. His recovery plan carries the characteristic stamp of this administration. The difference between conservative compassion and liberal compassion is not the size of government, but how the money is spent.

With massive government programs a given, I certainly opt for the president's preference for tax credits rather than federal grants and management. I also appreciate what appears to be a voucher-like program for displaced children to attend the school of their choice.

But, I was very disappointed with the president's rhetoric about race.

Permitting himself to give credence to the notion that black poverty of recent years in New Orleans reflects racial discrimination and lack of opportunity was anything but an act of compassion toward blacks. He is either uninformed, which of course is troubling, or willing to bury truth for political ends, which is also troubling.

It makes me wonder what Condoleezza Rice must be thinking when she hears the president relate black poverty in the South to discrimination. Our secretary of state, of course, emerged from a neighborhood in the Deep South not distant from where the president spoke Thursday night. Is she the black exception to the rule? Is she, as many black liberals would assert, a turncoat, making it on affirmative action and then turning her back on it?

Politicians who truly care about the black condition in America today need to start reaching for the intestinal fortitude and being honest.

How can racial discrimination be the operative holding blacks down in a city in which at least seven out of 10 residents are black?

New Orleans' convention center, where black residents sat for days in squalor waiting for help (after being directed there by Mayor Ray Nagin), is called the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. Ernest Morial was the first black mayor of New Orleans. His son, Marc Morial, also a black former mayor of New Orleans, is now president of the National Urban League.

The chief of police in New Orleans is black, as is the head of the city council. The mayor is black, as is the man who has represented New Orleans in the U.S. House for the last 16 years.

Black presence and power in New Orleans are wide and deep.

The truth about black poverty today, as Kay Hymowitz of the Manhattan Institute has aptly put it, is that it is "intricately intertwined with the collapse of the nuclear family in the inner city."

Consider that black households that are headed by married couples have median incomes almost 90 percent that of white households headed by married couples.

The problem in the black community is that far too few black households are headed by married couples.

Black social reality in New Orleans at the moment when the floodwaters started pouring in was fairly typical of black inner-city social reality around the country. Upwards of 70 percent of the households were headed by single parents, mostly women.

When I discuss social statistics with audiences around the country, I invariably hear gasps when I point out that the out-of-wedlock birthrate today among young white women (30 percent) is higher than it was among black women 50 years ago.

There, of course, remain residuals of racism in America today, and it's news to a lot of whites that black families were relatively intact, headed by married couples, in the '40s and '50s. Today's out-of-wedlock black births and single-parent households are triple what they were then.

The collapse of the black family took off when big government programs, particularly welfare, were launched, compliments of black and white liberals, after the civil-rights movement.

A number of years ago, then-Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, in a debate with one of the drafters of President Bill Clinton's big government health-care plan, challenged Clinton's man that government could ever care about his grandchildren the way he himself does. The gentleman assured Gramm that he did indeed care about the senator's grandchildren. Gramm retorted: "OK, then tell me their names."

It is not simply a moral claim, but a well-documented empirical one, that family and education are the keys to success in our free country. Black children don't need politicians of any color who claim to hold the keys to their future. They need parents who know their names. Two of them.