No Katrina? President Bush Blasted for Ignoring Gulf Recovery in State of the Union Address
President George W. Bush, whose approval ratings are at historic lows, didn’t gain any ground with black America Tuesday night in his State of the Union address, observers say.
The initiatives in his speech before a majority Democratic Congress may benefit some, particularly the wealthy, according to Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Carolyn Kilpatrick, “but for more than 200 million Americans, they will not see the benefits,” she told BlackAmericaWeb.com. “It was a soft and nice speech.”
Bush continued to advocate his policy for a strong presence in Iraq, though the majority of Americans want American soldiers to come home from the war, Kilpatrick said. His seventh State of the Union address did little to sway those opinions.
In a poll of its user audience recently conducted by BlackAmericaWeb.com, 72 percent of those surveyed said they do not support the war in Iraq because Bush never made a convincing case for war; nearly 90 percent said the billions of dollars spent for the Iraq war would be better used at home to fund education, health care and social programs, and 91 percent said they would not advise their loved ones to join the Armed Forces to support the war in Iraq.
Moreover, the issue considered the most pressing to BlackAmericaWeb.com's poll respondents -- the rebuilding of New Orleans after 2005's devastating Hurricane Katrina -- went completely ignored by the president.
Bush “failed to even mention Katrina," Kilpatrick lamented after the speech, "and he did not address many of the issues of concern to people of color."
By contrast, in the days ahead of the president's address, Democratic Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia compared the U.S. money being spent on Iraqi reconstruction with the fraction committed to the Gulf Coast rebuilding. And, chosen to give the Democratic response to Bush on Tuesday, Webb brought up the continuing struggle of Katrina victims right away, listing "restoring the vitality of New Orleans" just behind education and health care among his party's most pressing priorities.
The president’s speech, which lasted about less than 50 minutes, included the call for support of the deployment of more soldiers to Iraq, eliminating the federal deficit and reauthorization the No Child Left Behind Act.
Gary Flowers, a Rainbow/PUSH vice president based in Washington, D.C., said Bush’s rhetoric is out of touch with the American people.
“The rhetoric must match reality, and that was not present in his speech,” Flowers told BlackAmericaWeb.com. The president’s insistence on maintaining his course in Iraq and the failure to address the concerns of thousands of Katrina victims is evidence of Bush’s disconnect, he said.
In the BlackAmericaWeb.com survey, 64 percent of respondents said that there is no more pressing issue facing blacks in America than the recovery of New Orleans. Overall, 80 percent of those surveyed said they are dissatisfied with the recovery effort in the Gulf; 77 percent said racism played a role in the federal government's response to the hurricane, and 50 percent said it is the federal government's responsibility to rebuild the Gulf Coast.
“He didn’t address the issues that are most salient to Katrina victims and people of color in America,” Flowers said. “He spoke of an achievement gap. There is no achievement that is not predicated on resources. Children in wealthier neighborhoods get better facilities and equipment. Children from poor neighborhoods take the same standardized test and for college admission."
Bush's best shot at success may be immigration overhaul. But then his proposal for a guest-worker program and a path to citizenship always had more support among Democrats than among fellow Republicans. Noting that "convictions run deep" on immigration, Bush urged a "serious, civil and conclusive debate" on the issue.
But on immigration, Bush -- and the Democratic majority -- is at odds with a large segment of the black community, according to the BlackAmericaWeb.com poll. Nearly 50 percent of those surveyed said illegal immigrants are placing an undue burden on America’s social services, and 45 percent said Congress should not make it easier for illegal immigrants to become U.S. citizens.
Bush linked America’s future security from overseas threats to reducing its gas-guzzling habits at home.He proposed gasoline reduction targets be met through tougher vehicle fuel standards. Further, Bush said he’ll seek a dramatic five-fold increase in U.S. production of ethanol and other alternative fuels.
"For too long our nation has been dependent on foreign oil. And this dependence leaves us more vulnerable to hostile regimes, and to terrorists -- who could cause huge disruptions of oil shipments, raise the price of oil and do great harm to our economy," Bush told lawmakers gathered in the House of Representatives chamber. It is in our vital interest to diversify America’s energy supply and the way forward is through technology."
The appeal for a sharp curb on the use of gasoline comes one year after Bush first declared Americans were "addicted to oil" and as he seeks ways to cooperate with a Democratic Congress girding for a legislative showdown over the president’s plan to send 21,500 new troops to Iraq.
It was the first time Bush had delivered his annual state of the union address to a Congress fully controlled by Democrats, who won majorities in both the House and Senate in mid-term elections last November.
With the new Democratic House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, seated directly behind him, Bush challenged Iraq opponents by arguing a troop surge in Baghdad provides "the best chance" for success.
He cast America’s mission in Iraq in stark terms. The U.S., he said, has a responsibility to quell the sectarian violence between Shia and Sunni Muslims which exploded in the aftermath of the U.S. invasion in 2003.
"This is not the fight we entered in Iraq, but it is the fight we are in. Every one of us wishes that this war were over and won. Yet it would not be like us to leave our promises unkept, our friends abandoned, and our own security at risk," he said.
"If American forces step back before Baghdad is secure, the Iraqi government would be overrun by extremists on all sides. A contagion of violence could spill out across the country -- and in time the entire region could be drawn into the conflict. For America, this is a nightmare scenario."
Kilpatrick challenged the American people to stand up and continue to let the president know they disagree with his course for the country.
“He says we are on the right course. The course is not right,” Kilpatrick said. “The state of the union is not good. We must do better. We must save America for our children.”
By: Sherrel Wheeler Stewart, BlackAmericaWeb.com