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Responding to the Disaster in the Gulf: 3 Heroes Who Get It and a U.S. Senator Who Absolutely Doesn't

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Finally, a politician has provided a response worthy of the magnitude of suffering -- especially the unnecessary suffering -- going on in New Orleans. It's just too bad it wasn't the person who has the most power to alleviate it.

At the press conference held this morning by the Congressional Black Caucus, it was an incredible relief to hear Rep. Elijah Cummings give the speech the nation has been waiting to hear. He was brimming with anger and emotion -- an appropriate response for anyone who has turned on a television or read a newspaper in the last few days, and isn't detached from any kind of human emotion.

CUMMINGS: The difference between those who lived and those who died in this great storm and flood of 2005 was nothing more than poverty, age, or skin color. It would be unconscionable to stand by and do nothing... We have long heard claims of compassionate conservatism among our nation's leaders. We now want the compassion.

And given the biblical level of suffering going on, it was only appropriate that Cummings ended by quoting the bible: "Whatever you did for the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me." Contrast that impassioned response to the tragedy with Mary Landrieu's robotic responses yesterday to Anderson Cooper. She apparently thought this would be a good time to write her thank you notes for the woeful federal response that has surely resulted in the deaths of many of her constituents. On the other hand, Cooper was nothing short of heroic -- speaking truth to power and representing the people of New Orleans in a way that put Landrieu to shame:

COOPER...Senator, I'm sorry... for the last four days, I have been seeing dead bodies here in the streets of Mississippi and to listen to politicians thanking each other and complimenting each other -- I have to tell you, there are people here who are very upset and angry, and when they hear politicians thanking one another, it just, you know, it cuts them the wrong way right now, because there was a body on the streets of this town yesterday being eaten by rats because this woman has been laying in the street for 48 hours, and there is not enough facilities to get her up. Do you understand that anger?

LANDRIEU: I have the anger inside of me. Most of the homes in my family have been destroyed. I understand that, and I know all the details, and the President --

COOPER: Well, who are you angry at?

LANDRIEU: I'm not angry at anyone. It is so important for everyone in this nation to pull together, for all military assets to be brought to bear in this situation. I have every confidence this country is great and strong as we can be do to that, and that effort is under way. That effort is under way.

COOPER: Well, I mean, there are a lot of people here who are kind of ashamed of what is happening in this country right now, what is -- ashamed of what is happening in your state. And that's not to blame the people that are there, it is a terrible situation, but you know, who -- no one seems to be taking responsibility. I know you say there's a time and a place for kind of, you know, looking back, but this seems to be the time and the place. There are people that want answers, and people want someone to stand up and say: we should have done more.


Another journalist doing his profession proud is NBC's Tony Zumbado, whose coverage from the New Orleans convention center on MSNBC last night was remarkable. He put aside all the conventions of reporting and just spoke from his heart. He was no longer a detached journalist doing a job; he was a human being who had been shaken to his core by what he had seen. His deeply empathetic response is just the kind of thing missing from our national leaders.

ZUMBADO: I can't put it into words the amount of destruction that is in this city and how these people are coping. They are just left behind. There is nothing offered to them. No water, no ice, no C-rations, nothing, for the last four days.

They were told to go to the convention center. They did, they've been behaving. It's unbelievable how organized they are, how supportive they are of each other. They have not started any mêlées, any riots ... they just want food and support. And what I saw there I've never seen in this country.

We need to really look at this situation at the convention center. It's getting very very crazy in there and very dangerous. Somebody needs to come down with a lot of food and a lot of water. There's no hostility there ... they need support. These people are very desperate. I saw two gentlemen die in front of me because of dehydration. I saw a baby near death...

You would never ever imagine what you saw in the convention center in New Orleans... The sanitation was unbelievable. The stench in there... was unbelievable. Dead people around the walls of the convention center, laying in the middle of the street in their dying chairs. ... They were just covered up ... Babies, two babies dehydrated and died. I'm telling you, I couldn't take it.

The words of Cummings, Cooper, and Zumbado should be required reading for all those keeping this disaster at arm's length -- starting with Bush and Landrieu. Because the urgency and intensity of our actions in this disaster will be proportionate to the depth and intensity of our feelings for those who are suffering.