The Lessons of Katrina

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It’s been about a week since the waters of Lake Pontchartrain inundated the city. The levees have been patched up and the draining of New Orleans has begun. The refugees — now called evacuees — have been taken to twenty different states, with about a quarter million people in Texas alone. Baton Rouge has doubled and Cape Cod is geting ready for a few thousand of its own. Erstwhile Red Sox pitching ace Curt Schilling has stepped in: he’s paying for a family of nine to live in Boston for the next year.

It’s time for us to step back and think about the long-term reverberations of Katrina’s aftermath.

There is no shortage of questions for our guests — who have yet to be determined — and for you: What is the role of government in the context of a disaster on the scale of Katrina? What about private citizens and groups? Or faith-based initiatives? Are we on the cusp of a sea-change in terms of our civic expectations? Will “big government” become more of a wish than an epithet?

And then there are the indelible — and shameful — images that played around the clock on U.S. televisions and throughout the world — images that have immediately brought to the fore the beginning of a new dialogue about race and poverty. By that I mean that, if nothing else, the words “race” and “poverty” have acutally been mentioned recently in the news.

So the largest question, and the one that perhaps would demand a sooth-sayer as much as a truth-teller: If Katrina has changed the way you view race, or poverty, or the role of government in America, what — if anything — will change as a result of it?

Alan Wolfe

Professor of Political Science and director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life at Boston College.

Marion Orr

Professor of Political Science at Brown University.

Author of Black Social Capital: The Politics of School Reform in Baltimore, 1986-1998 and The Politics of School Reform: Race, Politics, and the Challenge of Urban Education.

Grover Norquist

President of Americans for Tax Reform.

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