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Challenge Presidential Assumptions

By Courtland Milloy
Sunday, February 6, 2005; Page C01

"African American males die sooner than other males do, which means the system is inherently unfair to a certain group of people. And that needs to be fixed."

President Bush,

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Out From Under The Thumb Of White Bias (The Washington Post, Jan 26, 2005)
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If I Hear Bush, Then I Don't Believe Him (The Washington Post, Jan 19, 2005)
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Courtland Milloy can be reached at (202) 334-7592 or by e-mail at milloyc@washpost.com.

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speaking Jan. 11 at a forum

on Social Security in Washington

You'd hope that what Bush believed needs to be fixed were the conditions that contribute to the premature deaths of African American males. That would certainly be in keeping with his talk of compassion and morality. But it's money, not life, that Bush values here.

It's bad enough that a president would take the early death rates of African American men as a given. But in Bush, we also have a president with a vested interest in our untimely demise: Forget about living long enough to spend time with the grandchildren; with private investment accounts instead of Social Security, early black deaths mean our kids can inherit more dough even faster.

Here is a president who never wants to take any racial disparity into account when it come to public policy -- except now, when the matter is a racial gap in lifespan. And he doesn't even want to close it.

In a closed-door meeting with African American leaders Jan. 28, Bush repeated his remarks, which prompted another round of debate as to the accuracy of his claims that blacks receive fewer benefits from Social Security than whites.

But excuse me for not getting caught up in that numbers game when Bush is counting on large numbers of us dying prematurely over the next 50 years.

Why would Bush care about anything that correlates with lower life expectancy for blacks -- violence in urban areas, racial disparities in income, higher unemployment and a lack of access to health care, for instance -- when part of his pitch to reform Social Security is based on that outcome?

Black adults are more likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease, complications of uncontrolled diabetes and HIV than white adults. African American men and women have higher incidence of colon, rectal and lung cancer than any other group. Moreover, black women are more likely to die from breast cancer even though white women have a higher incidence of the disease.

Although blacks make up only 12 percent of the U.S. population, we make up nearly a third of the 20 million Americans with life-threatening kidney disease.

There is much the federal government could -- and should -- do to help improve the life expectancy of African Americans.

But let's be real. Waiting for the Bush administration to act is like waiting for the Grim Reaper.


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