Oct. 15, Air Force One landed in New Orleans and President Barack Obama had a town hall meeting concerning the rebuilding of New Orleans.
We all remember Katrina, that historic storm that hit New Orleans Aug. 29, 2005, and how it damaged the Gulf States. I also remember the bashing President George W. Bush took from the media and political opponents concerning the tardy response of the government in sending aid. Because the rebuilding process has extended over the terms of two presidents, I have found it interesting to compare the work of Bush and Obama in dealing with the problems brought on by Katrina.
First, let's look at the efforts of Bush following Katrina. He previously had declared Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana disaster areas so federal funds could be sent to the area. Although the U.S. Coast Guard was able to rescue victims of the storm, help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency did not respond to the disaster in a timely manner.
Sept. 9, 2005, FEMA Director Michael Brown was removed from directing Hurricane Katrina relief efforts in New Orleans by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, only 11 days after the storm. Brown was replaced by Vice Admiral Thad W. Allen, chief of staff of the Coast Guard.
During the three years following the storm, Bush made 13 trips to New Orleans. On one occasion, Laura Bush was on the trip as they met with Mayor Ray Nagin and Gov. Kathleen Blanco. Marine Gen. Douglas O'Dell, who served as the second coordinator of the Office of Gulf Coast Rebuilding under Bush said, "Having traveled with President Bush when he would go to New Orleans or elsewhere in the Gulf Coast, it was absolutely exhausting for him, I'm sure, although he rarely showed it. I know it was exhausting for me. ... He wanted to hear multiple voices from across the community on a one-on-one level. ... He made unbelievable use of his time."
In contrast, let's look at the response by Obama to hurricane Katrina. In February 2008, during his campaign, Obama said, "The broken promises did not start when a storm hit, and they did not end there ... I promise you that when I'm in the White House I will commit myself every day to keeping up Washington's end of this trust. This will be a priority of my presidency." On his Oct. 15 visit, Obama spent about 4 hours in New Orleans but did not visit Alabama or Mississippi.
At a town hall meeting, one man expressed the frustration of the people of New Orleans at the slow pace of restoring the city.
He said, "I expected as much from the Bush administration, but why are we still being nickeled and dimed in our recovery."
Obama said his administration is "working as hard as we can, as quickly as we can ... I wish I could just write a check."
Eugene Robinson, an African-American columnist for The Washington Post, expressed his disappointment with Obama's lack of attention to rebuilding New Orleans, "So it was strange and disheartening that Obama would wait nine months to make his first visit to New Orleans as president. It was stunning that he would spend only a few hours on the ground and that he wouldn't set foot in Mississippi or Alabama at all. But worst of all was the way he seemed to dismiss the idea that his administration could and should be doing much more."
I found a record of the trips Obama has taken starting in February through his Olympic trip to Denmark in October. The president made 40 trips in Air Force One. He visited 15 foreign countries, three of them twice - Canada, United Kingdom, France (twice), Germany (twice), Czech Republic, Turkey, Iraq, Mexico (twice), Trinidad, Tobago, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Russia, Italy, Ghana and Denmark. Apparently, Obama felt his attention was needed more by foreign countries than by the people who voted him into office, and who waited nine months for a visit from their president.
Promises ... promises ... promises.