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David Emery

Barbara Bush on Hurricane Katrina Refugees

By September 8, 2005

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IT IS, without a doubt, the quote of the hour — a remark attributed to ex-first lady and mother-of-the-president 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 loathe 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."

Poll: Do you think Barbara Bush's remarks about Katrina refugees were insensitive?
1) Yes  2) No  3) Not sure

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


December 19, 2006 at 8:41 am
(1) rustam katranov says:

whatever she said, she was a first lady.

June 27, 2011 at 9:42 pm
(2) Lina says:

Anyone can watch the Spike Lee Documentary titled “When the Levees Broke” Barbara B makes her statement. I am angry and cut to the depth of my heart for the way the people were treated and left untreated. In my heart I know the Almighty Creator will even the score for ALL the inhumanity done to ALL MANKIND. Those people were God fearing people that trusted in God, by the many that expressed , by their prayers. HE will set matters straight for all those that have suffered. He sees EVERYTHING.

February 9, 2007 at 2:46 pm
(3) Barbara says:

I heard Barbara Bush make similarly insulting remarks on Larry King Live when she was on with President Bush. Larry King was obviously taken aback and President Bush was embarrassed and did his best to cover for her.

May 22, 2007 at 6:19 pm
(4) g-99er says:


October 9, 2007 at 3:36 pm
(5) College Prof says:

As a followup USA Today reported on 10/7/2007 that 40% of the people displaced from New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina were living below the poverty line in 2006.

Mrs. Bush, as well as her son Dubya, have never had empathy for anyone less than a millionaire who they never leave left behind.

As Anne Richards stated long ago….The Bush’s can’t help it that they were born with a silver foot in their mouths.

This comment made by the Silver Fox is about as reprehensible as the Iraq and Bush immoral war.

The only thing good about the Bush administration is…it will be a cold day in hell before another republican is ever elected president again. We just can’t trust these hipocrites who have used religion and fear as political tools.

July 18, 2008 at 1:23 am
(6) Christina says:

College Prof,
how very right you are!
In 2000 I would have rather had my right hand cut off than voting for GWB..

November 26, 2008 at 12:05 pm
(7) Binrt He says:

It is not her fault that programs like welfare prevent the evolutionary extinction of people who cannot take care of themselves. Besides, these poor people did not vote for her hubby or son nor help her get wealthy… Now that want her to speak nice of them. That is the problem there. The poor is always looking for someone to take care of them- Just like why they voted for Obama; rather then them work hard, go to college and earn a living. Thats America folks.

March 2, 2011 at 1:24 pm
(8) ab says:

you silly jackass, the bushed got rich form the illegal inheritance gained through slavery passed down form generation like most other wealthy whites. and another 100 years of jim crow which legally stripped blacks from any land and home ownership.
Read up on white flight and the creation of the FHA

December 27, 2008 at 7:13 am
(9) ?imaohw says:

“It is not her fault that programs like welfare prevent the evolutionary extinction of people who cannot take care of themselves.”

Are the lives of poor people so simple and straight forward that it MUST affirm some evolution theory? Natural selection at its best, eh? There’s nothing natural about poverty. Have you ever wondered why 3rd world countries STAY third world? Do you look away as corporations take the resources of established countries and rape them? Have you ever experienced the frustration of being trapped in a room without a view and not knowing where the door is to get out? So you have no poor relatives or friends? Maybe you don’t talk to them anymore. I feel you should step a bit closer to those you would ostracize to get a better understanding of what has/is/and continues to happen and where we all play a role in perpetuating this poverty. Poverty is more than not having the means to provide for yourself and family, but a state of mind that falls on people somewhat like a hypnosis. I don’t feel at any point that at any point this is an evolutionary thing, poverty is more like the aftermath of a society’s ideals…we are taught by the powers that be to look at others different, to perpetuate this game of separation, yet I think you have the insight to know that by any large or even small turn in circumstance, you could be right in the same place of those you ridicule… I also don’t think it’s about Obama. People want change, but as we’re taught to seek everything outside ourselves, so we wait and look to someone else for that change instead of being that change. That’s what it’s about. So the ruling elite will weave another fantasy for us to be hypnotized by while they benefit off us, aka the working class. What you call “the poor” is more like cannon fodder to the ruling elite. In fact, if you look closely at what is currently happening these days, I get the feeling we’re all becoming fodder and that they don’t need “us” poor, or middle class (it’s the same thing to them). So no it is not Barbara Bush’s fault for making a comment like that, she lives in an old paradigm, I’m sure no matter how she wants to turn away from it that just like every human being on this earth she has stayed awake one night in her bed crying because of all the senseless suffering in this world. I know I have.

April 12, 2009 at 5:34 pm
(10) Marie says:

Do you not think, David Emery, that you’re just as ignorant for calling these American citizens “refugees”? I think there is plenty of blame and ignorance to go around, my friend.

June 9, 2009 at 1:29 pm
(11) STACY says:

Laura Bush was wrong for what she said.. yea those people werent as rich as her but im pretty sure they werent better off in those sad conditions after Hurricane Katrina.

January 20, 2011 at 8:50 pm
(12) Pauline says:

Barbara was completely wrong in making this statement, regardless of conditions in New Orleans. How about we remove Barbara from her home town, kill off some of her family members, her home and belongings, family photos all destroyed. But you are better off in Houston Astro Dome? Really? Barbara has no clue.

June 9, 2009 at 1:37 pm
(13) Joanie says:

To Stacy,
maybe you should read the quote again along with the whole page… BARBARA Bush said it not Laura Bush.. but i totally agree with you.

June 27, 2011 at 9:20 pm
(14) Lina says:

If anyone does NOT BELIEVE Barbara Bush made that statement, watch Act IV of theDocumentary for HBO ‘When the Levees Broke” She indeed makes that statement to someone. She will have to explain herself to the Almighty one day.

October 2, 2012 at 1:42 pm
(15) Fair says:

We all have to meet our maker, who will your maker be Barbara Bush?

November 16, 2012 at 5:30 pm
(16) Meh_227 says:

College Prof (October 9, 2007) [quote]: The only thing good about the Bush administration isÖit will be a cold day in hell before another republican is ever elected president again. We just canít trust these hipocrites who have used religion and fear as political tools.[unquote]

How prophetic!!!!

Here is is on the eve of 2013 and the GOP is scratching it’s collective head trying to figure out, “wot happened!!!???!”

January 2, 2014 at 3:19 pm
(17) Nana says:

It’s sad to see how (intentionally?) misunderstood that out-of-context comment is. Barbara Bush did not say people were still in N.O. in the aftermath were better off without their homes. She referred directly to those who were in BETTER homes in Texas, who wanted to stay and not leave those BETTER homes, being better off there than in the homes which were destroyed. It’s not insensitive; it was a statement of fact. If you live in a home one step above a cardboard shack, and now you live in a nice, newer home, it is a fact that your housing situation has improved.

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