Race Rationalizing on the Russert Roundtable

I caught just the roundtable segment of "Meet the Press," so I could hear PBS's Gwen Ifill and the WashPost's Eugene Robinson pitch the idea that they're not saying Bush or FEMA are racists, just that the structures of society at present are racist, and (more oddly) that those expressing these views are quite reasonable. That's wrong.

Cynthia McKinney ranted on the House floor that in the hurricane aftermath, “As I saw the African-Americans, mostly African-American families ripped apart, I could only think about slavery, families ripped apart, herded into what looked like concentration camps.”  Bobby Rush compared New Orleans to a slave ship. But he was copying from Jesse Jackson. I was hoping Byron York of National Review would point this out. But he simply said it's hard to say FEMA was disastrous in New Orleans and quite suitable on the Mississippi coast. It was a failure across the area, not just in the black parts of New Orleans.

Robinson went on to say that the problems of race and class don't go away by ignoring them. But the problem for him is the more the left throws around charges of racism and poor-hating, the more they divide the country -- in a way George W. Bush has tried studiously to avoid -- and that division can make for an even greater Republican majority if that's the way they want to fight it.

UPDATE: Now that the transcript is up, here's the relevant exchange with Ifill and Eugene Robinson, and it doesn't quite match my immediate impression at the time:

MS. IFILL:  You know, I'm going to take a line from Gene Robinson's column this morning where he talked about Kanye West, the rapper, coming out and saying George Bush doesn't care about black people.  Well, even though what--to a lot of people--and Condoleezza Rice has said, "Oh, come on, that's ridiculous"--the question is the wrong question, whether he personally cares. This isn't about whether the president is a racist or whether anybody in his family is.  It's a question about whether this catastrophe exposed a divide that was already there in a way that allowed not only black folks but a lot of white folks, too, to say, "There is a real problem here."

Heretofore, the Republicans and Ken Mehlman, the head of the Republican National Committee, and the White House, had been approaching this in a purely political sense.  "Let's see if we can peel off some black voters, black conservatives, go at them through the churches."  What this has exposed is that this is not a political solution.  This is not a political problem.  This is a social concern, which has been roiling for a while.  But that it took something this catastrophic for the president to address, in the way he did, in his speech Thursday night, and, even then, only addressing it as a regional concern.

MR. ROBINSON:  One thing it shows is that--is that problems of race and class don't get better if you just kind of ignore them and pretend they're not there, which is, essentially what--you know, what this country has done for a while.  And it--Katrina certainly did kind of pull back the facade.  I was stunned in New Orleans at how many black New Orleanians would tell me with real conviction that somehow the levee breaks had been engineered in order to save the French Quarter and the Garden District at the expense of the Lower Ninth Ward, which is almost all black.  You know, I don't for a minute think the Corps of Engineers or the city of New Orleans would be clever enough to do that at this point.  But these are not wild-eyed people.  These are reasonable, sober people who really believe that.  And that tells you something about our racial divide in New Orleans.

Robinson isn't referring to McKinney or other black leaders, but just to black New Orleans residents. But I don't know how you consider that "reasonable, sober" people believe this kind of evidence-free conspiracy theorizing.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis