WASHINGTON, D.C.For four years Bush didn't meet with the Congressional Black Caucus and paid no heed to African Americans, except, of course, to repeat the Republican mantra of how terribly concerned we all are and how we just want to include you under the big Republican tent. But yesterday, reinvigorated by his election mandate, Bush called the caucus and fed them a line of bullshit.
Arguing that his "reforms," ranging from education to Social Security, will help blacks, he offered an insulting cliché: "Civil rights is a good education. Civil rights is opportunity. Civil rights is home ownership. Civil rights is owning your own business. Civil rights is making sure all aspects of our society are open for everybody." When you get past the rhetoric, Bush's ownership society amounts to an unprecedented attack on black people.
Social Security reform that turns over substantial hunks of a person's account to Wall Street, where the vicissitudes of the marketplace can yo-yo it up and down, is little help to anyone, let alone blacks. The only source of retirement for 40 percent of all African Americans is Social Security, according to Melvin Watt, a Democratic rep from North Carolina. Without it, poverty rates among blacks would double.
The American Journal of Public Health reported in December that 886,000 more blacks died between 1991 and 2000 than would have died had equal health care been provided. The health of minorities, many of whom live in poor industrial brownfields, can only get worse if Congress passes Bush's "Clear Skies" clean-air legislation, which promises a 70 percent reduction in sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and mercury emissions by 2018.
Members of the Black Caucus point out that Bush wants to cut Medicaid. "That would be disastrous for my state," said Tennessee congressman Harold E. Ford, Jr. Blacks are particularly hard-hit in rural areas, which face more cuts in social-welfare programs and dwindling access to health care.
According to Mississippi congressman Bennie Thompson, insurance companies don't want to insure doctors in medically underserved areas. "And when you tie in blacks in [rural] areas, the disparities go off the charts."
"We've got to shed ourselves of bigotry if we expect to lead by example," Bush said. "And I'll do the very best I can, as president, to make sure the promiseand I believe in the promise of Americais available for everybody."