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The Big and Easily Ignored (New Orleans)

October 16, 2009

Yesterday, President Obama visited New Orleans. After holding a four (4) hour town hall, where GOP Gov. Jindal joined him, Pres. Obama visited one (1) school, where his interaction with one of the young students has garnered great media attention. Afterward, the President left New Orleans to attend a  DNC fund-raising dinner in San Francisco, held for 160 people at the extravagant rate of  $34,000 per couple.

Pres. Obama’s  administration has gotten mostly universal praise for its work on Gulf Coast recovery,  but his first visit to New Orleans was less than five hours. A visit that did not  include the most ravaged parts of the Gulf Coast, in particular, the lower 9th and Mississippi. Today, he’s getting some heat. The question some would ask, is the scrutiny fair?

It is true that President Obama has sent Cabinet members on multiple trips to New Orleans— he’s even commented that he has sent “more Cabinet members to this region than anywhere else in the country.” However, a Cabinet member, though powerful, is not the President – and is certainly not the first Black President.  Brentin Mock, of the Root, gives a from the ground perspective of the President’s involvement in New Orleans recovery. Quoting Louisiana Housing Finance Agency president Milton Bailey:

“I hear him saying he’s making movements, but I don’t see that movement manifesting in a real way on the ground.” His town hall speech at the University of New Orleans was disappointing. He spoke vaguely about broad issues, before quickly being whisked off to a fundraiser in San Francisco. It was as if he was speed-dating, and New Orleans got swiftly “next’d.”

Mr. Bailey may be harsh in his terminology, but his assessment holds merit.  Pres. Obama, and Democrats across the country felt it obligatory to skewer Pres. Bush’s cursory visit to the Katrina ravaged Gulf Coast.  His fly in to St. Peter’s Square for a speech and immediate departure.  His lip service to the plight of the under-privileged citizen’s of a devastated metropolis.

How different was this trip by “our” President?  Seemingly not so much.

Pres. Obama did not tour the lower 9th, he did not touch down in the lower portions of the Mississippi delta, he didn’t even detail his further actions to alleviate the disenfranchisement of those under-valued citizens who had lost their homes, their history, in some instances never to get any of it back.  He never spent the time to hang around and help the people (the lower economic rung of the city) get a symbolic sense of wholeness with his presents. He gave a speech reviewing what he had already committed, and jetted-off in pursuit of money.

Cornel West, the noted black intellectual, and activist has often been heard saying:

“You can’t lead the people if you don’t love the people. You can’t save the people if you don’t serve the people.”

Pres. Obama has a history of leading by loving people.  It’s what propelled him to be a community organizer and to seek higher office. However, I am growing concerned that he has reinforced himself, his administration that is with too many folks beholden to their entrenched interests – too compromised to see past their own political maneuverings to see the good needing doing. This last trip (if I can call it that) to our country’s greatest single testament to its apathy toward the underprivileged speaks to this greatly.  The juxtaposition of the poor and devastated of New Orleans/Mississippi and the gainfully employed, personally wealthy of San Francisco is blinding example of the misplaced  priorities of our government.

I believe that Pres. Barack Obama, is potentially a figure that can be transcendent, however he must stay true to himself.  The values that drove him to office. The idea of change as a means of betterment, that people from smallest to most powerful have value – those values.  It would appear that those values have been side-barred in instances such as this trip to New Orleans, or the characterization of the recession as declining (in the face of record setting unemployment, sky rocketing health care, and still occurring foreclosure) because the stock market is rebounding speak to a visionary losing sight of the vision, or worse of vision succumbing to the co-opted efforts to appease the entrenched politics of our system of democracy. Politics that are lead by the morally indifferent.  Because as West says,

“It’s fashionable to be indifferent to other people’s suffering”

It has been said that governments are rated accordingly by the ways they attend to their most underprivileged.  I would hope that at the end of these 4 years a failing grade won’t be given to a government led by a member of this countries perennial undervalued…if you don’t know what I mean, let me quote John Howard Griffin: “Black like me.”

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