As levees crumbled in New Orleans after hurricanes Katrina and Rita, so, too, tumbled any sense of decorum among key black Democrats. Officials and activists alike are re-submerging the Crescent City in a fact-free torrent of vitriol.
”George Bush is our Bull Connor,” Rep. Charles Rangel of New York told cheering Congressional Black Caucus conventioneers on September 22. “If you’re black in this country, and you’re poor in this country, it’s not an inconvenience. It’s a death sentence.”
Rangel equated Republican President Bush to Theophilus “Bull” Connor, Birmingham, Alabama’s former segregationist police commissioner who notoriously used attacks dogs and fire hoses to disrupt civil rights marches by Martin Luther King Jr. and other protesters in 1963. As is Rangel, Bull Connor was a Democrat.
Other black race baiters riffed on this theme. The Rev. Al Sharpton said, “if there is a person that is a symbol that many blacks organize around and organize against in this generation, it would be Bush.” He added: “We’ve gone from fire hoses to levees.”
“This is worse than Bull Connor,” said Rep. Major Owens (D., N.Y.). “Bull Connor didn’t even pretend that he cared about African Americans,” Owens continued. “You have to give it to George Bush for being even more diabolical.” Owens believes that Bush’s faith-based initiatives “made it appear that he cared about black Americans. Katrina has exposed that as a big lie.”
Gotham City Councilman Charles Barron (D., Brooklyn), a former Black Panther, said “George Bush is worse” than Connor “because he has more power and he’s more destructive to our people than Bull Connor will ever be…A KKK without power is not as bad as a George Bush with power.” Barron added: “What he did in New Orleans–I mean, that’s worse than what Bull Connor did in his entire career as a racist in the South…Look at these neighborhoods before Katrina hit. Bush made that community what it is. Katrina did the rest, in partnership with Bush, to deliver the final blow.”
As Barron suggested, I asked Heritage Foundation senior policy analyst Kirk Johnson to look at these neighborhoods. While Bush has taken responsibility for Washington’s disjointed first response to Katrina–notwithstanding the 33,544 hurricane survivors who U.S. Coast Guard helicopter and boat crews started saving as soon as winds dropped below 45 MPH–he need not apologize for neglecting the Big Easy’s poor before these hurricanes.
Using the Consolidated Federal Funds Report’s latest data, Johnson found that, “Across all federal programs, Orleans Parish received $12,645 per capita in fiscal year 2003. At the same time, the national average was $7,089 per capita. Put another way, New Orleans received 78.4 percent more funding per person than the national average.”
Johnson also examined 21 low-income-assistance programs. Among them, inflation-adjusted federal poverty spending in Orleans Parish equaled $5,899 per-poor-person in Bill Clinton’s final, full-fiscal-year 2000 budget. By fiscal 2003, such outlays soared to $10,222. Under Bush, federal anti-poverty spending per-poor-New Orleanian ballooned 73.3 percent, or an average, annual hike of 24.4 percent over three years!
Johnson discovered, for instance, that spending on Immunization Grants dropped 80.51 percent, and Supportive Housing for the Elderly fell 25.6 percent during Bush’s first three years. However, Child Support Enforcement grew 8.3 percent. Head Start rose 13.8 percent. Food Stamps increased 43.1 percent. Pell Grants advanced 126 percent. Community Health Center funding accelerated 163.6 percent, and so on.
In 1999, under Clinton, Orleans Parish had 135,429 poor people and a 27.9 percent poverty rate. In 2004, under Bush, 102,636 New Orleanians were poor, while the poverty rate eased to 23.2 percent. So, pre-Katrina, the Big Easy’s poverty rate slid 16.8 percent during Bush’s tenure. What was that about the KKK?
“If program spending is the way to judge whether or not Washington cares about New Orleans,” Johnson says, “then a lot of love has come to New Orleans in recent years.”
Most free-marketeers criticize these programs and instead advocate entrepreneurship, private-sector job creation, and private property ownership. That said, Bush’s and the GOP Congress’ lavish spending on New Orleans’ mainly black poor belies Rangel & Co.’s neo-segregationist paranoia.
“People from my Harlem chapter had many encounters with Bull Connor,” recalls Roy Innis, National Chairman of the Congress of Racial Equality. Innis was a Freedom Rider who risked his life to register black voters in the early 1960s. “It perverts the verity of language and the verity of decency to equate the hideous behavior of Bull Connor with President Bush–a man who has appointed Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, and so many other blacks to high office.”
The sad truth is that many of those pulled from rooftops and deposited at the Superdome and Convention Center were poor long before George W. Bush ran for president. They were poor throughout Bill Clinton’s eight years of Truth and Beauty, for which these crackpots probably pine. And they likely would be poor in 2012 had Katrina sputtered, and Hillary Clinton followed John Kerry into the Oval Office.
Largely under black, Democratic leadership, the Crescent City’s poor endured derelict schools (of which Baton Rouge has declared 70 among 127 “academically unacceptable”), fatherless homes, municipal corruption, and, at least until lately, a business-hostile economic climate. These and other factors hobbled low-income New Orleanians. In my 13 visits to one of America’s most seductive locales, I found that part of New Orleans’ enduring allure was its mysterious blend of fragile gentility, an atmosphere of elegant decay, and a sense of potentially imminent misfortune. The music-filled streets with ancient houses that tilted almost subliminally to one side masked far deeper troubles. Addressing them took hard work then, and will take even harder work now. Rather than pitch in, Rangel, Sharpton, Owen, Barron, and other friction-mongers plunge steak knives into old racial wounds and exhume the memory of a long-dead bigot to inflame Americans who hardly need their generosity diluted with venom.
While every American should row forward on behalf of Katrina’s and Rita’s victims, we now must paddle in circles while these race hustlers spill untreated sewage by the barrel. Who does this hurt? The same black New Orleanians whose plight they exploit.
I worry that some have heard these comparisons of Bush to Bull Connor, watched those German Shepherds snarl in black-and-white, shaken their heads in disgust, closed their checkbooks, and moved on. Rather than encourage compassion for those who still desperately need it, Rangel & Co. promote a meat-cleaver-like divisiveness that surely is slowing, not speeding, aid to the Katrina and Rita Zones.
For their counterproductive, hyper-partisan grandstanding, these so-called “black leaders” deserve merciless excoriation from coast to coast.
–Deroy Murdock, a veteran of the 1980 and 1984 Reagan for President campaigns, is a New York-based columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service.