The capability to act
Kanye West's unscripted comments on a hurricane relief show set off a controversy about whether Bush was indifferent to black people or merely amazingly inept.
The White House, quite unwisely, decided to ignore West's comments, while the usual cast of characters blundered comments about racial division.
But West's comments are far more dangerous to Bush than that. No one on the cable or network news refuted his comments, some seemed to agree with them, or left them hanging, like Ted Koppel did on Friday night. CNN also got some mileage from the comments, but NBC didn't show the video, which I found amusing.
What this is about is perception. Even white people are now wondering if the response to the tragedy in New Orleans is fueled by race. Of course, Mississippi residents, mostly white, have been as ill-served as New Orleans residents. But once a perception enters the conversation, it is either refuted or becomes a defining factor.
There is now a widespread assumption that the lack of aid and poor coordination was purposeful because the victims were poor and black.
This is not the first time that a belief in character has defined action, and most blacks believe, despite his appointments, that Bush disdains, even hates black people. Is there actual evidence of prejudice? No. But this perception came with Florida 2000 and black voters being prevented from voting. Then he refused to speak to the NAACP, the most esteemed group in black America. Then, the NAACP is investigated by the IRS.
To be fair, there is plenty of evidence of Bush's petty, even juvenile behavior to all groups. But to black people, these snubs have the sheen of racial contempt to them.
And to cite the appointment of Condoleeza Rice and Colin Powell in his defense means little to most black people. Rice is clearly regarded as selling out. Her little shoe expedition while black children died sealed that off. Powell's refusal to stand up to Bush caused his status to decline like Enron stock for most blacks.
So when West says "Bush doesn't care about black people", that's like saying Chris Hitchens likes a drink now and then, if now and then meant every three hours. He's widely regarded as stating the obvious.
What the White House and their fellow party members don't get is that white people are thinking the same thing. This perception is being widely seen as if not correct, not unfounded either, and that could prove to be Bush's undoing.
Indifference is one thing, but a belief that indifference is racially driven? That the cruelties which came with FEMA's continued failure. And as people try to settle down in areas where they have relocated and FEMA's ineptitude continues, this could grow to be a poisionious, self-fulfilling prophecy, seeing this in racial terms.
But the perceptions of leaders often come to define them.
The most famous case of this is with Nero.
While New Orleans drowns
Suetonius's Twelve Caesars covers the lives of, well, 12 Caesars, among them Nero, of who he was no fan of.
He so prostituted his own chastity that after defiling almost every part of his body, he at last devised a kind of game, in which, covered with the skin of some wild animal, he was let loose from a cage and attacked the private parts of men and women, who were bound to stakes, and when he had sated his mad lust, was dispatched by his freedman Doryphorus; for he was even married to this man in the same way that he himself had married Sporus, going so far as to imitate the cries and lamentations of a maiden being deflowered. I have heard from some men that it was his unshaken conviction that no man was chaste or pure in any part of his body, but that most of them concealed their vices and cleverly drew a veil over them; and that therefore he pardoned all other faults in those who confessed to him their lewdness. Now, modern historians believe that Nero had no role in setting the fire, that Rome was a tinderbox anyway. But the perception is that he was capable of setting the fire. Just like people believe Bush is capable of withholding aid to poor, black people. Which is a dangerous perception for people to have of the President, for his sake.
He thought that there was no other way of enjoying riches and money than by riotous extravagance, declaring that only stingy and niggardly fellows kept a correct account of what they spent, while fine and genuinely magnificent gentlemen wasted and squandered. Nothing in his uncle Gaius so excited his envy and admiration as the fact that he had in so short a time run through the vast wealth which Tiberius had left him. Accordingly he made presents and wasted money without stint. On Tiridates, though it would seem hardly within belief, he spent eight hundred thousand sesterces a day, and on his departure presented him with more than a hundred millions. He gave the lyre-player Menecrates and the gladiator Spiculus properties and residences equal to those of men who had celebrated triumphs. He enriched the monkey-faced usurer Paneros with estates in the country and in the city and had him buried with almost regal splendour. He never wore the same garment twice. He played at dice for four hundred thousand sesterces a point. He fished with a golden net drawn by cords woven of purple and scarlet threads. It is said that he never made a journey with less than a thousand carriages, his mules shod with silver and their drivers clad in wool of Canusium, attended by a train of Mazaces and couriers with bracelets and trappings.
There was nothing however in which he was more ruinously prodigal than in building. He made a palace extending all the way from the Palatine to the Esquiline, which at first he called the House of Passage, but when it was burned shortly after its completion and rebuilt, the Golden House. Its size and splendour will be sufficiently indicated by the following details. Its vestibule was large enough to contain a colossal statue of the emperor a hundred and twenty feet high; and it was so extensive that it had a triple colonnade a mile long. There was a pond too, like a sea, surrounded with buildings to represent cities, besides tracts of country, varied by tilled fields, vineyards, pastures and woods, with great numbers of wild and domestic animals. In the rest of the house all parts were overlaid with gold and adorned with gems and mother-of-pearl. There were dining-rooms with fretted ceils of ivory, whose panels could turn and shower down flowers and were fitted with pipes for sprinkling the guests with perfumes. The main banquet hall was circular and constantly revolved day and night, like the heavens. He had baths supplied with sea water and sulphur water. When the edifice was finished in this style and he dedicated it, he deigned to say nothing more in the way of approval than that he was at least a beginning to be housed like a human being.
He also began a pool, extending from Misenum to the lake of Avernus, roofed over and enclosed in colonnades, into which he planned to turn all the hot springs in every part of Baiae; a canal from Avernus all the way to Ostia, to enable the journey to be made by ship yet not by sea; its length was to be a hundred and sixty miles and its breadth sufficient to allows ships with five banks of oars to pass each other. For the execution of these projects he had given orders that the prisoners all over the empire should be transported to Italy, and that those who were convicted even of capital crimes should be punished in no other way than by sentence to this work.
He was led to such mad extravagance, in addition to his confidence in the resources of the empire, by the hope of a vast hidden treasure, suddenly inspired by the assurance of a Roman knight, who declared positively that the enormous wealth which queen Dido had taken with her of old in her flight from Tyre was hidden away in huge caves in Africa and could be recovered with but trifling labour. ..............
But she showed no greater mercy to the people or the walls of his capital. When someone in a general conversation said:
"When I am dead, be earth consumed by fire,"
he rejoined "Nay, rather while I live," and his action was wholly in accord. For under cover of displeasure at the ugliness of the old buildings and the narrow, crooked streets, he set fire to the city so openly that several ex-consuls did not venture to lay hands on his chamberlains although they caught them on their estates with tow and fire-brands, while some granaries near the Golden House, whose room he particularly desired, were demolished by engines of war and then set on fire, because their walls were of stone. For six days and seven nights destruction raged, while the people were driven for shelter to monuments and tombs. At that time, besides an immense number of dwellings, the houses of leaders of old were burned, still adorned with trophies of victory, and the temples of the gods vowed and dedicated by the kings and later in the Punic and Gallic wars, and whatever else interesting and noteworthy had survived from antiquity. Viewing the conflagration from the tower of Maecenas and exulting, as he said, in "the beauty of the flames," he sang the whole of the "Sack of Ilium," in his regular stage costume. Furthermore, to gain from this calamity too all the spoil and booty possible, while promising the removal of the debris and dead bodies free of cost he allowed no one to approach the ruins of his own property; and from the contributions which he not only received, but even demanded, he nearly bankrupted the provinces and exhausted the resources of individuals.
posted by Steve @ 8:24:00 PM