Katrina fallout down South

Posted: Sep 08, 2005 12:00 AM

The fallout over Hurricane Katrina continued even as Florida and other regions of the East Coast faced the possibility of their own damaging storm.
Let's take a look at some of the key developments that have attracted public notice since Katrina struck.

 Readers of this column probably won't be surprised to learn that last week's piece drew more reader response than any column I've ever written. Last week, I wrote that the highest levels of America's corporate and media worlds don't understand the South.

 Five out of six letters/e-mails applauded my views. The remainder labeled me a redneck with a chip on my shoulder.

 Most of those in agreement were themselves Southerners, but many others were from northeastern and western states. Tellingly, a good number hailed from smaller states throughout America, where the people can readily identify with the points I made about the South being out of the limelight.

 Rather than rehash the column, I'll cite the former mayor of New Orleans, an African-American. On Sunday's "Meet the Press" television broadcast, Marc Morial reiterated my column by wondering out loud if the American public's attention would have focused on Katrina more quickly if the storm had struck, say, New York City.

 But was the seemingly delayed response a racial issue or, more broadly, a regional one?

 Admittedly, there is a sizeable segment of the nation's black population that continues to suffer from a cycle of poverty, inadequate education and sometimes a degree of unintended but real discrimination.

 Even so, many people unfamiliar with the South may not know that many Southern cities, including New Orleans, are populated overwhelmingly by African Americans. So ruin to one of these cities is automatically ruin to more blacks than whites.

 Many states in America have small minority populations. So to be fair, they have no way of knowing something that most Southerners take for granted; namely, that blacks and whites are often a part of one another's daily lives here and often happily so. 

 In watching former Atlanta mayor and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Andy Young as he explains Southern racial issues on television, I take pleasure in a memory. I recall that he and I once had offices side by side. We often spent hours trading stories, as well as views that were remarkably and consistently the same.

 Symbolic of an underappreciated side of the South was the sight, caught on video, of singer Harry Connick Jr. as he stripped off his shirt and carried an old and frail black man through the flooded streets of Connick's beloved hometown of New Orleans. His actions exemplified the kind of caring attitude this region features but is rarely credited with.

 As for the "blame game," there is plenty to be spread around.

 I don't blame President Bush. Does anyone really believe this obviously big-hearted man would purposely stand by and watch a city drown?

 Instead, I blame those working for the president. (By saying this, I'm assured that this column will never come to the president's attention, unless his brother, Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, delivers it.)

 Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Michael Brown has simply not been up to the task.

 Many of the Republicans who defend the pitiful early response to Katrina -- or the lack of it -- are doing the president and the GOP a disservice by making the party appear out of touch.

 But Democrats have their own losers in all of this. One is the governor of Louisiana, Kathleen Blanco. She is probably the weakest leader in a crisis I've ever seen.

 She should enroll in the Jeb Bush school of how to deal effectively with hurricanes. For my money, Florida's governor is a model of active yet measured response to the devastation brought by these storms.

 Finally, I again admit to being irritated that "Tommy Lee Goes to College" aired on network television even as people were dying in New Orleans and Biloxi. (No offense, Tommy, I watch the show.)

 But my annoyance pales against my gratitude to the millions of people from all over America who came to the aid of the storm-stricken.

 Yes, as you can certainly tell, I dearly love the South -- not the South of the past, for I live in the present.

 I love the South that Harry Connick Jr. loves -- and to think I was already a fan of his music. Now he symbolizes so much more than just the romance and nostalgia celebrated in his songs.