The New York Times has a discouraging but, I think, largely accurate piece today describing the closing window of opportunity for progressive reform in the wake of the Katrina catastrophe, and why progressives should see this as an issue of urgent national concern:
As Hurricane Katrina put the issue of poverty onto the national agenda, many liberal advocates wondered whether the floods offered a glimmer of opportunity. The issues they most cared about - health care, housing, jobs, race - were suddenly staples of the news, with President Bush pledged to "bold action."
But what looked like a chance to talk up new programs is fast becoming a scramble to save the old ones [...]
"We've had a stunning reversal in just a few weeks," said Robert Greenstein, director of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal advocacy group in Washington. "We've gone from a situation in which we might have a long-overdue debate on deep poverty to the possibility, perhaps even the likelihood, that low-income people will be asked to bear the costs."
Katrina put issues of race and class on the national radar in a way that won't be repeated for a very long time. But the opportunity to discuss and act on these issues -- progressive issues -- is being largely squandered.
Let's be clear: If progressives fail to seize this opportunity, what will suffer are not only the people of the Gulf Coast, now at the mercy of real estate speculators, energy developers, far-right ideologues, and other nefarious interests. We will also lose a once-in-a-decade chance to resurrect the progressive agenda on a national scale.
This is our moment. Endlessly speculating about DeLay's indictments or the Plame investigation may be fun, but the Gulf debacle is something progressives can do something about, now, that has the potential to permanently shift the debate about fundamental inequalities in our society.
Progressives need to step up to the plate, and 1) support the fight for a democratic, just and sustainable rebuilding in the Gulf, and 2) work tirelessly and with laser focus to return issues of poverty and inequality to the top of the national agenda. The thousand people who died and hundreds of thousands who have suffered in Katrina's wake deserve nothing less.