Wednesday, September 07, 2005


Sen. Barack Obama was on CNN's Larry King Live talking about the destruction of New Orleans and the recovery effort. Also appearing were "Purpose-Driven Life" author Pastor Rick Warren, and television's Dr. Phil McGraw:
Larry King: He has been at the Astrodome with Oprah Winfrey, as well as with Bill and Hillary Clinton and he just attended a hearing with the heads of national security, with Secretary Rumsfeld and we understand, Senator Obama it got a little testy, true?

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS: Well, I think there are a lot of us that are still unsatisfied with the answers that have been provided. I think all of us, Republican and Democrat, share the view that we have to focus on making sure that people are safe, secure that they've got housing, that they've got basic sanitation conditions.

But, ultimately we're also going to have to go back and ask some tough questions and this wasn't the forum I guess that various cabinet members thought we needed to ask those questions but there's going to be time over the next month as we stabilize the situation to really figure out what happened last week.

Larry King: Did they get angry these officials?

Sen. Obama: Well, no, you know, I think that their attitude is, is that everything went as well as it could have gone under the circumstances and we're moving forward. And, you know, I recognize the interest at this point in making sure that we don't start doing the Monday morning quarterbacking before the job is done.

On the other hand, the breakdowns were so severe last week and I think that the emotions that the entire country felt were so profound and acute that it's going to be very important for us as a country to process what happened and to make sure that it never happens again.

Larry King: Senator Obama, Dr. Phil wants to ask you something.

Sen. Obama: Go ahead.

Dr. Phil: Senator, certainly we're going to have to deconstruct all of this and figure out how to do a better job the next time this happens. How do you -- and we'll learn from that I'm sure.

How do you feel about the plan from this day going forward? I mean clearly we're going to have to break it down, figure out where things went wrong but we are where we are now. How does it look in terms of the readiness, preparedness and responsivity over the next 30, 60, 90 days?

Sen. Obama: Well, you know, I visited Houston as you did and I think all of us were impressed. We've got to I think give great credit to the city of Houston and that entire region for the outstanding work that they've done creating a clean, safe environment for all these displaced populations.

But, I think moving forward we've still got tiny towns in Mississippi, in Louisiana, all across the gulf that are still struggling and we've got to stabilize the situation for them, people who weren't evacuated out of New Orleans.

And then we've got the medium term of finding housing, making sure that people have employment opportunities or at least some income, that children are in school and that as I'm sure you're aware the enormous shock that people are going through is somehow processed and they've got an opportunity to deal with that with professionals.

Dr. Phil: Well, that's true and I know I spent today earlier, Senator and Larry, on the phone with Dr. Russ Newman (ph) and Dr. Judy Andrews, who are with the American Psychological Association and the Texas Psychological Association talking about the disaster response network that has been created in the psychological community here to give these people the short term support, I mean support in the immediate term because you can't get in and do psychotherapy at this point.

What you've got to do is support them, answer their questions, let them know that somebody is listening and try to normalize the feeling so they kind of get down off the wall and realize, OK, we've got to live in the moment and put one foot in front of the other.

But then the question becomes in the long term when the referrals start going to their community mental health centers and people that are dealing with post traumatic stress disorder, they're dealing with anxiety, they're going through the grief process are we going to overwhelm that system?

Just as with 239 evacuees in Texas many of these are children in already overpopulated schools fighting budget problems. Where do we put the children? I mean as the Senator is saying it's so difficult to think about how many fingers this has into American society. ***

Larry King: Senator, do you want to comment on what Dr. Phil just said?

Sen. Obama: You know, I do think Dr. Phil made an important point. We already had tremendous strains on our school systems, on our health systems before the hurricane. You know one of the most profound things that was said to me while I was visiting the Astrodome, one of the women who were there said "You know, I had nothing before the hurricane. Now I have even less."

And I think that describes the state of a lot of folks that were displaced and one of the questions that we're going to have to ask ourselves as a country is how do we address the sense of abandonment that many of these communities felt even before this crisis and how are we going to start getting serious about making sure that children have opportunity?

How are we going to make sure that we're serious about a health care system that can accommodate all people? This compounds those problems and they're going to be born not just in Louisiana and Mississippi but surrounding states like Arkansas and Texas who are going to be tested to the breaking point. ***

Larry King: Senator Obama thanks for joining us. We'll be calling on your again, always good seeing you.

Sen. Obama: Wonderful to talk to you, Larry. Thank you.

Larry King: Senator Barack Obama. We'll be right back with more. Don't go away.

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