We tend to have a collective short-term memory in this country, but even I'm shocked at how quickly the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina has dropped off the radar screen. Michael Tisserand writes a great piece in The Nation that seeks to wake up the public to this ongoing tragedy.
Yes, a handful of midterm campaigners did remind voters about just what happened in New Orleans, among them Keith Ellison, elected to the House from Minnesota's Fifth District, who promised that the country will no longer tolerate "victims of natural disasters being left on the rooftops to rot." Ron Dellums, the mayor-elect of Oakland, told a meeting of African-American journalists that "Katrina was a metaphor for everything wrong in urban America." But most seemed to follow the script that Illinois Representative Rahm Emanuel, who chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, laid out in an interview with the New Orleans Times-Picayune. Katrina didn't show up in ads, he acknowledged, but it came up in conversations on the campaign trail. It's as if this year, Katrina was the subliminal issue. Either that, or it served mainly as cement shoes for the President. "It's about Katrina; it's about the conduct of the war.... This Administration is marked by gross incompetence," said new House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in her postelection wrap-up chat with The NewsHour's Margaret Warner [...]
For New Orleans, the most dangerous outcome of the midterms would be if voters receive the message that Katrina was a terrible thing, a Republican blunder, but it's now over. Nothing could be further from the truth. The mental health infrastructure in New Orleans remains shattered, depression is a local epidemic and the suicide rate has officially tripled. Incredibly, some residents of public housing are still unable to enter their own homes, while the Department of Housing and Urban Development moves to demolish more than 5,000 public housing units. Unchecked insurance costs are preventing others from selling, buying or repairing property. Federal dollars are flowing to corporate bailouts and disaster profiteers, not to affected citizens, revealed an August analysis by CorpWatch, a San Francisco-based organization that previously investigated profiteering in Iraq and Afghanistan [...]
More than anything, Democrats must set themselves apart by keeping their promises to Katrina survivors. At an August press conference in New Orleans, party leaders pledged that the first 100 hours of the new Congress would include bills to assist New Orleans by streamlining insurance, creating more affordable housing options and restoring the coast. But Pelosi's recently released "New Direction for America" didn't include one mention of post-Katrina needs. Such omissions offer cold comfort to New Orleanians who wonder if some leaders have stopped thinking of their home as an American city at all.
This is an absolute disaster and it requires leadership among the Democrats. Of course, The Nation is a partisan magazine that reaches a small audience. But I was encouraged this week by (of all things) TNT, who devoted the entire halftime of their game between the San Antonio Spurs and the New Orleans Hornets to the devastation in the 9th Ward. Charles Barkley toured the area with some community activists. Unfortunately, TNT didn't put the video up on their site, because it was a clear-eyed and realistic portrait of the 9th Ward, from the perspective of those in the community. They see the little improvements, small signs of life, and they're indefatigable, but they need help from the city, the state, and the nation. It aired at 11:00pm in the East, and that's a shame, but I guarantee you more people saw Charles Barkley talking about the need for leadership in New Orleans than read Michael Tisserand.
Fortunately, leadership may be arriving. This is not just a brilliant political maneuver, but a real show of compassion by John Edwards as he kicks off his Presidential campaign.
John Edwards will officially announce his Presidential run later this month in a New Orleans neighborhood devastated by Hurricane Katrina, according to two Democratic officials who spoke to the Associated Press. "The Lower Ninth Ward provides a stark backdrop to highlight his signature issue — that economic inequality means that the country is divided into 'two Americas,'" the AP says.
"Since the Democrats’ loss to President Bush, Edwards has worked to build support for a repeat presidential bid," the AP continues. "He has a retooled agenda that is more openly progressive and has spent time building relationships with labor leaders and traveling overseas to build his foreign policy credentials beyond his one term in the Senate."
The loss as the Vice-Presidential nominee, far from tainting Edwards, has taught him to speak as a true Democrat and advocate a real progressive agenda, without hairsplitting and without hedging. The primary calendar, with Iowa (where Edwards leads in the latest poll), Nevada (with its strong labor presence - and Edwards is the labor candidate) and South Carolina (where Edwards won the primary in 2004) up at the front, sets up perfectly for his candidacy. And if he continues to speak his values, he's going to be difficult to beat, regardless of Hillary and Barack.