BY JAMES BURNETT
When assessing the lowest moments of George W. Bush’s presidency, outside observers might have gone with, oh, Abu Ghraib, or that time when he realized he was going to have to bail out the US financial system, or when his approval rating dropped to 22 percent on his way out the door.
But in his new memoir, “Decision Points,” George W. Bush himself writes that the “worst moment” of his presidency – his “all-time low” – was when Kanye West declared during a Hurricane Katrina celebrity telethon that “George Bush does not like black people.”
Now West has responded to that verdict. On the one hand, he seems uncertain his line deserves the place in history that Bush has just given him. But he also sees where Bush is coming from.
The whole back-and-forth started when Bush’s claim drew the attention of Matt Lauer, who sat down with Bush for an interview that will air the day before the book’s November 9 debut. And that in turn led to the following exchange, as relayed by Ken Tucker on EW.com:
Lauer quotes from Bush’s new book: “Five years later I can barely write those words without feeling disgust.” Lauer adds, “You go on: ‘I faced a lot of criticism as president. I didn’t like hearing people claim that I lied about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction or cut taxes to benefit the rich. But the suggestion that I was racist because of the response to Katrina represented an all-time low.’
President Bush responds: “Yeah. I still feel that way as you read those words. I felt ’em when I heard ’em, felt ’em when I wrote ’em, and I felt ’em when I’m listening to ’em.
Lauer: “You say you told Laura at the time it was the worst moment of your presidency?”
Bush: “Yes. My record was strong, I felt, when it came to race relations and giving people a chance. And it was a disgusting moment.”
Lauer: “I wonder if some people are going to read that, now that you’ve written it, and they might give you some heat for that. And the reason is this.”
Bush [interrupting]: “Don’t care.”
Lauer: “Well, here’s the reason. You’re not saying that the worst moment in your presidency was watching the misery in Louisiana. You’re saying it was when someone insulted you because of that.”
Bush: “No, and I also make it clear that the misery in Louisiana affected me deeply as well. There’s a lot of tough moments in the book. And it was a disgusting moment, pure and simple.”
For his part, West does not view his diss of then-president as the worst insult he’s ever dealt, ranking it below his more gratuitous put down of Taylor Swift at last year’s VMAs. During an appearance on Funkmaster Flex’s show on New York’s Hot 97 on Tuesday night, he said of the Swift incident, “It’s an amazing, compelling situation. The situation is bigger to me than the Bush moment. It’s bigger than a lot of things.”
But in a separate interview today – this one with Houston’s 97.9 The Box – West expressed a sympathetic view of Bush’s reaction.”Well I definitely can understand the way he feels to be accused of being a racist in any way. Because the same thing happened to me,” West told host Devi Dev.
“With both situations, it was strictly a lack of compassion that America saw. You know, with him not rushing, not taking the time to rush down to New Orleans. With me, it was the lack of compassion in cutting someone off in their moment. Nonetheless, I think we’re all quick to pull a race card in America. And now I’m more open, and the poetic justice that I went through the same thing that he went through, and now I really more connect with him on a humanitarian level, because that next morning, when he felt that, I felt that same thing too.”
Like Bush, West is coming out of self-imposed exile to mount a comeback effort, with his built around the release of his next album, “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” slated for release on November 22.
“I do think I changed a lot” in the months since the Swift incident, he told Dev. “I do think I’m more compassionate, I’m more sensitive to people’s emotions.
“I needed that time off … Respect is something hard to earn and easy to lose, and I feel like I’m on that path to getting that all back right now.”
Bush, no doubt, would like to feel the same way, though it’s not clear he sees it necessary to express the same kind of contrition.