Barbara Bush: Hurricane Katrina 'Working Very Well' for Underprivileged Victims

It was, without a doubt, a provocative remark, and one attributed to former first lady Barbara Bush during a visit to the Hurricane Katrina refugee shelter in the Houston Astrodome:

What I'm hearing, which is sort of scary, is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them.

Some folks are loathed to believe she actually said this. As one reader wrote, "I would like to see the transcript, hear the video, see something other than this [forwarded email] to confirm what Barbara Bush reportedly said. I find this difficult to believe, as she is a compassionate and caring person and was a wonderful first lady (regardless of opinions about her husband or son)."

The fact is, she did say it, during a question-and-answer session with a reporter for "Marketplace," a program aired on National Public Radio. Audio recordings of both the finished segment and the original, unedited interview are available online.

In fairness, the comment heard on the radio was extracted from a lengthier exchange in which Mrs. Bush also expressed compassion for the Katrina refugees she encountered. But that hasn't stopped critics of the Bush administration from comparing it to Marie Antoinette's alleged response to the complaints of the poor and dispossessed on the eve of the French Revolution: "If they have no bread, let them eat cake."

White House press secretary Scott McClellan defended Mrs. Bush's comments thus:

I think that the observation is based on someone or some people that were talking to her that were in need of a lot of assistance, people that have gone through a lot of trauma and been through a very difficult and trying time. And all of a sudden, they are now getting great help in the state of Texas from some of the shelters.

Sources and further reading:
Barbara Bush Calls Evacuees Better Off - NY Times
Barbara Bush: It's Good Enough for the Poor - The Nation
• Houston, We May Have a Problem - Marketplace (NPR)
• "Personal Observations" by Bush's Mother Raises Questions - AP
• White House Press Briefing: Barbara Bush's Remarks - WhiteHouse.gov