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On Day 3 of Hurricane Katrina's aftermath, President Bush flew over the devastation on his way to Washington, which he now says was a mistake. "I shouldn't have flown over and looked," he says. "I should have landed. The problem is that when the president lands, resources are taken off the task at hand to protect the president, and I was worried about landing and then being criticized for [taking resources] away from the recovery."
A photo of the president looking down on the damage from Air Force One made headlines. "The truth of the matter is, I didn't realize a picture of me looking out would look like I didn't give a darn, because I did care a lot," he says. "I cared about the suffering."
A live telethon for Hurricane Katrina victims—many of whom were poor, African-American residents—was broadcast just days later. Rap artist Kanye West went on camera and said, "George Bush doesn't care about black people." Civil rights leader Jesse Jackson later compared the New Orleans Convention Center to the hull of a slave ship, and a member of the Congressional Black Caucus claimed that if the storm victims had been white, middle-class Americans, they would have received more help.
Although he usually didn't let his critics affect him, President Bush says these comments hurt. "You can disagree with my politics, but don't ever accuse me of being a racist," he says. "I put policy in place that I really felt helped people from all races in America. I don't understand why somebody would accuse me of being a racist. There's no justification for that whatsoever. Frankly, it speaks to the ugliness of the American political scene."
Watch President Bush discuss accusations of racism.
President Bush says he feels as strongly about these accusations today as he did five years ago.
"I can see how the perception could be, maybe, 'Bush didn't care,'" he says. "But to accuse me of being a racist is disgusting. ... It's one thing to say: 'He could have done a better job. He maybe should have put troops in.' You don't call a man a racist when I'm confident my heart is right on that issue."