08.31.2010 0

Obama’s Katrina: Compassion or Inaction?

  • On: 09/01/2010 09:43:07
  • In: Barack Obama
  • By Rebekah Rast

    President Obama’s commemoration of the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina at Xavier University could have been used as a time to explain to the people of New Orleans that the federal government is not perfect.

    As President Bush admitted delay within his initial response to Hurricane Katrina and worked three years to make it better, Obama used his speech delivered on August 29th, 2010, to highlight promise, good fortune and companionship with New Orleans until the state is completely rebuilt.

    “I wanted to come here and tell the people of this city directly: My administration is going to stand with you — and fight alongside you — until the job is done. Until New Orleans is all the way back, all the way,” Obama said in his remarks.

    Obama’s speech of compassion and dedication to the people of New Orleans raises questions for some. One such expert, Paul Conway, finds it difficult to take Obama at his word.

    Conway served as federal coordinator and chief of staff to The Office of the Federal Coordinator for Gulf Coast Rebuilding. The Office of the Federal Coordinator was set up after Hurricane Katrina devastated Louisiana in 2005. Conway led the effort starting in April 2007 until April 2009. He was on the ground helping victims rebuild their lives after Katrina hit and stayed busy preparing the Gulf in case another disaster should strike. The office closed March 31st, 2010, only weeks before an oil rig exploded off the coast of Louisiana. An event many people label as Obama’s Katrina.

    “Looking at incidences over the past 10 years, like the Sago mine disaster, September 11th, Katrina and the Katrina response, the job of the immediate crisis team around the President is to bring about the best resources and ideas of what should have been done,” Conway stated about Obama’s response to the Gulf oil spill in an interview with Americans for Limited Government (ALG) in June 2010. “It didn’t seem like there was any of this in the initial stage of crisis.”

    What Conway saw was weeks of inaction on the part of federal government.

    “The Gulf people are good people. There are hard-working people down there that are not going to believe that Obama went to work for them day one of the oil spill,” Conway said. “It is not good for the country when people step back and have to say, who is going to help us?”

    Despite the events that took place during the Gulf cleanup, Obama stands by the way the federal government handled the crisis. “When I took office, I directed my Cabinet to redouble our efforts, to put an end to the turf wars between agencies, to cut the red tape and cut the bureaucracy. I wanted to make sure that the federal government was a partner — not an obstacle — to recovery here in the Gulf Coast,” Obama said.

    The oil spill cleanup efforts seemed tied up in red tape at every turn. State officials of those states impacted didn’t get what they needed in a timely matter. “Unfortunately in the eyes of the American public, hard-working civil servants, federal employees, Army Corps of Engineers, FEMA and the Coast Guard looked ineffective because the federal leadership failed to use their knowledge in a crisis and that’s too bad because these people know how to respond,” Conway stated.

    Bill Wilson, president of ALG, agrees, and adds, “Obama’s words delivered at Xavier University do not match his actions. His speech is filled with words of encouragement, compassion and action, but his true inaction during the Gulf oil crisis proves otherwise.”

    Obama has admitted no wrongdoings in how he handled the Gulf spill crisis. BP was at fault for the oil rig explosion, and is covering the costs for the cleanup, but the federal government is responsible for its people and its response efforts to state leaders in the affected area. “It looks like we have a chief executive who cannot lead and cannot manage,” Conway said.

    Near of the end of his speech Obama said, “And together, we are helping to make New Orleans a place that stands for what we can do in America—not just for what we can’t do. Ultimately, that must be the legacy of Katrina: not one of neglect, but of action; not one of indifference, but of empathy; not of abandonment, but of a community working together to meet shared challenges.”

    It will be interesting to hear what is said five years from the Gulf oil spill disaster. Will those people of the Gulf who lost their jobs because of the drilling moratorium, those restaurant owners who are hurting to keep their businesses afloat because oil has devastated the food market or those fisherman who also lost jobs due to months of spewing oil be able to say that Obama’s Administration empathized with their losses, went to work day one and did all it could to save the Gulf?

    If Obama’s current efforts to aid the Gulf are interpreted anything like his initial response to the oil disaster, then Obama may not need to prepare a speech of encouragement and compassion, instead one of humility, explanation and apology.

    The Obama Administration has a chance to learn from mistakes made during Hurricane Katrina and the Gulf oil spill. It’s not a question of whether or not another disaster will strike America’s soil, but when.

    Rebekah Rast is a contributing editor to Americans for Limited Government (ALG) News Bureau.


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