Once upon a time on MTV, rapper Kanye West stood onstage and famously said, “Bush doesn’t care about black people.” Apparently, West, who often uses the “n-word” to refer to other blacks in his songs, fancies himself an expert on what it means to care for blacks. And he seemed to be implying that it was ultimately racism, not Hurricane Katrina, that killed so many New Orleans residents.
In a new video that recently surfaced, dating from summer of 2007, then Senator Barack Obama can be seen having a Kanye West moment of his own. Obama told a mostly black audience that the country’s leaders “don’t care about” the people of New Orleans.
One could almost understand such inflammatory rhetoric coming from a self-aggrandizing rapper who needs attention more than anything else. But from a sitting U.S. senator and aspiring president?
Obama’s remarks centered around a law known as the Stafford Act, which normally requires communities hit by natural disasters to match 10 percent of federal aid. This requirement, however, was waived for victims of the Sept. 11 disaster. And occasionally it has been waived for other major natural disasters. The Federal Emergency Management Agency refused to waive the 10 percent requirement for communities affected by Katrina.
Obama claimed there were sinister reasons for this: “When Hurricane Andrew struck in Florida, people said, 'Look at this devastation. We don't expect you to come up with your own money. Here, here's the money to rebuild. We're not going wait for you to scratch it together, because you're part of the American family.'"
In other words, if you read between the lines, Obama is saying that the mostly white communities down harmed by Hurricane Andrew were exempted from the 10 percent rule because they were “part of the American family.”
Obama continued: "What's happening down in New Orleans? Where's your dollar? Where's your Stafford Act money?" Obama said. "Makes no sense. ... Tells me that somehow the people down in New Orleans they don't care about as much."
Those “people down in New Orleans” whom “they don’t care about as much?” By “those people” Obama seems to be referring to the largely black communities in New Orleans hit hardest by Katrina.
That’s what the liberal MSNBC anchor Chris Matthews likes to call “dog whistle racism.” Obama doesn’t say “whites” or “blacks” but we’re all meant to understand what he’s talking about.
We all saw the black bodies floating in the flooded streets of New Orleans in Katrina’s devastating aftermath. Was it tragic beyond words? Yes. Was the government’s response to the disaster inefficient and inadequate? Yes, by most accounts.
But here’s a reality check: If Obama had been president during Katrina, he could not have stopped all those New Orleans residents from dying. That hurricane came and wreaked its havoc and it paid no heed to who was in the White House at the time.
If Obama wanted to argue that the government should have waived the provisions in the Stafford Act for the Katrina disaster, as it did after the Sept. 11 disaster, I’m sure there was a reasonable argument to be made. Instead he chose to cry “racism!” in front of an audience of 8,000 mostly black voters. Doubtlessly, he considered it to his political advantage at the time. But were his words genuine? And do the represent the thoughts of a man of good character?
Imagine if a video surfaced of a white president making racially inflammatory remarks to a largely white audience. How would America react in that case? What if, for instance, that white candidate said that persistent black-on-white crime in urban areas was evidence that black politicians “don’t care about” white people? Wouldn’t we find such talk alarming, disturbing, and unacceptable? I think so.
For the same reason, many Americans find Obama’s words unacceptable. Obama blamed President George W. Bush for doing nothing to defuse the “quiet riot” among blacks. If you watch the speech, it doesn’t seem like Obama is doing anything to defuse the riot either. If anything, he appears to be fanning the flames of racial animosity. Obama even takes time during the speech to praise Rev. Jeremiah Wright, widely known for his long history of anti-white and anti-American rhetoric.
Obama’s admirers used to call him the first post-racial president. But put him on the campaign trail in front of a room full of black voters and he becomes the most-racial president.
What does this video mean? What insight does it provide into our president’s beliefs? The video is troubling because it reveals that Obama actually made race-baiting part of his political strategy, as he sought to secure the loyalty of the black vote in the lead up to his battle against Hillary Clinton for the 2008 Democratic nomination. At best, he was being disingenuous. At worst, he was revealing genuine prejudice.
In the wake of this alarming video, the burden is on Obama to prove to voters that he represents all Americans with equal concern. Maybe a rapper’s race-mongering can simply be ignored. But Americans expect more from their president.
Nathan Harden's new book, Sex & God at Yale: Porn, Political Correctness, and a Good Education Gone Bad (St. Martin's, 2012), was recently named a New York Times Editor's Choice Pick. He is Editor of The College Fix.