A quick hypothetical: if a Democratic president had allowed, say, all of Connecticut to flood and done nothing but strum a guitar and look out the window while it happened, do you think that might, maybe, feature prominently in the Republican attacks during the next presidential year?
I ask this because as I sat at a surprisingly interesting Katrina roundtable yesterday, it occurred to me that Katrina has been astoundingly, shockingly absent from the convention. And Sen. Mary Landrieu’s comments during the event gave me a bit of a window into why.
The event was organized by Oxfam, moderated by Ted Koppel and featured Landrieu, Douglas Brinkley along with a variety of Gulf Coast community activists. When Koppel asked Landrieu how she’d sum up what’s gone wrong with the recovery, she said that there was an “abject failure to explain to the American people that poor people were hurt, but so were middle class families and rich people. It was a staggering loss to everyone. It was an equal opportunity destroyer.”
Well, um, no. It wasn’t. As odious as I found her contention, however, by the end of the event I understood the politics of it. In the American consciousness, Katrina victims have come to be viewed as a charity case, worthy, at the most, of pity. And the entire Gulf Coast has been transformed into something of a regional welfare queen. Which means the money, not surprisingly, has dried up. For local, community-based rebuilding Louisiana has gotten a paltry $10 billion from the federal government, or about the cost of one month of our occupation in Iraq. And you could see from everyone on the panel they are terrified and depressed that there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of will in the rest of the country to commit the resources necessary. “People ask, ‘why should we even rebuild this city?'” said James Perry, who run the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center, “‘Why is it important to me?’And the answer is because we are an American city.”
That’s, of course, true. But what Katrina unmasked was and is, in some ways, so raw, so necessarily radicalizing that the Democratic party doesn’t quite know what to do with it.