Which brings me to my final point. There's been much attention in the press about the fact that those who were left behind in New Orleans were disproportionately poor and African American. I've said publicly that I do not subscribe to the notion that the painfully slow response of FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security was racially-based. The ineptitude was colorblind.
But what must be said is that whoever was in charge of planning and preparing for the worst case scenario appeared to assume that every American has the capacity to load up their family in an SUV, fill it up with $100 worth of gasoline, stick some bottled water in the trunk, and use a credit card to check in to a hotel on safe ground. I see no evidence of active malice, but I see a continuation of passive indifference on the part of our government towards the least of these.
And so I hope that out of this crisis we all begin to reflect - Democrat and Republican - on not only our individual responsibilities to ourselves and our families, but to our mutual responsibilities to our fellow Americans. I hope we realize that the people of New Orleans weren't just abandoned during the Hurricane. They were abandoned long ago - to murder and mayhem in their streets; to substandard schools; to dilapidated housing; to inadequate health care; to a pervasive sense of hopelessness.
That is the deeper shame of this past week - that it has taken a crisis like this one to awaken us to the great divide that continues to fester in our midst. That's what all Americans are truly ashamed about, and the fact that we're ashamed about it is a good sign. The fact that all of us - black, white, rich, poor, Republican, Democrat - don't like to see such a reflection of this country we love, tells me that the American people have better instincts and a broader heart than our current politics would indicate.
We had nothing before the Hurricane. Now we have even less.
I hope that we all take the time to ponder the truth of that message.
Meanwhile, ABC’s 20/20 is broadcasting an interview with Colin Powell tonight, Friday, 9/9. A sneak preview article relates some of Powell’s strikingly similar remarks:
"There was more than enough warning over time about the dangers to New Orleans. Not enough was done. I don't think advantage was taken of the time that was available to us, and I just don't know why," he said.
Powell was asked if the slipshod government response to the disaster was due to racism, since the overwhelming majority of the victims are poor African-Americans.
"I don't think its [sic] racism, I think its [sic] economic," Powell said.
"When you look at those who werent able to get out, it should have been a blinding flash of the obvious to everybody that when you order a mandatory evacuation, you cant expect everybody to evacuate on their own.
"These are people who dont have credit cards; only one in ten families at that economic level in New Orleans have a car. So it wasn't a racial thing --- but poverty disproportionately affects African-Americans in this country. And it happened because they were poor," he said.
Amen. I’ve always felt that while race is undoubtedly an issue in America, class is a much bigger one, yet it’s one we don’t like to talk about. In America it seems almost radical to say that there’s a ruling class, any sort of class structure, or a vast disparity of wealth. I suspect it’s because our country has egalitarian ideals and we wish it wasn’t true.
Both these men have been floated as presidential candidates. How about a joint ticket?