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"It is wise to always err on the side of life" – President George W. Bush

“…there's the nagging suspicion that if Schiavo were black the media would not have made her a cause celebre, conservative groups would not frantically storm the barricades to keep her feeding tubes hooked up, and that Congress would not cut short its vacation to pass a special law on her behalf.” – Earl Ofari Hutchinson, columnist

If Terri Schiavo was a black woman named Toya Brown would she receive the same concern from white conservatives or members of the “pro-life” movement?  For black conservatives and government grant-hungry black religious leaders concerned with gay marriage and school vouchers the answer would be “yes.”  Fortunately, those of us that live reality-based lives know that this is far from the case.  Consider the following insults to black, non-white, and lower-income Americans by George W. Bush and his ultra-extremist cohorts:

Insult #1: Privatizing Social Security would help African-Americans. According to the February 10 newsletter of the American Progress Action Fund, “the President is taking advantage of a tragic disparity among the races – namely, that African Americans on average have shorter life spans than white Americans.  Describing Social Security as ‘unfair’ to African Americans because ‘African-American males die sooner than other males do, which means the system is inherently unfair to a certain group of people,’ the president is shamelessly using every trick up his sleeve to convince Americans to support privatization.” 

To further debunk the President’s latest attempt to bamboozle America and African-Americans, the Action Fund points out that:

African Americans do not receive less in Social Security benefits than white Americans.  As documented by the chief actuary of the Social Security Administration, ''careful research reflecting actual work histories for workers by race indicate that the nonwhite population actually enjoys the same or better expected rates of return from Social Security'' as whites.  The evidence supporting the President's claims come from a Heritage Foundation report so inaccurate that the actuary raised serious questions about its methodology.

Any reduction in Social Security benefits would badly harm the African-American community.  African Americans depend heavily on Social Security benefits; according to the AARP, African Americans rely on Social Security benefits for 44 percent of their income. That number is even higher for African-American women, who rely on Social Security for 56.8 percent of their income. And according to Hillary Shelton of the NAACP, "African-American children are almost four times as likely to be lifted out of poverty by Social Security benefits than our white counterparts."

Bush and his fellow “Compassionate Conservatives” would do to well to realize that if they were truly “pro-life” they would be concerned about the totality of life for all people, from birth to death. This means that they would be about the business of creating more jobs. Tax breaks for the wealthy are not a solution.

Jonathan Tasini, president of the Economic Future Group points out in an article for TomPaine.com that “Since the tax cuts took effect in July 2003, the administration’s projected monthly job growth was only met or exceeded three times. In every other month…the projection was way off by tens of thousands of jobs”, universal health care (we cannot dismiss this as socialist and move on; besides, social security is a socialist concept), improving our educational system with more resources and rejecting the death penalty (a sentence that is disproportionately applied to black people).  When Bush submits a budget to Congress with major cuts in community development and Medicaid, he undermines his “pro-life” stance.

Bush’s move to undermine Medicaid is, in itself, ironic in light of Terri Schiavo.  Consider a comment by NPR commentator Daniel Schore, highlighted in the March 24 edition of Sojourners magazine:

"The case is full of great ironies. A large part of Terri's hospice costs are paid by Medicaid, a program that the administration and conservatives in Congress would sharply reduce. Some of her other expenses have been covered by the million-dollar proceeds of a malpractice suit – the kind of suit that President Bush has fought to scale back."  

Blacknews.com columnist Earl Ofari Hutchinson, astutely noted in a March 25 newsletter that:

“Medicaid insurance paid for a significant portion of Schiavo's costly medical bills. Millions of poor and working class blacks are uninsured. They have little chance of getting the care she got. The GOP lawmakers that thundered the loudest for her rights slashed billions from the Medicaid health programs that would improve the quality of care for the poor. There is also no evidence that GOP lawmakers heeded the warning the Institute of Medicine made in two studies in 1997 and 2002 that the quality of care for dying and chronically ill children and adults is woefully inadequate.”

