Sen. Barack Obama once told a Cambridge, Mass., audience that he only disagreed with Kanye West’s “phrasing” when he said “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.”
According to Breitbart.com’s Lee Stranahan, the video his site has resurfaced* of the future president was shot Sept. 17, 2005 at a Harvard Law School Association Award Luncheon. The video’s description says Obama was delivering the keynote speech at the “Celebration of Black Alumni” weekend.
“You know, after the hurricane and its aftermath, there was a lot of discussion about the fact that those who were impacted by the achingly slow response on the part of the federal government were disproportionately black,” said Obama. “And one of my favorite musicians — that’s right, I’m 44 but I still can hang — Kanye West said, said on a telethon, ‘George Bush doesn’t care about black people.’”
Obama smiled and told his audience, “And that also shook up the ordinary.”
“NBC scrambled,” Obama joked before laughing about the reaction by comedian Mike Myers who appeared shocked by Kanye’s ranting.
“I love Kanye’s music,” Obama went on, “but I actually disagreed with how he phrased his statement.”
Obama went on to say that it wasn’t “active malice” toward blacks that influenced the government’s response to the disaster, but instead “indifference” toward the race.
“I do not ascribe to the White House or to FEMA, to Mr. Chertoff or Mr. Brown, any act of malice. I don’t think that they were in there plotting and saying, ‘You know, these are black people. Let’s not rescue them,’” Obama explained.
He continued, “But rather, what was revealed was a passive indifference that is common in our culture, common in our society.”
Obama said the country didn’t understand that majority-black New Orleans couldn’t just “hop in your SUV and fill it up with $100 in gasoline and load up your trunk with some sparkling water, and take your credit card and check in into the nearest hotel until the storm passes.”
“And the notion that folks couldn’t do that simply did not register in the minds of those in charge,” Obama lamented, “and it’s not surprising that it didn’t register, because it hasn’t registered for the last 6, 7, 8, 20, 50, 75, 100 years.”
Obama insisted that New Orleans “had been abandoned” long ago.
“The incompetence was colorblind,” Obama said, a line he would be sure to repeat multiple times over the years when discussing the federal response to Katrina, “but, what was important to understand was the fact that the people that we saw in front of the Superdome and in front of the convention center, they had been abandoned before the hurricane.”
He told his Harvard audience that “violence” had long dominated New Orleans, but the media chose to ignore it “because it wasn’t spilling out onto the lives of the rest of us.”
By 2007, Obama’s phrasing when referring to the federal response to New Orleans sounded an awful lot like West’s.
“The people down in New Orleans they don’t care about as much!” Obama told an audience of black ministers.
West would later apologize for calling President Bush a racist after the former president told NBC that the rant “was one of the most disgusting moments in my presidency.”
In 2009, President Obama called Kanye West a “jackass” for interrupting Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at the MTV Video Music Awards.
*Update: Readers note that Aaron Klein had uncovered this video in advance of the Breitbart.com write up.