When Vitriol Replaces Fact

As levees crumbled in New Orleans after hurricanes Katrina and Rita, so, too, tumbled any sense of decorum among key black Democrats. Officials and activists alike are re-submerging the Crescent City in a fact-free torrent of vitriol.

“George Bush is our Bull Connor,” New York Rep. Charles Rangel told cheering Congressional Black Caucus conventioneers on September 22.

Rangel equated Republican President Bush to Theophilus “Bull” Connor, Birmingham, Alabama’s former segregationist police commissioner who used attacks dogs and fire hoses to disrupt civil rights marches by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other protesters in 1963. As is Rangel, Bull Connor was a Democrat.

As Meghan Clyne reported in Tuesday’s New York Sun, other black race-baiters echoed this theme.

The Rev. Al Sharpton said: “We’ve gone from fire hoses to levees.”

“Bull Connor didn’t even pretend that he cared about African-Americans,” said Rep. Major Owens, D-N.Y. “You have to give it to George Bush for being even more diabolical.” He believes Bush’s faith-based initiatives “made it appear that he cared about black Americans. Katrina has exposed that as a big lie.”

Gotham City Councilman Charles Barron, D-Brooklyn, said, “A KKK without power is not as bad as a George Bush with power.” He added: “Look at these neighborhoods before Katrina hit. Bush made that community what it is. Katrina did the rest, in partnership with Bush, to deliver the final blow.”

As Barron suggested, I asked Heritage Foundation senior policy analyst Kirk Johnson to look at these neighborhoods. While Bush has taken responsibility for Washington’s disjointed first response to Katrina _ notwithstanding the 33,544 hurricane survivors who Coast Guard helicopter and boat crews started saving as soon as winds dropped below 45 MPH _ he need not apologize for neglecting the Big Easy’s poor before these hurricanes.

Using the Consolidated Federal Funds Report’s latest data, Johnson found that, “Across all federal programs, Orleans Parish received $12,645 per capita in fiscal year 2003. At the same time, the national average was $7,089 per capita. Put another way, New Orleans received 78.4 percent more funding per person than the national average.”

Johnson also examined 21 low-income-assistance programs. Among them, inflation-adjusted federal poverty spending in Orleans Parish equaled $5,899 per-poor-person in Bill Clinton’s final, full-fiscal-year 2000 budget. By fiscal 2003, such outlays soared to $10,222. Under Bush, federal anti-poverty spending per-poor-New Orleanian ballooned 73.3 percent, or an average, annual hike of 24.4 percent over three years!

Johnson discovered, for instance, that spending on immunization grants dropped 80.51 percent, and supportive housing for the elderly fell 25.6 percent during Bush’s first three years. However, child support enforcement grew 8.3 percent. Head Start rose 13.8 percent. Food Stamps increased 43.1 percent. Pell Grants advanced 126 percent. Community Health Center funding accelerated 163.6 percent, and so on.

In 1999, under Clinton, Orleans Parish had 135,429 poor people and a 27.9 percent poverty rate. In 2004, under Bush, 102,636 New Orleanians were poor, while the poverty rate eased to 23.2 percent. So, pre-Katrina, the Big Easy’s poverty rate slid 16.8 percent during Bush’s tenure.

Most free-marketeers criticize these programs and instead advocate entrepreneurship, private-sector job creation, and private property ownership. That said, Bush’s and the GOP Congress’ lavish spending on New Orleans’ mainly black poor belies Rangel & Co.’s neo-segregationist paranoia.

Largely under black, Democratic leadership, the Crescent City’s poor endured derelict schools, fatherless homes, municipal corruption, and, at least until lately, a business-hostile economic climate. These and other factors hobbled low-income New Orleanians. In my 13 visits to one of America’s most seductive locales, I found that part of New Orleans’ enduring allure was its mysterious blend of fragile gentility, an atmosphere of elegant decay, and a sense of potentially imminent misfortune. The music-filled streets with ancient houses that tilted almost subliminally to one side masked far deeper troubles. Addressing them took hard work then, and will take even harder work now. Rather than pitch in, Rangel, Sharpton, Owen, Barron, and other friction-mongers plunge steak knives into old racial wounds and exhume the memory of a long-dead bigot to inflame Americans who hardly need their generosity diluted with venom.

For their counterproductive, hyper-partisan grandstanding, these so-called “black leaders” deserve merciless excoriation from coast to coast.

(Deroy Murdock is a columnist with Scripps Howard News Service and a senior fellow with the Atlas Economic Research Foundation in Fairfax, Va. E-mail him at deroy.murdock(at)gmail.com.)