Picture of compassion

By Geraldine Sealey

Published May 14, 2004 5:36PM (EDT)

Lawrence Weschler, head of the New York Institute for the Humanities at NYU, was cruising around the official Bush/Cheney '04 reelection website and found something rather curious. Wechsler wrote about his journeys through GeorgeWBush.com on the Los Angeles Times op-ed page. Here's an excerpt:

"OK, now notice how running horizontally along the top there's a row of file tabs: Economy, Compassion, Health Care, Education, Homeland Security and so forth. So, hmmm: Compassion. What could that mean? What might that involve, thematically speaking? Click the tab, and there you are on the Compassion page."

"Nice big picture of Bush merrily shooting the breeze with two black teenage girls. Scroll down to the bottom of the page and you'll find a quadrant labeled Compassion Photos, with the invitation, 'Click here for the Compassion Photo Album.' Do so."

"And let's see, what have we got? First one up: short-sleeved Bush, holding a black kid in his arms, a bleacher full of black kids behind him, and he's merrily waving to the crowd. Click 'next.' And it's Bush at a Waco Habitat for Humanity building site, his arm draped around a black woman, his other hand tapping the shoulder of another of the black construction volunteers. Next: Bush waving to the Urban League. Next: Bush working a crowd, a black -- or maybe, in this case, South Indian -- kid prominently featured in the foreground, gazing on in amazement. Bush in an African thatch-roofed schoolroom."

" It's like Ben Hur among the lepers -- the guy doesn't hesitate, he just goes and does it! Why, the Compassion page even includes a photo of him standing next to his own secretary of State, Colin Powell!"

"I mean, bracket for a moment some of the actual facts concerning the fate of blacks and other people of color across the years of the Bush administration. How, for instance, tax cuts massively skewed toward the wealthy favor whites, while the huge resultant deficits necessitate service cuts massively disfavoring the poor, a group that includes proportionally more blacks. My question is, for whom is this photo gallery intended? Does anybody seriously think blacks are going to be swayed by one staged photo op after another, in which time and again their confederates are cast as the pitiable recipients of an ostentatious display of kingly compassion? Maybe it's for the president's white supporters, anxious lest they be visited by tinges of self-doubt over their own arguable racism in continuing to support such a state of affairs. Maybe it's all just a mistake -- some staffer messed up."

Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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