Why Obama Should Be in NOLA on Katrina Anniversary

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The deathers are all worried about how old folks will be treated under Democratic health care legislation.

Perhaps they have forgotten how old folks were treated under Republican rule:


How many old folks died because our federal government saw no role to play in protecting and caring for its citizens?

See, the trouble with not looking back is that we don’t remember what we ought to remember.

Katrina is something to remember.  Always.  The federal flood, they call it on the NOLA blogs.  The federal flood because the Army Corps of Engineers cut corners and didn’t make the levees right.  The federal flood because heckuva job Brownie and Bush’s happy cronies didn’t give a shit about the folks suffering but only cared about going to the cash register to hear the “ca-ching” that meant their usual profit off of human suffering.  Blackwater profited.  Halliburton profited.  A whole lot of Republicans profited.

From a fascinating article by Melissa Harris-Lacewell and James Perry:  “Obama’s Debt to New Orleans:”

When New Orleans flooded in August 2005, the Democratic Party was a shambles, locked out of the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives. For nearly a decade the Democrats played defense against a Republican onslaught initiated by Newt Gingrich’s Contract With America. After September 11, Democrats had joined with Republicans in giving President Bush unprecedented executive authority, thereby helping to erode civil liberties at home and authorize ill-advised aggression overseas. In 2004 Democrats were keenly aware that a solid majority of Americans believed it was unpatriotic to protest the Iraq War. So instead of articulating a clear alternative to Bush’s militarism, they nominated John Kerry on the strength of his record as a solider. Even so, they found it impossible to outmaneuver the existing commander in chief.

In August 2005 the Democratic Party had no clear leader, no identifiable platform, no winning national coalition and little political courage.

Then the force of Hurricane Katrina devastated the inadequate levees surrounding New Orleans. Americans watched as the city flooded, the power went out, and food and water became scarce. They watched as emergency shelters became centers of disease, starvation, agony and death. The nation watched in horror, but no mass evacuation began and Air Force One did not land. As the crisis wore on, the public became increasingly confused by and angry about the lack of coordinated response to alleviate human suffering and evacuate trapped citizens. As the waters rose, President Bush’s approval sank.

The article is a strong one and the reader may not agree with all of it.  But it brings up an important point:

… Even as he was prepared to turn back millions in federal aid to his state, Jindal invoked Hurricane Katrina in his rebuttal of the president’s (Obama’s) economic recovery plan, suggesting that private enterprise is sufficient for tackling the massive and continuing work in New Orleans.

President Obama and Congressional Democrats cannot allow this appalling revision of history. In 2005 Katrina effectively ended the Bush administration’s control of public discourse. The failures of the Bush administration in the aftermath of the storm ended GOP dominance and allowed Democrats an opportunity to govern. Democratic victory was possible because the people of New Orleans suffered. This is a debt Democrats must repay.

We are now hearing the same old song in a different key.  Once again Americans have forgotten what happens when you listen to Republican fear mongering.

On August 29, 2005, no one was buying that line except, perhaps, the executives at Blackwater and Halliburton.  And Donald Rumsfeld, who wasn’t in the mood to help regular folks due to his own political bullshit:

a final story of Rumsfeld’s intransigence begins on Wednesday, August 31, 2005. Two days after Hurricane Katrina made landfall in New Orleans-and the same day that Bush viewed the damage on a flyover from his Crawford, Texas, retreat back to Washington-a White House advance team toured the devastation in an Air Force helicopter. Noticing that their chopper was outfitted with a search-and-rescue lift, one of the advance men said to the pilot, “We’re not taking you away from grabbing people off of rooftops, are we?”

“No, sir,” said the pilot. He explained that he was from Florida’s Hurlburt Field Air Force base-roughly 200 miles from New Orleans-which contained an entire fleet of search-and-rescue helicopters. “I’m just here because you’re here,” the pilot added. “My whole unit’s sitting back at Hurlburt, wondering why we’re not being used.”

I could link to countless stories about how badly the Republican way of doing things has caused needless suffering and death.

The high irony of Republicans now crying crocodile tears at the though of poor granny being killed by the government is thick enough to cut with a knife.

The Times-Picayune asks the question of whether or not President Obama will be in New Orleans on the fourth anniversary of Katrina.  The answer is that it seems very unlikely.

James Perry is again quoted in the TP article:

“I think it is very important that the president come to New Orleans for the anniversary, ” Perry said. “The recovery is obviously stalled and frankly, people locally and the American people nationally need to hear a message that America is willing to support recovery and see it all the way through.

“His appearance would generate the kind of national media necessary to make the American people pay attention to the struggle that persists in New Orleans, ” Perry said. A failure to appear, Perry said, will leave many Americans “who aren’t familiar with the recovery to think it’s completed.”

I can’t separate issues the way our legislature does.  I certainly can’t separate human rights issues from legislative issues.  I don’t think they should be separated.  Health care legislation includes human rights issues, includes our views on how government can and should fulfill its social contract with its citizens.

What we saw in New Orleans showed us all, from across the political spectrum, what happens when that contract is broken and instead our so-called “leaders” head for the cash register instead of their consciences.

Obama being in New Orleans on the anniversary of Katrina could send a powerful message to those angry folks who are so worried about their elderly relatives … a powerful reminder of what Democrats offer and what Republicans have offered.  It’s connected, you see.  Looking back is essential if we are going to move forward, imo.


From a great NOLA blog, Toulouse Street, a meditation from New Orleans on this past Fourth of July:

On this day, I will remember the heroism of the Coasties and the moment Lt.Gen. Russel L. Honore told the soldier at the Convention Center “put down that rifle, son. This is a relief mission.” I will remember the tens upon tens of thousands of good Americans who have come on their own time and their own expense to rebuild a city.

