Roundtable: Angelinos React to Bush Address
ED GORDON, host:
This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Ed Gordon. From the beginning of his State of the Union Address, President Bush touched on themes that resonate with black Americans. He began with paying tribute to Coretta Scott King and toward the end made reference to her late husband.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: Every great movement of history comes to a point of choosing. Lincoln could have accepted peace at the cost of disunity and continued slavery. Martin Luther King could have stopped at Birmingham or at Selma and achieved only half a victory over segregation.
GORDON: Throughout his speech the President seemed to signal to African Americans that he's listening to his concerns. That, at least, was the opinion of some Los Angeles residents who came together last night to hear the address. They met at Lucy Florence Café in La Merte(ph) Park, one of Los Angeles' oldest black neighborhoods. Those present included Republicans and Democrats. We asked them to grade the President's speech.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: I would actually give him a pretty good grade. I'm not a fan or a supporter at all of Bush or his administration, but I felt that he covered a lot of subjects, and he was well versed and well prepared.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: I think that he gives a good speech in terms of presentation. I think his solutions to problems are either naïve or deceptive.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: He talked about 4.5 million jobs created, which was twice what I think Japan and the European Union created. I though about how much bigger we are then those places, so we should have created significantly more jobs, so I just think there were a lot of those kinds of grand statements with little or no meaning.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: I wondered how many of those 4.5 million jobs were Carl's Jr. or 7-11 or a gas station somewhere.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: He said that America's addicted to oil, and I thought that that was pretty hysterical.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: We're being overrun by insurgents from another company, and yet, for the president to say they're vital to our economy, I don't see that, and I'm a Republican.
GORDON: A sample of voices heard last night at the Lucy Florence Café in Los Angeles. Fifteen residents showed up. We chose three of them to take part in a special citizen's roundtable hosted by NPR's Farai Chideya.
FARAI CHIDEYA reporting:
Mark Isles(ph) was born and raised in Watts. He's the father of a 21-year old daughter and the owner of a small printing business. He's also the president of the See It Through foundation, which provides scholarship money for young men in inner city Los Angeles. He was twice a delegate to the Republican National Conventions, in 1996 and 2004.
Jasmine Cannick(ph), 28, is a community organizer in Los Angeles. She works as a legislative press secretary in the California Assembly and contributes commentary to New California Media and the LA Watts Times among other publications. She's a registered Democrat.
And Lisa Teasley lives in Los Angeles. She's the mother of a nine year old daughter and a writer and novelist. Her first book, Glow in the Dark, won the 2002 Gold Pen Award and Pacifica's Foundation Award for the best story collection. Her second novel, Heat Signature, is forthcoming in August 2006. She's a registered Democrat as well. Thank you all for joining me.
Mr. MARK ISLES (Business Owner and President, See It Through Foundation): Thank you.
Ms. JASMINE CANNICK (Community Organizer, Commentator and Legislative Press Secretary, California Assembly): Thank you.
Ms. LISA TEASLEY (Writer and Novelist): Thank you.
CHIDEYA: So let me start with you, Mark. What absolutely stood out in your mind? What was a moment during this speech that really grabbed your attention and why?
Mr. ISLES: I would the say the moment when the president began to address the immigration issue, because I think here in Los Angeles it's a pressing issue, and we're dealing with it everyday, and although I supported some of the things that he had to say in terms of the guest worker program, I was a little bit disappointed that he did not address the Mexican government because, in my opinion, the immigrants are victims. They're victims of the Mexican government and the government putting them in the position where they cannot take care of their families, you know? And I don't support the fact that the local government, the local taxpayer, myself, we have to pick up the responsibility of the Mexican government. I'm actually offended by that.
CHIDEYA: Well, I want to get back to the issue of job creation because I know you're a small business owner, but first I want to ask the same question of Jasmine and then Lisa. Jasmine, what stood out to you?
Ms. CANNICK: I think the first thing that stood out for me was the reversal in this year's State of the Union Address versus last year where he started out with domestic issues and transcended into international issues, and this year he spent a lot of time focused in the beginning on our international affairs and the war in Iraq, and I'm more concerned, as a 28-year old, what's going on here domestically, what's going on directly in my community and directly in my state and how, he did mention a little bit about the Baby Boomers, you know, getting ready to retire.
Look, retirement's not that far off for me either, and I was really concerned about what his plans were for people who are my age, and I didn't hear much from him on that. This year, unlike last year, when he did a lot of talk about his personal spending accounts or the way we could invest our money. He didn't really touch on that this year.
