Hurricane winds: the black and conservative disconnect

It doesn’t bode well for the country when the word “political” is used by Washington strategists to trivialize an issue.

Since Hurricane Katrina, conservatives in general, and the Bush administration in particular, have tried to label any attacks on the President’s response to the disaster as “political,” overlooking the fact that the administration is partially responsible for some deaths in the Gulf Coast region because of its poor planning.

Washington’s slow response to Katrina was at best wholly inept, at worst partially intentional. Not preparing an area that lies below sea level for one of the most powerful hurricanes to ever hit the Gulf Coast should be seen as criminal. People have known for decades that, with a direct hit, a strong enough hurricane could break the city’s seawalls and leave New Orleans inundated. With Katrina, it was known well before the storm hit that it was headed directly for New Orleans. It is no surprise that after the nightmare occurred, many people were outraged, specifically in the nation’s black community.

The anger shown towards the current administration among African-Americans is particularly strong because the White House seems to lack compassion for the hurricane victims, most of whom are black. This harkens back to some of the ugliest periods in American history. This reality – when “compassionate” conservatism is seen for what it truly is – is why blacks in this country tend to shy away from conservative politicians, and as a block, have voted primarily Democratic for nearly a half-century.

Many Republicans, on the other hand, note that polls show that African-Americans tend to lean conservative on a number of social issues. They view the tendency of black Americans to vote for the left as self defeating, going against their own best interests. This is a backward logic. It ignores the dark history of conservative politics in America.

To say that blacks have been “shut out” from voting conservative does not fully explain why only eleven out of every 100 African-American voters cast ballots for Bush last November. Conservatives try to justify the unjustifiable by ignoring the causes of social inequity and oversimplifying their solutions. Affirmative Action becomes a roadblock to a “colorblind” society, not a necessary check to an already biased culture. Community leaders become extremists, not representatives of a group’s shared views.

As it is today, there exists a disconnect between the nation’s African-Americans and many of its conservative politicians.

If the Republican Party actually wants to court the black vote, it should start with actions instead of empty statements and smoke and mirror politics.

Rather than taking every photo op in an urban school praising No Child Left Behind, then using the legislation to take money away from the failing, under funded districts, the Grand Old Party should be open to giving poorly performing schools the support they need.

Instead of parading around Condoleezza Rice or Colin Powell at the next Republican Convention in front of a sea of white faces, the GOP would be better served actually becoming a big tent party, one in which moderate black voters could feel welcome. They should look beyond people like one of their spokesmen last November, Don King, a murderer twice over, to try to get out the black Republican vote.

There undoubtedly have been changes in the Republican Party since the Civil Rights Era. However, while overt discrimination in Washington may have disappeared, the perception by many black voters of certain Republicans as bigots in suits, for the most part, still exists. With failures like the right wing government’s poor response to Katrina – before, during and after the storm – it’s hard to blame them.