And I will remember that at first the Guard came with rifles and no water and until Honore came they watched the people die in fear and horror because no one in command could figure out what to do. And I will remember the photograph of the elderly woman at the Convention Center, her body hidden beneath the American flag. I will remember the other pictures I have seen of bodies hidden under flags torn down to cover them because after the storm the flags were still there.

And through all these thoughts I will join the tens of thousands of others and Go Fourth on the River to watch the fireworks because if you detect feelings of ambivalence here you are fucking well right, but America is not something I left behind because I think I’m so damned smart and Euro-leftie-sophisticated. It is something that was brutally taken from me, the last illusions torn away by the Federal Flood and its never ending aftermath. I still miss it sometimes.

I’ve probably quoted too much of the post, but I just couldn’t help myself.

It’s all connected, you see.  Fighting for accountability for torture, fighting for fair and equal treatment of each and every citizen when it comes to health care, fighting for our environment, social justice and legislative goals are inextricably intertwined.

The deathers talk about grandma.  Let’s talk about grandma.  Let’s talk about all the grandmas and grandpas who died on August 29, 2005 and the days following because when the good folks of New Orleans were suffering, they found out they are not coming.  And we need to remember that as we fight the battles ahead.

I hope President Obama can come to New Orleans on August 29.  It would be a magnificent platform to remind all of America what happens when you look to Republicans for either leadership … or the truth.


Skip to comment form

  1. … at the orange.

    • Edger on August 15, 2009 at 20:40

    Well yeah, but that was different, eh?

    The “president” was white, male, rich, and christian (sort of) then.

  2. One of the best you’ve ever written, IMO.

    This is exactly what Obama should do.

  3. I’ve said it many times before, andI keep saying it…

    NOLA-KATRINA was criminlly negligent homicide!

    The officials who perpetrated this — or who stood by and watched it happen, and who stand by now and continue to watch the ongoing tragedy — should be in jail.

    We prosecute and jail parents who leave infants in closed cars to die from the heat.  They are arrested, tried and jailed.

    This should be the fate of Bush, Brownie, et al.

    In the meantime, go to NOLA for the anniversary Obama.

    • pico on August 16, 2009 at 01:02

    and for those who haven’t read it, the essay I’d consider most seminal in order to understand what post-K New Orleans has faced: Chris Rose’s Despair.

    I was going to re-read it just now, but I’m in a coffee shop and I can feel the tears welling up* at the opening lines alone.  This will have to wait until later.

    Thanks, NPK, for refusing to let this issue fade away.

    * I don’t mean that metaphorically, either.  I’m having to wipe my eyes already.  Fucking sucks.

    • sharon on August 16, 2009 at 04:14

    i hope you send it to the wh.  chances are they are already on it, but just in case, you know…

  4. I’ve come to the conclusion that even most democrats don’t think we’re worth the effort. They’ve given up on the South in general and people like me fight the ignorance every fucking day…and for what! To be bashed and lumped together with all those deathers,birthers and whatnot lunatics.Hell, my BIL is one of them! I have no hope that things will change with Obama. We don’t count!

    August always leaves me close to tears weeks before the anniversary. I dream about people on the roof tops, bodies floating in the water, my son coming home telling me they were turned away at gun point when they tried to go in with their boat to help rescue people. I still see the old people laying on mattresses at St Antony’s here in Baton Rouge and the nurses and aides to tended to them. Everyone of them had lost their homes and still they took care of the old people.

    Katrina opened my eyes that we are on our own down here.  

  5. This couldn’t be more timely — timely on recalling the  anniversary of the most horrific, depraved tragedy ever to take place in these United States — one that cannot be forgotten EVER!  Timely as a redress to all those who speak about “grandma deaths.”  

    Poignantly done, NPK!  And, yes, Obama should go to NOLA on August 29, 2009.  

    • on August 17, 2009 at 04:29

    The democratic president owes us. It was our suffering that helped him get his job. Also, the man made a long series of campaign promises in regard to New Orleans and so far, I haven’t seen any of them happening. To tell the truth, if the feds are helping us any more than they were during the previous administration, it isn’t apparent.

    To those that say we don’t deserve help, please remember New Orleans’ outfall canal floodwalls structurally failed long before even being overtopped by storm surge waters because of negligent engineering in the foundation designs by engineers employed with the US Army Corps of Engineers as reported in all three of the levee failure investigation reports. The judge said the USACE is immune from liability for the losses in New Orleans. So, we are not being made whole. The least they can do is rebuild our infrastructure and prop us up a little with some hospitals and schools. We still have some cops and firemen working out of trailers. Thanks to the federal floods, the cost of living here has SKYROCKETD. Thanks again, USACE. My family was lucky because we owned our federally flooded home (salt water up to the ceiling fan blades for weeks) and did get some very slow help from the feds in the form of a grant and an SBA loan so we could rebuild our home (above the levee failure flood line.. The much worse tragedy are the families that were renters because post-k rents are way higher and less plentiful than pre-k. The continuing negligent treatment of our elderly is also very disturbing.

    We’re a blue dot in a sea of red here in New Orleans. Our state hates us. The rest of the Nation assumes we are like the rest of the state and they don’t like those type people, so they extend that hate to us too. They want us dead and gone.

    Nevertheless, whether we deserve help or not, we are slowly recovering. 60% of my neighbors have rebuilt. I wish the President would come down and say some positive things, because right now it looks like he is just going to let us die on the vine, like his predecessor.

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