President Obama's Weekly Address

President Obama used his video this week to address the flooding in Minnesota and the Dakotas, and to highlight the themes of effective government combined with individual service and responsibility. First, Obama detailed what his Administration is doing to respond to the crisis:

Even as we face an economic crisis which demands our constant focus, forces of nature can also intervene in ways that create other crises to which we must respond – and respond urgently. For the people of North and South Dakota and Minnesota who live along rivers spilling over their banks, this is one such moment.

Rivers and streams throughout the region have flooded or are at risk of flooding. The cities of Fargo and neighboring Moorhead are vulnerable as the waters of the Red River have risen. Thousands of homes and businesses are threatened.

That is why, on Tuesday, I granted a major disaster declaration request for the State of North Dakota and ordered federal support into the region to help state and local officials respond to the flooding. This was followed by an emergency declaration for the State of Minnesota. And we are also keeping close watch on the situation in South Dakota as it develops.

The Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency continue to coordinate the federal response. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is helping to oversee federal efforts and she remains in close contact with state officials. Acting FEMA administrator Nancy Ward has been in the region since yesterday to meet with folks on the ground and survey the area herself.

In addition, The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is assisting in the emergency construction of levees. The Coast Guard is aiding in search and rescue efforts while the Department of Defense is helping to move people and supplies. Members of the National Guard have been activated and are on the scene as well.

This response is in sharp relief with President Bush's inept or indifferent handling of Katrina. It definitively shows that our current President can, in fact, walk and chew gum at the same time, despite the suggestion of many Republicans that he shouldn't be talking or thinking about anything except the economy.

His response should also put to rest the fear of some white Americans, particularly in Appalachia and the deep south, who didn't vote for Obama because they feared he would "favor Blacks over Whites" (see chart for African-American concentration in Minnesota and the Dakotas). This, again, provides sharp contrast with President Bush, who Kanye West famously said "didn't care about black people" after Katrina. At the time, many in the media mocked this statement, but under President Bush, who has now moved from the ranch that Karl Rove had him buy so he could seem more folksy to an all-white gated community in Texas, the wealth gap between whites and African Americans widened to the point where African-American families, on average, now own just one TENTH of the wealth of a typical white family. So much for the "post-racial society" we keep hearing about.

The President also used his address this week to speak about the power of inidividual service, calling the relief effort

...a reminder of what we can achieve when Americans come together to serve their communities. All across the nation, there are men, women and young people who have answered that call, and millions of other who would like to. Whether it’s helping to reduce the energy we use, cleaning up a neighborhood park, tutoring in a local school, or volunteering in countless other ways, individual citizens can make a big difference. 

That is why I’m so happy that legislation passed the Senate this week and the House last week to provide more opportunities for Americans to serve their communities and the country.

The bipartisan Senate bill was sponsored by Senator Orrin Hatch and Senator Ted Kennedy, a leader who embodies the spirit of public service, and I am looking forward to signing this important measure into law.

This echoes many of the themes that NDN fellows Morley Winograd and Mike Hais have discussed recently on this blog, showing yet again that we are entering a new, civic era of American politics.

Watch the video of President Obama's address below: