Laura disses Kanye

The first lady announces that race had nothing to do with the government's response to Katrina.

Published September 9, 2005 9:55PM (EDT)

Salon editorial fellow J.J. Helland analyzes Laura Bush's televised pimp slap.

Once again the Bush administration is trotting out Laura Bush to soften the president's image during a period of scrutiny and intense criticism. This time the first lady finds herself in the position of rebutting charges that matters of race contributed to the poor federal response to Hurricane Katrina, many of whose victims were poor and black.

The first lady, responding to recent criticisms by Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean and rapper Kanye West, both of whom suggested the color of Katrina victims' skin was a factor in their plight, declared yesterday that "all of those remarks are disgusting, to be perfectly frank."

As is always the case when someone affiliated with this administration speaks, it's hard to know what is genuine and what is part of a calculated effort to promote Bush's agenda and spin criticism away from the president. And we know that the White House is in damage control mode, hyper-alert to the impression that the administration failed the stricken residents of the Gulf Coast.

It's not as if it would be so far-fetched for Bush's handlers to incorporate the first lady -- whose approval ratings exceed the president's own numbers -- into their media strategy. Laura Bush was skillfully deployed when the president needed a woman to deflect attention from the fact that he was going to nominate a man to replace Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. The first lady has also had the effect of softening Bush's position on abortion, saying that she doesn't think Roe v. Wade should be overturned -- a sharp contrast to the president's stance, which may have scored political points with moderates across the country.

Of course, Laura Bush is entitled to her own views and has the right to air them as she pleases. But is that what she's doing? Manipulating good intentions for political gain is something this administration has never been shy about.

By J.J. Helland

J.J. Helland is Salon's editorial fellow in New York.

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