William Charles Tinker wtinker@metrocast.net
Thu, 13 Oct 2005 21:16:59 -0400

Bush's Pledge? The Joke's on the Poor

    By Bob Herbert
    The New York Times
    Thursday 13 October 2005

    A Page 1 article in The Times on Tuesday carried the following headline:
"Liberal Hopes Ebb in Post-Storm Poverty Debate."

    I might have started laughing if the subject weren't so serious. Who in
their right mind - liberal, moderate, Rotarian, contrarian - could have
possibly thought that George W. Bush and his GOP Wild Bunch (Dick Cheney,
Karl Rove, Tom DeLay et al.) had suddenly seen the light ("Eureka! We've
been wrong!") and become serious about engaging the problem of poverty in

    The article noted that some liberal activists had hoped that the
extraordinary suffering caused by Hurricane Katrina might lead to a genuine
effort by the administration and Congress to address such important
poverty-related matters as health care, housing, employment and race.

    After all, the president himself had gone on national television from
the French Quarter of the stricken city of New Orleans and promised "bold

    "As all of us saw on television," said Mr. Bush, "there is also some
deep, persistent poverty in this region as well. That poverty has roots in a
history of racial discrimination, which cut off generations from the
opportunity of America. We have a duty to confront this poverty with bold
action. So let us restore all that we have cherished from yesterday, and let
us rise above the legacy of inequality."

    I assumed that most people watching the president realized that he was
deeply embedded in a Karl Rove moment. The speech was a carefully scripted,
meticulously staged performance designed primarily to halt the widespread
criticism of Mr. Bush's failure to respond more quickly to the tragedy.

    As the president spoke, it never occurred to me that anyone would buy
into the notion that Mr. Bush and his supporters would actually do something
about poverty and racism. Someone who believed that could probably be
persuaded to make a bid on eBay to buy the Brooklyn Bridge.

    Mr. Bush is the standard-bearer par excellence of his party's efforts to
redistribute the bounty of the US from the bottom up, not the other way
around. This is no longer a matter of dispute. Mr. Bush may not be the
greatest commander in chief. And he may not be adept at sidestepping the
land mines of language. ("I promise you I will listen to what has been said
here, even though I wasn't here.") But if there's one thing the president
has been good at, it has been funneling money to the rich. The suffering
wrought by Katrina hasn't changed that at all.

    One of the first things the president did in the aftermath of Katrina
was to poke his finger in the eyes of struggling workers by suspending the
requirements of the Davis-Bacon Act in the storm-ravaged areas. Passed
during the Great Depression, the law requires contractors on federally
funded construction projects to pay at least the prevailing wage in the

    This is one more way of taking money from the working poor and handing
it to the wealthy. A construction laborer in New Orleans who would
ordinarily be paid about $9 an hour, the prevailing wage in the city, can
now be paid less. So much for the president's commitment to fighting

    Poverty has steadily increased under President Bush, even as
breathtaking riches (think tax cuts, cronyism, war profiteering, you name
it) have been heaped upon those who were already wealthy. Class divisions
are hardening, and economic inequality continues to increase dramatically.

    Mr. Bush's political posturing (his speeches, his endless trips to the
Gulf Coast) is not meant to serve as a beacon of hope for the downtrodden.
It is a message to middle-class voters, who have become increasingly
disturbed by the president's policies and were appalled by the fact that he
seemed unmoved by the terrible suffering that followed Hurricane Katrina.

    The man who campaigned as a compassionate conservative and then turned
the federal government into a compassion-free zone is all but handing out
press releases that say, "I care."

    He cares all right. About his poll ratings. In the end, much of the
money to help lower-income victims of the recent storms will most likely be
siphoned from existing, badly needed and already underfunded programs to
help the poor and near-poor.

    A real effort to fight poverty and combat discrimination? From this
regime? You must be joking.