CHIDEYA: And Lisa, what was the moment that stood out to you the most?
Ms. TEASLEY: Oh, what stood out to me the most is when he spoke about, that Americans are addicted to oil and that he said that we should invest in alternative energy sources, but I was disappointed at the disproportionate time that he spent in the beginning, like Jasmine, on international affairs and justifying the War in Iraq with the strong, sort of, the Bush language that we know of evil empires, and it was very aggressive language, and I found that a little offensive really, and I felt that he should have spent more time talking about our emaciated healthcare system and our education system that has been affected by this exorbitant military spending.
CHIDEYA: We did hear quite a lot about foreign relations, whether it was the War in Iraq, whether it was Iran. He listed, the President listed a number of different countries, including Zimbabwe and North Korea, that he stated are problem countries that the U.S. needs to look at.
Mark, did you feel that the international relations aspect was overemphasized? Or was it needed at this time when, for example, the War in Iraq is producing casualties week by week to reassure the country?
Mr. ISLES: Well, I definitely didn't feel like it was overstated. I think that the reality of it is is that we are in, we are at war, and the issues that are pressing issues are international issues, and the fact is is that if we do not win this war, if we do not advance the issues and the concerns of the United States and our allies around the world, then the healthcare system, the educational system and all of the local issues become non-issues because we are crumbling from the top. So, no, I don't think it was overdone at all. I think that the president was doing what the President of the United States is elected to do and that is to oversee and be the Commander-in-Chief of the United States military. In my opinion, that part of the speech, I think, that he made me feel comfortable and good about being a Republican and, more importantly, about being an American.
CHIDEYA: And Lisa, what were your feelings? Did you feel reassured by the President's speech on foreign policy?
Ms. TEASLEY: No, I didn't because although his language was strong in terms of, we will be victorious, we will be the leaders of the world, that is, those are just general statements, and there was no practical application involved in those statements. We have troops on the ground, but we don't know how they will get back home. He didn't talk about how many lives we have lost, although he did honor those in the hero gallery, but I just felt, I didn't feel confident at all that there is an end in sight.
CHIDEYA: And Jasmine, the president made a point of saying hindsight alone is not wisdom and second-guessing is not a strategy, talking back to people who criticized staying in the War in Iraq. Was that sufficient for you to really rethink, I mean, I'm assuming you're opposed, but I don't know. Are you?
Ms. CANNICK: Yeah, I'm definitely opposed. I think that the president definitely was very strong on our foreign affairs and the war in Iraq because that's the only area in America where his polls haven't slid all the way down. He's using that to his advantage, and that's why he led with that, and as usual with these types of affairs, it's just sort of say those, like, feel-good phrases, you know, to get the folks off their feet and get them clapping and then we move on, but when you sit back and you really go back and you analyze what he said, there is no meaning behind it. Have we found weapons of mass destruction yet?
Mr. ISLES: Well, I...
Mr. ISLES: I actually think that he gave plenty of meaning to the issue of the war. He basically stated that we're going to do now what we have made the mistake in the past and have not done when we have committed troops. He said we're going to keep our word, and ultimately, we are back there now because of things that we failed to do in the past and that is not keep our word. When you look at what is going on in Iran with the online nuclear program that they have, it's a direct threat to everything that's happening right here in our community. It directly threatens us.
Ms. CANNICK: My name is Jasmine, and we have an unstable community right here in America, right here in Los Angeles. We have issues, domestic issues, that we need to be using our resources to try and solve, and I feel that we're using the bulk of our resources right now to fight a war overseas and in some ways conquer the world when we're not taking care of our own backyard and I think that's what's really important.
Well, let's hear what the president had to say about HIV and AIDS.
President BUSH: We'll also lead a nationwide effort working closely with African-American churches and faith-based groups to deliver rapid HIV tests to millions, end the stigma of AIDS, and come closer to the day when there are no new infections in America.
CHIDEYA: Jasmine, was that an encouraging sign for you that he highlighted the African-American community's needs?
Ms. CANNICK: Well, I think that after what happened last year and sort of with the vice president not knowing that African-American men and women were number one in the amount of new HIV AIDS cases in America. I think he had an obligation to do that. But at the same time, I get frightened when you tell me that you're going to allocate dollars to faith-based organizations within our community to fight this disease when they don't even want to deal with gays and lesbians, and people who have this disease.
That's very scary to me because right now, the phenomenon within African-American community around HIV and AIDS is heterosexual women, black heterosexual women, who get it from black men who are on the down low. You give that money to a church who is not willing to help a black gay man who has that disease; what are we doing?