Perhaps a more accurate description of Bush and his conservative siblings would be “pro-birth” or “pro-existence” because “pro-life” suggests providing or facilitating the means for people to live quality lives and determine their own futures within the context that we have a shared destiny.

Insult #2: Bush, Frist, & DeLay fawning over Schiavo for political gain: New York Times commentator Frank Rich, in his wonderfully scathing analysis of the Schiavo affair describes the low points:

”Senator Bill Frist, the Harvard-educated heart surgeon with presidential aspirations, announced that watching videos of Ms. Schiavo had persuaded him that her doctors in Florida were mistaken about her vegetative state – a remarkable diagnosis given that he had not only failed to examine the patient ostensibly under his care but has no expertise in the medical specialty, neurology, relevant to her case. No less audacious was Tom DeLay, last seen on ‘60 Minutes’ a few weeks ago deflecting Lesley Stahl's questions about his proximity to allegedly criminal fund-raising by saying he would talk only about children stranded by the tsunami. Those kids were quickly forgotten as he hitched his own political rehabilitation to a brain-damaged patient's feeding tube. Adopting a prayerful tone, the former exterminator from Sugar Land, Tex., took it upon himself to instruct ‘millions of people praying around the world this Palm Sunday weekend’ to ‘not be afraid.’

”The president was not about to be outpreached by these saps. The same Mr. Bush who couldn't be bothered to interrupt his vacation during the darkening summer of 2001, not even when he received a briefing titled ‘Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.,’ flew from his Crawford ranch to Washington (cost to the public: $34,000/hour, according to Truthout.org’s William Pitt – my note) to sign Congress's Schiavo bill into law. The bill could have been flown to him in Texas, but his ceremonial arrival and departure by helicopter on the White House lawn allowed him to showboat as if he had just landed on the deck of an aircraft carrier.”

Again, these actions should beg this question for black conservatives and black ministers at the federal grant trough: “Would Bush and his extremist siblings do this for a black woman given their actions toward black America?”  The answer is no!  However, this raises an even larger question for black conservatives and certain ministers: “Would you challenge the president and his cronies on their actions?”  Or, are you just satisfied with having “access” and “influence” with the president and his partners?

Let us examine Bush’s partners and his base.  Heather Gray, writing for Common Dreams puts it succinctly:

”Most of what the GOP espoused has its roots in the South. George Bush, after all, has tried desperately to become a good southern boy and bow down to his Evangelical base. He likes his guns, he cares nothing about the environment, he wears his religion on his sleeve, he likes the death penalty, he's born again, he lies, he's deceitful, he believes government money should be doled out to his friends. All of these are time honored traditions and values among the southern white elite.”

For years writers have intimated that the South was rising again. Little did we think this meant that the Southern mindset was to poison the entire country. For those who think that Southern exploitation has been exclusively racist, think again. The Southern plantation elite and its progeny exploit everything and everyone. They have used race as the primary trump card to control the southern electorate and the economy, but they have also used their Evangelical roots to bolster their claims. Let’s examine that Southern religious base even further. 

Manis (1999) notes in his article, “Dying from the neck up: Southern Baptist resistance to the civil rights movement,” that Bush’s base has historically had problems with the Civil Rights Movement:

The civil rights movement and its goal of integration revealed that black and white Baptists in the South hoped for the actualization of different Americas. Most black Baptists, many of whom were central figures in the civil rights movement, held the vision of a pluralistic society giving justice to all its citizens and showing the entire world how to live in harmony. White Baptists in the South, however, hoped for a homogeneous, Protestant, Anglo-Saxon America that would defend individual liberty in the world. Most Southern Baptists saw the civil rights movement and its goal of integration as a symbol of ultimate threat.

