Bill Moyers continues to impress me. I will continue to sing his praises. I think that he is the premier thoughtful journalist in America. He is covering issues that others either gloss over or do not cover at all.
This week, he brought Melissa Harris-Lacewell, quickly becoming on of my favorite people, Princeton University Associate Professor of Political Science and African American Studies, back on the show to discuss Katrina. Bill Moyers adds Mike Tidwell, author of Bayou Farewell in 2003 and Ravaging Tide and environmental activist, to discuss Katrina 2 years later. This is an excellent discussion.
Here’s just a little piece –
BILL MOYERS: What have you learned, the two of you, about politics, American politics from the Katrina disaster?
MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: Well, I often say that Hurricane Katrina and it’s political aftermath is the 2006 win of the democrats in the mid-term elections. And it–
BILL MOYERS: How so?
MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: I know it seems odd.
BILL MOYERS: Yeah.
MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: Because it’s not as though Katrina is at all even talked about in the 2006 elections. But you’ll remember that from September 11th, 2001 until August 28th of 2005, one was unpatriotic if you criticized the Bush administration or really any of the actions taken by our government. So, the Democratic Party and much of the American media was quite timid in terms of its critique of the administration.
But what Katrina and the bungling of Katrina does is it provides a wedge that opens the door. And the criticisms start to flow from CNN, from– and then from the Democratic Party. Now, the sad and scary thing is that all of these issues, urbanism, race, class, environmentalism which were the true core issues that made Katrina possible get lost. Because what the Democratic Party makes the choice to do is to use that wedge as an opportunity to critique Iraq. Not that it’s– I mean, it’s fine, right? But they use that. And so then Iraq becomes the story of the 2006 elections.
BILL MOYERS: At the expense of Katrina?
MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: At the expense of Katrina. And all the lessons that Katrina had the capacity to teach us about domestic politics.
MIKE TIDWELL: Well, I think there’s a lot of blame if you will to go around in terms of politics. But I would take a slightly different course. A, you know, 1,800 dead, 100 billion dollars in economic damage. A million people were displaced by Katrina. Our President went to Jackson Square a week after Katrina. Stood there in an abandoned city and he said we will stay here as long as it takes and we will do whatever it takes to bring this city back. And just like after 9/11, the whole country said, tell us what to do. Lead us. We want to help. We want to respond as a nation. We want to respond as one community. Everyone was horrified by what happened. And that commitment simply wasn’t there.
In the fall of 2005, it took until right before Christmas to get three billion dollars just to begin rebuilding the levees. Are you kidding me? 1,800 dead? It took us the entire fall of 2005. And that’s because the President really did not sustain his commitment. He did not say this is as important to me as the Iraq war. This is as important to me as tax breaks for the rich. I’m going to roll up my sleeves. And as a result, the media stopped covering it. And the American people felt like they wrote a check, they took care of it.
Surely, if the President’s not on Jackson Square every week telling us, giving us progress reports, everything must be okay. If you go to New Orleans right now, if you go there tomorrow in 2007, you would think the hurricane happened last week. You have a bubble of a society still devastated by that hurricane. And– and you get outside that coastal bubble, and it’s as if the hurricane didn’t happen. And that’s because our leaders don’t continue to say it’s an issue.