As President Prepares to Address a Doubtful Nation, Many Blacks Keep Expectations Low
In black communities across America, the war in Iraq, continued racial discrimination and violence in the streets weigh heavy on the minds of its average citizens, according to a recent BlackAmericaWeb.com survey. As President George W. Bush addresses the nation tonight in his seventh State of the Union message, black America and the nation will look to him for vision in addressing domestic issues in his speech, set for 9 p.m. EST.
“African-Americans are really looking for a domestic response from Bush,” Robert A. Brown, a political scientist and assistant dean of undergraduate education at Emory University in Atlanta, told BlackAmericaWeb.com. “There are still a number of African Americans who are feeling some great measure of economic insecurity whether they have jobs or not."
Bush is expected to strike a conciliatory tone on some domestic issues where he believes he can work with the first Democratic Congress in 12 years. Though there’s only a narrow Democratic majority in Congress, Brown believes it will be interesting to watch the president’s reception as he moves through his address.
“In year’s past, he’s had the crowd,” Brown said, referring to the makeup of Congress following November’s sweeping success of Democratic candidates.
“This is an opportunity for the president to reach across the aisle,” Melanie Campbell of the National Coalition for Black Civic Participation told BlackAmericaWeb.com. “The shift in power that took place in November requires that the president build bridges in a tangible way and bring bipartisanship into legislative process. It has been too polarized.”
Blacks are also concerned about the atrocities in Darfur.
“The president has said he believes it was genocide, but we’re not seeing that in his policies,” Campbell said. “There is not enough humanitarian aid going to that region, and what about the peace-keeping force?” The nationally televised State of the Union speech typically offers great political theater. This year, however, it comes just 13 days after President Bush's prime-time announcement of his decision to send 21,500 more U.S. troops to Iraq.
Since then, Capitol Hill -- the forum for the State of the Union address -- has grown more hostile.
Democratic support is building around a nonbinding resolution opposing Bush's plan for more troops. Some Republicans already critical of the White House's Iraq policy have embraced the idea, and others are looking for ways to sign on.
"President Bush will discuss his determination to defeat the terrorists who are part of a broader extremist movement that is now doing everything it can to defeat us in Iraq," White House deputy press secretary Dana Perino said. "If the extremists prevail in Iraq, the American people will be less safe, and our enemies will be emboldened and more lethal," Perino said.
Bush probably will try to link the war to the threat to America since the Sept. 11 attacks because fighting terrorism has such widespread appeal, said Bruce Riedel, a former official at the National Security Council and analyst at the liberal Brookings Institution.
"Fear is a commodity that the administration has sold before, and right now they're not having much success with the public or the Congress with the arguments they've trotted out on the (troop) surge," said Ridel.
The costs of the war and the deficit are expected to preclude Bush from announcing expensive new programs.
On the domestic side, the president will propose a tax deduction of $7,500 for individuals and $15,000 for families regardless of whether they buy their own health insurance or receive medical coverage at work.
If passed by Congress, the proposal would be the first time that workers could get a tax break if they bought their own insurance. But it also would be the first time that some employer-provided health care benefits could be taxed. The first $15,000 in health benefits for a family would continue to be tax exempt for the employee, but any amount in excess of $15,000 would be subject to tax.
Health care benefits provided by companies are currently exempt from personal income and payroll taxes, no matter the amount.
Faye Anderson, a political blogger who, for about 10 years, was the face of black activism in the Republican Party, said there isn’t much Bush can say that will appeal to blacks.
“What he is doing in Iraq is not working,” Anderson told BlackAmericaWeb.com. “A poll released just today shows that the war in Iraq is the number-one issue for Americans of all races. They want to get the hell out of the hell hole.”
A total of 72 percent of those surveyed in the BlackAmericaWeb poll said they never believed the Bush administration made the case for war, so they were against it from the beginning. Another 15 percent in the same survey said they were against all war.
Anderson left the Republican Party in 2000 and now is an independent.
“Bush ran as a different kind of Republican, but I knew he was no different from Tom Delay or Trent Lott,” she said. “Bush has had an estranged relationship with black Americans since day one. So he has not surprised me.”
By: Sherrel Wheeler Stewart, BlackAmericaWeb.com, and Associated Press