What was the most the unsettling event of George W. Bush’s presidency? 9-11? Yearly massive budget deficits? The financial meltdown? The lies about weapons of mass destruction and Al-Qaeda links that led to the death of over 4,000 U.S. service personnel? The 2,000 people that died from the impact of Hurricane Katrina? Come now, we know George better than that: "Five years later I can barely write those words without feeling disgust. I faced a lot of criticism as President. I didn't like hearing people claim that I lied about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction or cut taxes to benefit the rich. But the suggestion that I was racist because of the response to Katrina represented an all time low." Bush, in his new “memoir,” is referring to musician Kanye West’s declaration that his response to Hurricane Katrina suggested that he "doesn't care about black people." West wasn’t the only person to hold that opinion, it was just that he said it on national television during a Katrina relief fundraiser. How embarrassing to be called-out in public like that, perhaps to be obliged to explain the administration’s initially indifferent (and largely subsequent) response while those 2,000 people were dead or dying—seemingly because the faces on TV were of New Orleans’ black population—and the white public was largely indifferent to them while Rush Limbaugh was denigrating them as mindless, savage beasts.
But beyond Katrina, Bush never felt compelled to explain the actions of his subordinates or his policies and legislative priorities that harmed minorities. Bush defends himself by asserting he let dark-skinned sycophants like Condoleezza Rice and Alberto Gonzales follow him to the White House. Didn’t he give them important jobs? After all, were not their views in line with the “majority” of Americans—meaning, in Republican jargon, white America? Are not the few hard-core right minorities elevated far beyond their actual relevance in their own communities?
George W. Bush is not a racist. But his cry for understanding in his memoir has that foul aroma of self-service and ignorance of how the other side lives. He doesn’t realize that whites as well as minorities should be judged by their actions, and not merely based on the admittedly token number of minorities he calls friends—who don’t mind that a barely-literate rich white kid who partied through college can attain the highest office in the land not due to any competence he might possess, but on the family name and politically-connected friends of his father. Perhaps they do not mind as well that he used his offices to weaken equal opportunity and educational advancement for minorities. As governor of Texas, Bush signed an anti-affirmative action law, opposed parity in school funding, and fought the passage of a hate crime law after the grotesque murder of James Byrd by white supremacists. Later, the Bush administration repeatedly supported anti-affirmative action lawsuits before the Supreme Court, while its Justice Department’s civil rights and Department of Labor’s employment discrimination divisions remained dormant, at least insofar as racial discrimination was concerned. The Bush administration also harmed minorities in more “subtle” ways, such as gutting HUD’s affordable housing program and nudging banks to offer toxic home loans in its place. Later, the indifferent response to the plight of New Orleans' black residents after Katrina was underlined when the head of HUD—Alphonso Jackson, another right-wing black deemed “relevant” by the Republican establishment—boasted of how the city would now become majority white. And, of course, there was the Bush administration’s tacit support for the toxic atmosphere of hate that scapegoated Latino immigrants for mostly imagined ills.
Not all minorities have “friends” like George W. Bush, who eases his conscience by allowing in his house a few who don’t make annoying demands on the white privilege establishment. Yet at the same time he supported divisive policies that insured that the Republican Party remains the party of white, because not everyone in his party and their constituency are as “open-minded” as he pretends to be. Not everyone in his party will “volunteer” to support equal opportunity. Not everyone in his party wants minorities in their neighborhoods, or in their schools, or in their workplaces. Bush’s policies on civil rights issues recognize this fact—and rather than oppose the bigots, supports them. That is why it is true that he “doesn’t care.”