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On Katrina, Nero, and Caesar

By Brad Gough, September 20, 2005

The Katrina disaster has exposed more than incompetence in planning for catastrophic events at all levels of our federalist system. It has exposed the ongoing divisions in our society along both socioeconomic and racial lines. Much of the post Katrina talk has centered on whether or not the response in New Orleans would have been the same if the majority of people affected had been white and middle class.

I have come to the conclusion that there is only one thing worse in the United States than being poor. It is being both poor and Black. I do believe that President Bush, a modern day Nero who fiddled while New Orleans drowned, is trying to make the now flowing federal aid color-blind.

What bothers me is that many Bush defenders are trying to cast the long term out come in phrases that are clearly racist. "Those people" -- read poor Black evacuees - "will come out better than what they were before it hit." is a refrain that is being heard from Barbara Bush to mall parking lots. If that indeed happens, I say Good!. I regret that it takes a natural disaster and so much suffering to awaken this administration to the needs of the poor and impoverished.

As the Gulf Coast Disaster story continues to emerge I think what will ultimately be found is a failure of leadership at all levels, the Mayors, the Governors, and the President. The problem is that with so many failures -- everyone was responsible -- will become -- no one was responsible. And the stage will be set for another catastrophe because no one stepped up and took responsibility.

So how does Nero become Caesar?

First, get rid of your manipulators -- the Carl Roves and Karen Hughes courtiers who think your "image" is more important than what you do. They have deluded you into the belief that your actions should be designed for public perception, with the public good being incidental.

Second, understand why those who are poor feel such despair at what has happened. Yes, Trent Lott suffered the loss of his house. Yes, he lost things that were precious to him. Yes, in a sense, he too must start over. But he is starting over with a job still intact. He is starting over with an income and savings. He is starting over with his losses covered by insurance. He is starting over healthy and certain of a next meal. He is starting over with influence and a feeling that he will be heard.

How do you start over when you have no job? How do you start over when you have no savings? How do you start over when you are homeless? How do you start over when you have no insurance because you could not afford it? How do you start over from a position of weakness, lacking good health and sound nutrition? How do you start over when you have never felt you had a voice? How do you start over when you believe you have no control over your own destiny? How do you trust your President saying it will be OK when he never seemed to hear you before? The only entity that I know that can make something from nothing is God. Yet the racists of America expect impoverished Blacks to do nothing less.

The Christian Scriptures admonish all believers about this:

".. For I was hungry and you gave me food: I was thirsty and you gave me drink: I was a stranger and you took me in: I was naked and you clothed me: I was sick and you visited me: I was in prison and you came to me. ...

Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and take you in or naked and clothed you? Or when did we see you sick or in prison and come to you? ....

Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me." Matthew 25: 35-40. Jesus understood that the poor are unable to make something from nothing.

To be Caeser, The President needs to become their voice, their advocate, their hope. The President and only the President can fully jump kick the Federal bureaucracy into doing its job. Only the President can harness the total energy of the compassion, good-will, and resources of the people of our great Democracy. The President is supposed to be the voice of all Americans. Now is the time for him to raise his voice on behalf of those who have no voice. Now is the time for the President to ACT on his words by empowering the powerless . Now is the time for the President to offer hope and enable the poor of all colors everywhere in this great nation to achieve dignity and control over their lives. Anything less will be a failure.

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