- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 6, 2005

Sadly, even the unimagined human suffering produced by Katrina can do nothing to stop the ignorant, the stupid or the mean-spirited from speaking. If anything, such tragedy transforms them into perpetual orators spewing misinformation, division and despair, across our country.

A case in point being Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert. While a nice enough man, and by all accounts, a decent person, with his recent comments about New Orleans, he has shown that he may be overmatched by his title and should consider turning the job over to someone more qualified to lead the House of Representatives.

As has now been well documented, right after Katrina hit, Mr. Hastert said of New Orleans, “It looks like a lot of that place could be bulldozed.” When then asked if it made sense to spend billions to rebuild the city, he said, “I don’t know. That doesn’t make sense to me.”

Well, maybe not later, but at least for now, it makes sense to the people of New Orleans, the people of Louisiana and most of the people of our nation. Worse than Mr. Hastert’s ill-timed comments were the fact that while his colleagues from both sides of the aisle gathered in Washington to approve a $10.5 billion relief plan, he was nowhere near the city. Instead, he was in Indiana at a Republican fund-raiser, and from there, went to an antique car auction, where he sold one of his cars.

During the time of our nation’s worst natural disasters, the man third in line to become president could not be bothered to do his job. Just inexcusable.

As bad as Mr. Hastert’s actions were, the charge of “racism” being thrown around by some African-American “leaders” is far worse. For while Mr. Hastert’s comments only bring shame to himself, the false charges of “racism” not only inflame a horrific situation, but serve to divide a nation that desperately needs to be united in the task of saving lives and rebuilding a region.

The tragedy that is Katrina has nothing to do with racism and everything to do with poverty. As a child, I grew up on welfare and was homeless a number of times. During many of the 34 moves my family made by the time I was 17, we ended up in majority black or minority neighborhoods.

I can tell you flat out that if a huge natural disaster hit one of those neighborhoods — white, black or Hispanic — there was little chance to get out. Not because of the color of our skin, but because of our shared poverty. We did not have the means. Those who hurl the ugly charge of racism at the Bush administration know they are wrong and know they are doing it for political gain and to shift the blame away from themselves.

Educationally challenged rapper Kayne West goes on NBC and says “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” All-but-forgotten Randall Robinson spreads the preposterous claim that “black hurricane victims in New Orleans have been eating corpses to survive.” Ray Nagin, the black mayor of New Orleans, who now thinks the CIA is out to get him, is desperately trying to blame everyone but himself and his administration for his city not being prepared in the aftermath of Katrina. Jesse Jackson predictably cites “racism” as he blames President Bush for the “slow” response and complains that no blacks are in top positions responding to the disaster. Mr. Jackson makes this foolish claim while knowing that the top general in charge of the recovery effort is an African-American. And finally, no surprise, the Congressional Black Caucus cites “racism” as it points its collective fingers at Mr. Bush.

Where is the mainstream media outrage over these despicable and false charges? The people who lost their lives were in the wrong place at the wrong time because they did not have the economic means to escape. The answer is no more complicated than that. Poverty kills and ignorance fuels poverty.

Rather than point fingers and shift the blame from their non-existent leadership, or vile song lyrics, why don’t these black “leaders” ask themselves how they can help poor, young African-Americans gain a better education that will enable them to break the cycle of despair? No, rather than buckle down and try to address a problem that is getting worse, not better — as of now, immigrant blacks are dramatically more successful and better educated than many native American blacks — these black “leaders” would rather make false accusations and bask in the attention of the media.

Those who lost their lives or suffered the most from the aftermath of Katrina did so because of poverty. Poverty is to blame, not our fellow Americans, or the other party.

Knowing that, the ignorant, the stupid and the mean-spirited of our land need to shut up. It’s time to heal, learn and change.

DouglasMacKinnon served as press secretary to former Sen. Bob Dole. An author, he is also a former White House and Pentagon official.

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