Copyrighted material


by Earl Ofari Hutchinson

on 1 year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina

(IPS) -- A year ago, the floodlights cast a pale, almost eerie light on famed Jackson Square in New Orleans's French Quarter as President Bush prepared to address a national television audience on Katrina. In the days after Katrina struck, then-FEMA director Michael Brown and his boss, Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff were savagely denounced by civil rights leaders, much of the media, state and local officials in Louisiana and many in Congress for their foot-dragging response to the disaster. Some Republicans joined in and demanded to know why the government did so little and took so long to aid the disaster stricken poor in the Gulf.

Now, marking Katrina's first anniversary, Bush said in New Orleans that last year "government at all levels...fell short of its responsibilities." He took full responsibility for the federal government's Katrina response. The day before the anniversary, Bush acknowledged that rebuilding New Orleans was going too slowly.

In fact, every one of the more than half dozen reports leading up to the Katrina anniversary tell the same grim story. Not one new house has been built from the billions Congress allocated for construction. Thousands of small businesses have still not received loans, most schools and hospitals are still shuttered and most buses aren't running in New Orleans. The debris and wrecked homes are still piled high in the blackest and poorest neighborhoods.

A crushing majority of blacks still blame Bush's bungled response to the destruction not on incompetence but racism. But many also continue to blame Republicans for the suffering. That's worrisome to the GOP, which counts heavily on boosting black support in key races in the 2006 fall national elections, and hopes to use that success as a springboard to gain even greater black support in the 2008 presidential election.

Even with Bush's still-dismal poll ratings and his Katrina bungle, it doesn't mean that the GOP is politically spent. Much could happen between Katrina and Election Day in November, and Republicans have gone into maximum damage-control to try and turn the tide. In January, Bush did a bit of self-flagellation on the occasion of the King holiday celebration and promized to do a better job of communicating with blacks. With much public fanfare HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson has ladled out millions in grants and loans for low income housing redevelopment projects around the country. Republican National Committee Chair Ken Mehlman continues to barnstorm the country speaking to any black group he can, touting Bush's accomplishments and appointments and offering more mea culpa's for the GOP's history of pandering to unreconstructed bigots and segregationists.

In July, Bush broke his one-man boycott of the NAACP and slammed racism.

Bush and Mehlman are banking heavily on a new wave of high-profile black GOP candidates -- Lynn Swann, Ken Blackwell and Michael Steele, who are running for Senate and gubernatorial spots in key battleground states -- to burnish the party's diversity image and bump up the party's black vote total. If a political miracle happens and one or more of those candidates win, Bush and Mehlman hope that might help massage a GOP win in those states in the 2008 presidential election.

The GOP's fond hope of political recovery with some blacks still crashes hard against the reality of its dependence on the white South to win national elections. This has become an idee fixe in American political life. President Bush more than the other Republican presidents has benefited the most from the Southern Strategy. In the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections, Bush bagged the electoral votes of nearly all the states of the Old Confederacy and the Border states.

Without the granite-like backing of these states, Democratic Presidential contender Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004 would have won the White House. That, combined with the depth of frozen anti-black attitudes among far too many white voters, the endless legion of black Democrats in state and national offices, and the relentless war that civil rights leaders wage against the Republicans make it a tall, if not impossible, order for the GOP to do a total volte-face and abandon its core conservative principles.

Rarely in history do political events turn decisively on weather catastrophes. With the passage of time, Katrina may prove to be no exception to that rule. But a year later, the harsh recriminations about Bush's Katrina performance, and by extension the GOP's ability and willingness to meet the needs of the disaster stricken poor, the majority of whom were black, has not abated. The Katrina displaced still feel bitter and betrayed that the Bush and the GOP abandoned them in their hour of greatest need and desperation. That betrayal hasn't ended. Bush and the GOP have more to rebuild than just New Orleans and the Gulf.

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Albion Monitor   August 30, 2006   (

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