- The Washington Times - Monday, September 19, 2005

You can’t blame an old yeller hound for chasing the occasional pickup, and you can’t blame Bubba for chasing his tail.

George Stephanopoulos invited Bubba on to his ABC-TV interview show the other day, and naturally he was eager for him to unload on George W. Bush. Bubba never disappoints.

Rarely has the nation — the people, not the politicians — so come together to help neighbors in desperate need. From Skowhegan to San Diego, in supermarkets, mom-and-pop stores, back-road diners and chic uptown shops, the contribution can for Katrina relief has become the ubiquitous accessory to interstate commerce. Hundreds of Americans have streamed toward the Gulf coast to help. Fellow Baptists from Bubba’s own home state are cooking 20,000 hot meals every day, for just one example, in refugee shelters in Mississippi and Louisiana. This is in addition to Americans of all faiths and no faith giving a billion dollars, or close to it, through the Salvation Army, church agencies, the American Red Cross and other charities. It’s enough to make a Marine gunny sergeant choke on honest sentiment.

But it’s politics as usual with the pols, and particularly the pol who invented “feeling your pain” as the centerpiece of the permanent campaign. George Stephanopoulos, playing the dutiful straight man, threw out the race card and invited Bubba to play it: “Excuse me — the problems of race that were tied to poverty [in New Orleans]. And I know you don’t think there’s any conscious racism at play in the response … [Pause. Here’s the windup.] But we saw one more time, blacks and whites looked at this event through very different eyes. What can President Bush do about that? [Here comes the spitball.] And looking back, do you think there’s anything more you could have done as president?”

The nation’s most famous househusband, waiting for just this well-rehearsed cue, cocked his head and pointed his famous crooked member — the index finger of his left hand — at the camera, and let loose.

“Well, I think we did a good job at disaster management.”

The straight man frowned, irritated at Bubba’s inattention, and tried again. “But what about this racial divide?”

Bubba blushed ever so slightly at his error and let go once more, this time with practiced feeling. “Well, I think we did a good job … For example, we had the lowest African-American unemployment ever recorded. The lowest African-American poverty rate ever recorded. We had the highest homeownership, the highest business ownership … ” And so on and so on. And on and on and on. Bubba was back on the stump, living once more the endless campaign of ‘96, as if reprising promise after promise: Midnight basketball, better school uniforms, bigger pencils for grade-school kids, thicker Big Chief tablets …

The straight man had to nudge him back to the grim, poisonous reality at hand in the Big Easy. “The mayor probably should have had those buses ready.”

Bubba nodded. “A little bit of — maybe the mayor, maybe the governor, but if, well, all I can tell you is, when James Lee Witt ran FEMA … he was always there early and we always thought about that … but we — both of us — came out of environments with a disproportionate number of poor people. I think we were sensitive to the racial issue … we were sensitive to the economic issue.” (Have I covered everything? Have I hit race hard enough? Did I mention that Grandmaw had an outdoor privy? How much time do I have left?)

The straight man looked pleased. So did Bubba.

But there’s not a minute to lose if New Orleans is to be saved, the key to saving Louisiana for Hillary in ‘08. The mayor, about whom Bubba and the Democrats have agreed to say no evil, is desperately trying to woo his constituents home. Right now, because the longer they stay in Texas and Cleveland and Salt Lake City with their new and better lives, the less likely they’ll return to the mud, the misery, the toxic poverty and the duty to vote Democratic early and often. Of course, if they go home to New Orleans now they may die of disease, but that’s just a risk the mayor and the Democrats have to take.

And Bubba is just being Bubba. But next time the Bushes, pere et fils, look for someone to help them do good they could do better than the stepson of a Hot Springs used-car salesman.

Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times.


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