Mr. ISLES: I'm pleased that the president identified the issue. I have no concern about faith-based organizations being given the responsibility to administer and distribute the programs because, particularly if the program is clearly defined and is monitored appropriately. I think it can be a step forward because the truth is that the federal government has not in the past, and probably won't in the future, administered social services as well as the many community organizations, particularly the church, have proven to do. It's a step forward.
CHIDEYA: Now, Lisa, you mention another one of the domestic issues, which was oil and conservation, and alternative energy forms. Here's what the president had to say.
President BUSH: Since 2001, we have spent nearly $10 billion to develop plainer, cheaper, and more reliable alternative energy sources.
CHIDEYA: Was that enough for you? The president mentioned zero emissions, coal plants, nuclear energy, solar, and wind. Was listing those energy sources enough to make you feel like we were moving forward as a nation on energy policy?
Ms. TEASLEY: Well, I felt like he gave us something to feel good about; like it was a band-aid in the speech. Meanwhile, as we are paying the highest costs ever in gas, the oil companies, such as Exxon, Mobile and Texaco, are making the highest profits ever; and so, to not address why that is so is really, to me, deceptive.
CHIDEYA: So, when the president said that there was a big effort on to end dependence on foreign oil was that the key in America with energy, foreign oil; or is it a bigger problem?
Ms. TEASLEY: Well, why are we in Iraq? Are we in Iraq to save these people, to create a democracy; or are we there for the oil? Are we there because of Halliburton; and because of the contracts that Halliburton got; and there was no open contract policy once we went in there. That's my question.
CHIDEYA: And of course the economy remains a top issue on the minds of so many people. The president here makes a statement that the economy is doing quite well.
President BUSH: The tax relief you passed has left $880 billion dollars in the hands of American workers, investors, small businesses, and families; and they have used it to help produce more than four years of uninterrupted economic growth.
CHIDEYA: Mark, you're a small business owner. Is that statement about job growth, job creation reflective of how things are going for you?
Mr. ISLES: Well, the State of California and the federal government has all but turned its back on small business, particularly minority-owned businesses. The president mentioned isolationism. He mentioned protectionism, and things that we should avoid. I agree. I think isolationism has historically proved to fail whenever employed, and I think that protectionism certainly does not include me. Nor does it include other business owners of my category; but what I would have liked to have seen the president do was to put something behind that.
For example, the Davis Bacon Act: the Davis Bacon Act is still law today. It's a prevailing wage act. It was passed in the late 1920s to specifically insure that minority construction companies could not compete with majority construction companies, and today that is still law. If he really wants to, I don't want to pick on the president because it's really an act of Congress and an act of United States Senate; and the truth of the matter is that black elected officials are the ones that's holding up; just as they're holding up reform of Social Security.
They're holding up reforming the Davis Bacon Act, or just eliminating it. It should be repealed because the truth of the matter is if you want to create jobs in Watts, in Compton, in other areas where there's high unemployment, particularly among African American men between the ages of 18 and 35, then get out of the way--and to get out of the way you need to make sure that construction companies, and other small businesses, have the ability to compete and don't have to compete with the prevailing wage that is artificially applied in terms of making sure that we cannot compete.
CHIDEYA: And finally, let's hear a little bit of what the president opened with, a tribute to Coretta Scott King.
President BUSH: Tonight we are comforted by the hope of a glad reunion with the husband who was taken so long ago; and we are grateful for the good life of Coretta Scott King.
CHIDEYA: For anyone, Mark, Jasmine, Lisa was that a note that felt appropriate to you? Were you glad to hear the president mention Coretta Scott King?
Mr. ISLES: Well, I think it was absolutely appropriate. He's the President of the United States and I think that it was appropriate for the President of the United States to make note of the contributions of Dr. King and his loving wife.
Ms. Cannick: I have to agree with Mark. I think it was politically correct for the president to open up with that. However, you know, given this president's history I can definitely say he was not in line and is not in line with Dr. King nor his wife's message.
CHIDEYA: Well from the Lucy Florence Café in historic Leimert Park in Los Angeles, this has been our special post State of the Union roundtable. We were joined by Mark Isles, Lisa Teasley, and Jasmine Cannick; and I'd like to thank all of them. Thank you.
ED GORDON, host: That was NPR's Farai Chideya.
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GORDON: Next up on NEWS AND NOTES, Detroit is gearing up to host this year's Super Bowl, but some residents are being left out of the festivities. And a new television series that celebrates black contributions to American culture.
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