Friday, October 05, 2012

Jarvis DeBerry to GOP: Wrong "Gotcha"

So there's this tape out. It's the right wing's rebuttal to the secretly recorded video that caught Mitt Romney writing off 47 percent of America as unworthy of his attention and the federal government's support. What does this June 2007 video "catch" then-candidate Barack Obama doing? Asking a gathering of black clergy in Hampton, Va., how come post-Katrina New Orleans was being asked to put up money for its recovery when post-9/11 New York was not.

Sen. Obama says early in the speech that he'd been asked if the Bush administration delayed help for New Orleans because most of its residents were black. "I say, 'Well, naw, this administration was colorblind in its incompetence.'" Still, the right-wing partisans touting the release of the video say it's proof Obama is a racial radical when he's speaking to mostly black crowds.

It's fair to point out that Obama sounds a lot more down home at Hampton than he typically does, especially since his birthplace in Hawaii is nowhere near down home. It's kind of silly to expect an orator to always sound the same, irrespective of audience, but if the president's critics want to make that their complaint, so be it.

But some offer a far more dishonest analysis. They insist that the candidate was lying, that New Orleans was given more grace than New York City. That's not just an attack on Obama. It's an attack on the truth - and on us.

The Stafford Act requires that, after a disaster, a community put up 10 percent toward its rebuilding costs. New York had its contribution waived, Obama pointed out. New Orleans did not. How do his critics respond? With a non-response. Tucker Carlson, editor-in-chief at, which published the video, writes: "By January of 2007, six months before Obama's Hampton speech, the federal government had sent at least $110 billion to areas damaged by Katrina. Compare this to the mere $20 billion that the Bush administration pledged to New York City after Sept. 11."

The attacks on the Twin Towers damaged or destroyed 30 million square feet of office space in Manhattan, that is, slightly more than a square mile. About 145 square miles of previously dry land was under water in New Orleans alone after Hurricane Katrina. Altogether, Hurricane Katrina damaged 92,000 square miles of property. We did not receive 92,000 times more money.

And, for the most part, we did not have our share of recovery costs waived. The New York Times questioned that sudden stinginess in a February 2007 editorial. The federal government, it noted, waived Florida's match when 1992's Hurricane Andrew caused damage that came out to $139 per Floridian. The government waived New York's match when the 2001 terrorist attacks caused damage that worked out to $390 per New Yorker. Katrina and Rita damaged Louisiana to the tune of $6,700 per capita. We - and that we includes The Times-Picayune's editorial page and the Louisiana congressional delegation - begged Washington for mercy. We were repeatedly told no.

Yes, there was a waiver extended for debris removal and some emergency services, but in no way does that invalidate Obama's argument.

The Bush administration contended it had fronted us the money for the match, a curious case of accounting that was typical for the administration post-Katrina. For example, the $110 billion included money that had been sent to five states for recovery from three hurricanes: Katrina, Rita and Wilma. Sixteen billion dollars had been paid out by the National Flood Insurance Program. We'd paid premiums for that. So why was it counted as a gift?

This really steams me up. This isn't in the prepared remarks." -- Then-candidate Barack Obama in June 2007
"This really steams me up," Obama says when begins to talk about Washington's requirement that we put up $1 for every $10 received. "This isn't in the prepared remarks." He mentions the forgiveness shown New York and Florida, which he argues communicated, "We're not going to wait for you to scratch it together - because you're a part of the American family."

"What's happening down in New Orleans? 'Where's your dollar? Where's your Stafford Act money?' Makes no sense....Tells me somehow the people down in New Orleans, they don't care about as much."

They didn't care as much. And few people down here, regardless of race, are likely to argue otherwise. That's why the video of Obama's speech fails so spectacularly as an attack. He's speaking up for people who have a legitimate claim to the government's money and not, like his current opponent, turning his back on those desperately in need.

Jarvis DeBerry can be reached at and at 504.826.3355. Follow him at and at

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