Obama's Haiti Moment

Governing is a grind. Look no further than health care reform to know that what soared as rhetoric can look like confetti on the floor once the House and Senate get a hold of it. Easy for the cynic to believe that it doesn't matter who sits in the White House, that the entrenched powers will always block progress for the common good.

I once thought this was the case. I worked in the White House in the 1990s, back when Washington was obsessed with "the politics of personal destruction." Back when the push-back against the smallest of President Clinton's initiatives could give you a concussion. In the darkest of times, I wondered if smart, progressive people were wasting their time serving in government, because they would only be soured, and they'd never achieve their big dreams.

Cut to Katrina. Like the rest of the nation, I watched my TV screen and could not understand how every system of government -- city, state, federal -- could fail in the ways it did. I didn't buy the excuses about whose responsibilities were whose. In my mind it didn't matter. If city and state couldn't handle, then the feds should have taken charge. I thought back to my old colleagues. I thought back to our previous president. There was simply no way that anyone I had worked for would not have felt personal responsibility to make things as right as possible. In the White House I knew, the federal government would have stepped in fast, without hesitation, with the clear mandate to save lives.

After Katrina, I realized once and for all that you can't get so upset with politics as to disengage. There's too much at stake for us, for your neighbors, for the vulnerable in our midst.

I support President Obama because I know, now and forever, that it matters who leads us. I have trusted his judgment, and I have never doubted his compassion. I know that his staff works 18 hours a day to make his ideals reality. Even if our president fails to deliver on all of his big promises, his administration makes a thousand decisions a day that affect us all.

This brings me to Haiti.

For the last hours, I've read the coverage, and watched as friends on Facebook and Twitter have asked all of us to pray for those who are suffering through Haiti's recent earthquake. These are friends who have family there. These are friends who simply care. That is a rightful thing for us to do, for I believe prayer and intentions can sway outcomes.

But what is the White House doing? According to the NYT, the White House, the State Department, USAID, and the US Southern Command are "monitoring" the situation and have "[begun] work to coordinate an assessment." The president said we are positioned to offer humanitarian help if necessary. While this sounds hopeful, I hope their efforts don't remain watch-and-see for much longer. I have never lived through such a traumatic earthquake, but I would imagine that if I were in rubble right now, I would hope that the assessors could get their logistics in order and offer help on the ground -- fast.

Now is a crucial moment for Obama administration to show us, and the world, why it actually matters who runs the US Government. We can help care for the injured. We can help rebuild the hospital that has been reportedly destroyed. We can deliver food and water. We can do it right now. It's humbling how far our resources can go when we actually want to deliver.

I hope our president and his administration can spare us the tragedy of another black population left to fend for itself after a horrible disaster. While the affected may not be US citizens, they are US neighbors. Their stability and health affects our stability and health. As we wait to see how the White House reacts, here's hoping that his men and women are finding every way they can to turn his words into action, so we can assist the devastated in the poorest nation of our hemisphere.