The Fire This Time

August 20, 2014 | | Huffington Post |

I remember the stunned reaction of so many Americans back in the summer of 2005 when legions of poor black people in desperate circumstances seemed to have suddenly and inexplicably materialized in New Orleans during the flooding that followed Hurricane Katrina.

Expressions of disbelief poured in from around the nation: "How can this be happening?" "I had no idea conditions were that bad." "My God, is this America?"

People found themselves staring at the kind of poverty they thought had been largely wiped out decades earlier. President George W. Bush seemed as astonished as anyone. He made an eerie, oddly-lit, outdoor appearance in the city's French Quarter on the evening of September 15 to announce that his administration would wage an all-out fight against the economic distress that continued to plague so many African Americans.

If you had listened to his announcement on the radio, you might have thought you were hearing the ghost of Lyndon Johnson. Poverty in America, said Bush, "has roots in a history of racial discrimination which cut off generations from the opportunity of America." He added, "We have a duty to confront this poverty with bold action."