One year. It’s been one year since Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. One year since the levees broke and the city of New Orleans drowned. One year since the poor people of New Orleans stood on their roof tops with signs that screamed “Help Us,” but help didn’t come until, in too many cases, it was too late.
First year anniversaries are meant to commemorate the dead and ease the grief of the living. If Hurricane Katrina had only been the worst natural disaster in American history, we could do that. But it was also one of the worst failures of political leadership–before, during, and after–in American history. And so the politicians involved have spent the past year spreading the blame around to avoid answering the question crucial for any type of healing: Why did it happen?
In HBO’s magisterial When the Levees Broke, Spike Lee performs a levelheaded autopsy of the disaster. And his answer is that the political leaders did not care enough to respond quickly enough to avoid the tragedy. Governor Blanco cared more about the appearance of being in control than she did about the situation in New Orleans. And President Bush cared more about fundraisers and the concept of state rights than he did about the situation in New Orleans to preempt the Governor and send in the military before the food, water, and medical supplies ran out.
As if to underline this point, Bush used this time of mourning for New Orleans to make an impassioned appeal to continue aid for a place he cared about enough to preemptively invade: Iraq. Does the President of the United States care more about the people over there than he does the people here?