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Obama faces leadership test on Haiti

January 14, 2010 |  8:44 am


The world is focused on sending aid to Haiti, but compassion has a political edge and for President Obama, comparisons to how the Bush administration handled the Hurricane Katrina disaster will be inevitable.

The Bush administration faced political consequences for its Katrina response, and, despite its best efforts, images of poor, mainly African American people clinging to rooftops hurt it. Black leaders called the weak response to their constituencies another example of embedded racism. The relief effort became a symbol of bureaucratic bungling that clung to an administration whose leader was painted by Democrats as a bumbler in domestic and international affairs.

So far, Republicans, particularly in Congress, have been supportive of relief efforts for Haiti, a separate country with a long and complicated relationship with the United States. But in two appearances, Obama has been clear that helping the poor in Haiti is a moral burden on the United States that he intends to meet.

Obama this morning minced no words in explaining how he would respond to Tuesday’s earthquake, which may have killed tens of thousands and destroyed much of what little of value existed in Haiti. As he did....

...on Wednesday, the president seized the mantle of leading international rescue efforts.

“This is one of those moments that calls out for American leadership,” Obama said. “For the sake of our citizens who are in Haiti, for the sake of the Haitian people who have suffered so much, and for the sake of our common humanity, we stand in solidarity with our neighbors to the south, knowing that but for the grace of God, there we go.”

Obama pledged his administration would place Haitian relief at the forefront, saying $100 million will be set aside for immediate needs and more later for rebuilding.

After urging Americans to help, Obama directed his remarks to Haitians:

“Few in the world have endured the hardships that you have known. Long before this tragedy, daily life itself was often a bitter struggle. And after suffering so much for so long, to face this new horror must cause some to look up and ask, 'Have we somehow been forsaken?'

“To the people of Haiti, we say clearly, and with conviction, you will not be forsaken; you will not be forgotten. In this, your hour of greatest need, America stands with you. The world stands with you. We know that you are a strong and resilient people. You have endured a history of slavery and struggle, of natural disaster and recovery. And through it all, your spirit has been unbroken and your faith has been unwavering. So today, you must know that help is arriving -- much, much more help is on the way.”

-- Michael Muskal 

Haiti photos
Photo gallery: Earthquake hits Haiti | Twitter: Reports from Haiti | Resources: How to help

Photo: Obama, accompanied by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, makes a statement about the earthquake in Haiti, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2010, at the White House in Washington. Credit: AP Photo / Charles Dharapak