By Derrick Z. Jackson | September 14, 2005
THE SENATE confirmation hearings of John Roberts are in the eye of a perfect storm of American hypocrisy. It is largely assumed that Roberts will be confirmed despite his animus for affirmative action for people of color. In 1981 as a special assistant to Attorney General William French Smith, he wrote that affirmative action ''required the recruiting of inadequately prepared candidates."
Such sentiments will not sink his chances for the high court, not in a nation where affirmative action of inadequately prepared white men is so rampant that we let them manage our two worst disasters.
There is Hurricane Katrina, where Michael Brown resigned this week as the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Brown had no emergency management experience and did not know that the New Orleans convention center was reeking in squalor, despite media reports.
Days before the resignation, he was kicked out of New Orleans by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. That was the unqualified calling the unqualified ''unqualified." The natural-disaster-minded FEMA was rolled into the terrorist-minded Homeland Security two years ago but Chertoff had no experience in emergency management either. When National Public Radio asked Chertoff about CNN reports on conditions at the convention center, he said: ''If you talk to someone and you get a rumor, or you get someone's anecdotal version of something, I think it's dangerous to extrapolate it all over the place. . . . I have not heard a report of thousands of people in the convention center who don't have food and water."
Brown was at FEMA because of the old-boy network. He was hired as a general counsel by fellow Oklahoman and then-FEMA head Joe Allbaugh. Allbaugh had no qualifications for FEMA other than being a chief Bush operative for a decade. Allbaugh hired Brown even though Brown's last major job was an Arabian horse show commissioner.
With such incompetence in place for Katrina, Bush, a self-admitted academic underachiever who was a clear beneficiary of legacy admissions, followed up the stupid comments of his hacks with proclamations worthy of Ripley's Believe It Or Not. Despite years of scientific warnings and newspaper stories about the potentially catastrophic effects of a hurricane, Bush said, ''I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees."
This follows an amazing lack of anticipation over what would happen in Iraq, after an invasion and occupation where the architects were for the most part well-connected white men who never spent one day in combat. They gave no thought to the thousands of Iraqi civilians killed in the invasion or to the nearly 1,900 US soldiers who have died.
There was Vice President Dick ''Five-Deferments" Cheney, who ballyhooed that we would be ''welcomed as liberators" and that the insurgency is in its ''last throes." There was Defense Secretary Donald ''We-Know-Where-the-Weapons-of-Mass-Destruction-Are" Rumsfeld. He flew jets for the Navy but never saw combat. There was former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul ''Wildly-Off-The-Mark" Wolfowitz, who trashed the assessment by the Army's chief of staff that several hundred thousand soldiers would be needed to stabilize Iraq.
Bush's idea of diversity in this affirmative action for no-combat military experts was his African-American former national security adviser, Condoleezza ''Those 16-Words-Are-A-Data-Point" Rice. Rice, now secretary of state, was in the lead of defusing criticism over Bush's discredited claim that Saddam was seeking nuclear weapons material from Africa.
Hardly by coincidence, the top player in the Bush administration who was the most reluctant to go to war was an African-American man who saw combat, former Secretary of State Colin Powell. It was Powell who urged his fellow Republicans at the 2000 Republican national convention to understand the cynicism of African-Americans when ''some in our party miss no opportunity to roundly and loudly condemn affirmative action that helped a few thousand black kids get an education, but you hardly hear a whimper when it's affirmative action for lobbyists who load our federal tax code with preferences for special interests."
Such cynicism is exploding again in America's face. While we are about to have a new chief justice who condemns affirmative action for black and brown kids, affirmative action for privileged white men has led to decisions that have cost this nation and the planet tens of thousands of lives. Of course Bush could not envision the breach of the levees. His form of affirmative action left him with no one of vision to show him the way.
Derrick Z. Jackson's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.