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Republicans ignore Black people

As I watched the Republican debate on Oct. 10, I thought about Kanye West and the comments he made after Hurricane Katrina decimated New Orleans. He said, “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people.” Later he tiptoed away from the comment by saying he “regretted” it, but he never apologized.

Five years later, in 2010, Bush gave the Today Show’s Matt Lauer an interview. Bush stated that West’s remarks were an “all-time low” in his presidency. He went on to say, “I didn’t appreciate it then, and I don’t appreciate it now … I resent it.” He then said that West’s comments were “one of the most disgusting moments” of his presidency.

Let’s see. Former President Bush took us into Iraq, and we’re still there. His actions were partly the cause of the Great Recession. He was widely described as less than intelligent and, in fact, as a doofus. But remarks from Kanye West were “one of the most disgusting moments” of his presidency? These remarks suggest that George W. Bush has as little judgment as he was often accused of. Consider Iraq; New Orleans; and a tax code that favored the wealthy. Yet Kanye West’ remarks were an “all-time low?”

Why does this Kanye West kerfuffle remind me of the last Republican debate? Ben Carson is the only person on stage that used the word “Black,” and he said it in connection to increasing the minimum wage, which he opposes. None of the others uttered a peep about African American people, not in terms of entrepreneurship, the wealth gap, nor discrimination in the workplace. It’s fair to say that none of the moderators asked about race and the economy. But just as the candidates jumped into the conversation when they wanted to, none jumped in after Carson’s remark (a perfect opening).

Kanye West said, “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people.” One might say the same thing for the eight major Republican candidates who stood on stage and ignored Black people. Republicans keep saying they want to reach out to people of color, but ignoring Black people suggests that they are thinking about us as much as George Bush did in 2005.

They did talk about immigration, or the Latino population (Trump isn’t trying to build a wall between the United Stated and Canada, but between the United States and Mexico). That part of the conversation was, in my opinion, impractical and disparaging. How is the United States going to expel millions of people and then allow them to come back? Each of the candidates talked about shrinking the size of government, but building a wall and deporting people would increase the federal payroll.

I’ve had about enough of Marco Rubio’s immigrant parents story. He could score a couple of points by adding comments about involuntary immigrants. Such a comment might suggest to African Americans that they at least slightly get some of the race issues that plague our country, but those candidates ignore African Americans on one hand, and offer rhetoric about including African Americans on the other.

The moderators of this debate—Fox business staff Neil Cavuto and Maria Bartiromo, along with the Wall Street Journal’s Gerard Baker—did a great job keeping things moving forward and imposing time limits (although many ignored the bell that Cavuto said would ring when time was up.) And then there’s the to-be-expected interrupting and crosstalk. There were far fewer personal attacks. The debate however, showed that none of the candidates had developed comprehensive policy positions. All that was missing for me was a question about race and the economy.

Race is a low priority for all of the candidates, Democratic and Republican, in the 2016 election. The Democrats will say some of the appropriate things because they have no choice but to recognize that African Americans are part of their base. The Republicans talk diversity, but they don’t practice it, and haven’t figured out how to weave a narrative about race into their conversations.

Kanye West said that George W. Bush “doesn’t care about Black people.” This group of candidates ignores Black people and behaves as if there are no consequences when they turn their backs on the ones they might want to woo later.

Julianne Malveaux is a D.C.-based economist and writer and president emerita of Bennett College for Women.

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