In short, Bush’s base has historically been committed to limiting black progress.  Yet, there are black conservatives and too many black ministers willing to give Bush and his cronies a free ride and not challenge his blatant disrespect to black, nonwhite, and poor people by paying an inordinate amount of attention to Terri Schiavo’s plight.  Bush moved quickly to help Schiavo by signing legislation that could have had her feeding tube reinserted; however, he set the stage for a black infant to die in Texas.  In a March 23 DiversityInc.com newsletter, there was an article (“Right to Life, Unless You're Poor and Black”) that reveals another example of George Bush’s disdain for black America:

This week, as Americans followed the legal battle over Terri Schiavo's feeding tube, a 6-month-old baby was ‘murdered’ by Texas Children's Hospital officials, according to Arizona Republic columnist Mike Newcomb. Against the wishes of Wanda Hudson, the boy's mother, hospital officials took Sun Hudson off a ventilator that was helping him breathe. The mother, a 33-year-old poor black woman with no prenatal care, begged the hospital to keep her child alive. "This hospital was considered a miracle hospital," Wanda Hudson said. "When it came to my son, they gave up in six months."

Ironically, the fate of Sun Hudson, who was born on Sept. 25 with a genetic disorder, was determined by the Texas Futile Care Law, which was signed by then Gov. George W. Bush. The law stipulates that a Texas hospital, with the consent of a doctor and an ethics committee, can stop care deemed futile and too costly – even if the patient's legal guardian is against the action.

"Where were all the right-to-lifers when it came to baby Sun Hudson? Where were the special midnight sessions? Where was the due process for baby Sun? Where were Tom Delay and Bill Frist?" Newcomb asks. "If you're poor, a minority and costing a hospital corporation too much money your life is meaningless"

To add insult to injury, Bush’s reaction to the recent school shooting in Minnesota speaks volumes on his racial views: protect white (preferably rich) people first because they are the most important.  This sentiment is revealed in a Sunday, March 27, Boston Globe article by Adam Entous, “Amid criticism, Bush breaks silence on Minn. school shooting:”

CRAWFORD, Texas -- President Bush broke his public silence yesterday about the deadliest US school shooting in six years, touting the government's response ''at this tragic time" after some American Indian leaders contended that he paid little attention to the rampage.

Bush's delayed public reaction to the shooting stood in contrast to his swift, high-profile intervention last week in the case of Terri Schiavo, the severely brain-damaged woman in Florida whose feeding tube was removed.

(…)In his first public comments, Bush decried the Monday school shooting, in which a 16-year-old boy killed nine people and then himself on a Minnesota Indian reservation.

(…)The rampage by Jeff Weise was the worst US school shooting since 15 people died in the 1999 Columbine massacre.

''We are doing everything we can to meet the needs of the community at this tragic time," Bush said one day after calling Floyd Jourdain, chairman of the Red Lake Chippewa tribe, to offer his condolences.

Clyde Bellecourt, a Chippewa Indian who is the founder and national director of the American Indian Movement in Red Lake, said Bush's response came too late.

''He should have been the first one to reach out to the Red Lake Indian community," Bellecourt said.

''He does not have any problems flying in to [try to] restore the feeding tube to Terri Schiavo. I'm sure if this happened in some school in Texas and a bunch of white kids were shot down, he would have been there too."

So, what does Terri Schiavo teach us?  In essence, nothing, because it only confirms what most of black America knows – we mean very little to him.  Black people that do mean something to Bush (Rice, Powell, Thomas, Williams, Michael Jackson [because he takes attention away from Bush, giving him freer reign to push his agenda and not be criticized] and some black ministers being rented by Bush via faith-based grants) only mean something to him because they are additional tools to achieve his goals.  In turn, this creates an interesting dilemma for black conservatives and certain black ministers: ignore the slap in their collective faces and hold fast to a man that views them as props or take him to task and point out the inconsistencies in his policies and actions.

Reverend Reynard N. Blake, Jr., M.S. is an ordained Baptist minister from East Lansing, Michigan and CEO of his consulting business, Community Development Associates, which provides research and training services to nonprofit and faith-based organizations.  He is a graduate student in Pastoral Ministry at Marygrove College in Detroit.  He is working on a book of essays and will begin a weblog called The Blake Chronicles in April 2005.

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April 7 2005
Issue 133

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