Well, Barbara Bush apparently knew. While touring hurricane relief centers in Houston on September 5, the former First Lady paused to dispel the myth that Hurricane Katrina was disastrous to its alleged victims. Remarking on American Public Media's "Marketplace" radio program, Babs explained, "And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this - this (slight chuckle) is working very well for them."
And there it is, the truth of that oxymoron, "compassionate conservatism." Barbara Bush, in no more than an off-the-cuff remark, concisely summed up the real attitude of conservatives regarding the poor in America. It's an attitude of patronizing contempt.
Never mind that those who were the object of Babs' condescension may have lost loved ones, friends, and pets. Never mind that their psychological trauma is just as real and as painful as the "privileged" who survived Katrina. Never mind that those who "were underprivileged anyway" have been equally displaced from their homes. Never mind that they now find themselves without their former senses of self and community, having been relocated to foreign communities with nothing to call their own except that with which they managed to escape. They were underprivileged, so who cares?
The comments of Mamma Bush expose the truth of her son's administration and the frightening direction in which this country is headed. Conservatives, at least those is positions of power, aren't compassionate. They can claim to be all they want and can even come up with trite catchphrases like "compassionate conservatism." When it comes right down to it, however, the self-anointed compassionate conservatives won't be satisfied until the last vestiges of governmental support and assistance to America's poor are eliminated.
To conservatives, compassion means enriching the rich while impoverishing the poor.
This is not a new phenomenon. Since Bush took office, the median household income for working-age households has fallen $2,572, or 4.8 percent. Between 2003 and 2004 alone, it fell 1.2 percent. By contrast, the real average income of the top five percent of American households (a.k.a., the rich) rose by 1.7 percent in the same period. Similarly, since Bush took office, 5.4 million Americans, including 1.4 million children, have been added to the nation's poverty rolls, totaling 37 million impoverished Americans in 2004. America's population of working poor (those who work but still live in poverty) increased by 563,000 in 2004 alone. The number of Americans without health insurance has grown by 6 million since 2000, leaving nearly 16 percent of all Americans uninsured.
Come to think of it, maybe Babs was on to something. Those "underprivileged anyway" survivors of Katrina currently living in shelters like those in Houston and just might be better off. They're fed, clothed, and provided medical care. They're provided with social services. They're the beneficiaries of billions of dollars in federal aid. In short, they're cared for.
That's a hell of a lot better than the treatment they've received from Bush and his cadre of compassionate conservatives.
What a frightening thought.