WASHINGTON--The nation marks the sixth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina as the east coast of the U.S. is recovering from Hurricane Irene. The Obama White House--mindful of the criticism the Bush Administration faced in the wake of Katrina, has been pro-active, and President Barack Obama made sure to cut his Martha's Vineyard vacation a day short in order to be at FEMA on Saturday, when Irene hit.
Then Sen. Obama was very vocal in 2005 about the federal government response in the wake of Katrina. On Monday, as his adminstration is grappling with the Irene damage, Obama asked the nation not to forget that the New Orleans area still has not recovered from Katrina.
Said Obama, "Six years ago today, Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, upending families and ravaging communities - and no one will forget the tragic events of those days. But what's required of us is more than remembrance - what's required of us is our continued efforts to make sure that New Orleans and the Gulf Coast fully recover, and to make sure that our response to such disasters is the best it can possibly be."
Obama in 2005 saw Katrina in the frame of an underclass underserved by government. Below, the column I wrote at the time, complete with Obama's crack that emergency officials incorrectly assumed "that people would hop in their SUVs, and top off with a $100 tank of gas and [get some] Poland Spring water" and flee the storm.
September 5, 2005 Monday
Lynn Sweet column
Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) is scheduled to be in Houston today, meeting with victims of Hurricane Katrina, joining former Presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton, who are heading an emergency fund-raising drive.
Obama is not going there specifically because the hurricane has exposed a raw truth about race, but his travel to Texas will underscore that it was poor blacks who were left behind in New Orleans. Obama is the only African American in the Senate, and race relations are now a factor in dealing with the emergency.
We talked on Sunday, a few hours before his flight for the day trip to Houston. He is offering nuanced, but tough, criticism of the federal response, but is not taking direct aim at President Bush.
Obama sees the deplorable situation of the impoverished marooned in the flooded city more in terms of class rather than race. The federal, state and local response did not fail because New Orleans is "disproportionally black," Obama said.
"I think there were a set of assumptions made by federal officials that people would hop in their SUVs, and top off with a $100 tank of gas and [get some] Poland Spring water," and flee the storm, Obama said.
The tragedy, said Obama, revealed "how little inner-city African Americans have to fall back on. But that has been true for decades."
What I've learned about covering Obama, a freshman senator, is that he is very measured.
On Friday night, rapper Kanye West, during a hurricane relief concert, said, "George Bush doesn't care about black people."
I asked Obama if he agreed.
"What I think is that we as a society and this administration in particular have not been willing to make sacrifices or shape an agenda to help low-income people," he said.
Obama also rejected the suggestion that local and state officials were to blame for the horrific response in Louisiana.
The breakdown occurred at all levels, but "I hold the federal government primarily responsible," he said.
Obama was heading to Houston on Sunday night as a result of an invitation from Clinton.
President Bush asked his father and Clinton to reprise the roles they took on to help tsunami victims, and they agreed to lead a Hurricane Katrina fund-raising drive aimed at the private sector.
Obama, who had been phoning some Illinois-based CEOs to solicit aid, called Clinton and the invitation came in the course of their conversation. Clinton, I am guessing, immediately understood that it would be valuable to include Obama in the Houston day trip. Former President Bush's office also had to approve adding Obama, and it's easy to see why they would agree. The Bush administration is being blistered as racially insensitive.
The hurricane may well prompt, as Obama said, "a more serious conversation about the plight of people in the inner city."
He warned against using a "false dichotomy" to analyze the situation -- an incorrect assumption that there are only two answers to a question -- whereby the answer to what went on in New Orleans gets boiled down to either a failure of personal responsibility or of mutual, or societal, responsibility.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other Cabinet secretaries were dispatched to the gulf region Sunday. The president and first lady make a return visit today, stopping in Mississippi.
Said Obama, "Clearly there is some damage control going on."
Below, Obama on the Katrina anniversary....
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 29, 2011
Statement from President Obama on the Six Year Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina
Six years ago today, Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, upending families and ravaging communities - and no one will forget the tragic events of those days. But what's required of us is more than remembrance - what's required of us is our continued efforts to make sure that New Orleans and the Gulf Coast fully recover, and to make sure that our response to such disasters is the best it can possibly be.
Over the past several years, we've seen what Americans are capable of when tested. We've seen the grit and determination of people on the Gulf Coast coming together to rebuild their communities, brick by brick, block by block. At the same time, we've made sure the federal government is doing its part to help. We've cut through red tape to free up funding for recovery efforts in Louisiana and Mississippi. We've taken steps to help school systems get children the tools and resources they need for a proper education. We've broken through gridlock on behalf of tens of thousands of displaced families, making sure they have long-term housing solutions. And we'll keep at it until these communities have come back stronger than before.
When it comes to disaster response, we've worked very seriously to enhance our preparedness efforts so that Americans are ready before disaster strikes, and to strengthen our recovery capabilities so that we're more resilient after disaster strikes. Over the last week, we have experienced the power of another storm, Hurricane Irene. Before the storm made landfall, the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA worked closely with our state and local partners to preposition supplies and teams of first responders, and support their response efforts. Those response efforts are ongoing and we will continue that partnership, responding as quickly and effectively as possible, for as long as necessary, until the affected communities are back on their feet.
Today is a reminder of not just the immediate devastation that can be caused by these storms, but the long term needs of communities impacted by disasters - whether in Mississippi or Alabama, Tennessee or Missouri, North Dakota, or the east coast states impacted by Hurricane Irene. This Administration will stand by those communities until the work is done.