There can be no debate about the horror of the World Trade Center attack. No conceivable rational excuse for the criminal destruction of spectacular buildings and thousands of innocent lives can be advanced. It was monstrous; it was deadly; it was immoral.
Four years later, the survivors still mourn their loved ones and the world looks to ground zero as the crucial moment when American innocence died. Somehow, the families of those who perished moved on. Several thousand Federal dollars in compensation did not take away the pain but did enable dreams of a life still worth living.
Only after the settlements were made were the cries of the families in Oklahoma heard. Those families, too, suffered a terrible loss but received only speeches and sympathy.
And now there are the victims of Katrina. Not only were hundreds of family members lost but, in addition, entire businesses, lifestyles, community bonds, and the independence conferred by gainful employment were entirely obliterated. We must ask ourselves: do we deal with victims in an evenhanded manner?
The financial safety nets of insurance, high pre-trauma earnings, and safety member retirement systems, were already in place in New York. The financial largesse of the government provided an even larger buffer against the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune.
Most of Katrina's victims lived their lives without a single tattered safety net in place. Poor, unskilled, and underemployed, many of these Gulf Coast residents barely stayed afloat even before the flood waters raged in. Now what little they had is gone. They cannot bury their dead and get on with life as the 911 families managed to do - because there is no life left.
The political think tanks that worry if a nominee is conservative enough, the lobbyists busily grabbing the largest slice of pork for their clients, and the Haliburtons, the Fluors, and the oil magnates have no emotional conception of the reality of poverty. While difficulty in paying the bills is common at all economic levels, contrast that with someone who has no bills because they have nothing: no debts, no creditors - but also no money, no food, no home, no resources.
For those still living in shelters or staying at a hotel until the vouchers run out this month - where are the federal dollars to help them move on? The government can't even figure out how to get generators to hospitals nor trailer homes to available land.
After the photo-ops, the dramatic flyovers, and the congressional appropriation bills, our leaders will go home to their comfortable beds with easy consciences, confident that they have done what was needed. Years from now, the victims will still be suffering as are those who were displaced long ago by Hurricane Andrew.
Unless they are lucky enough to become the swing vote in a tight election, they will recede from the front pages and slowly submerge beneath the slime of poverty, a more permanent threat than any temporary storm.