Silver Linings, Silver Spoons

This week's word is ''hope,'' which Søren Kierkegaard defined as the ''passion for what is possible.''

My grandfather used to tell me: ''Hope for the best but prepare for the worst'' -- sound advice unheeded by America's leaders in dealing with Hurricane Katrina.

Uncle Tony, my grandfather's son, who did prepare for the worst, fortunately had the means to get his family out of their New Orleans home just hours before the birthplace of jazz became the Big Uneasy.

And though Uncle Tony and his family lost all of their possessions, he expressed the hope that the response to Katrina will transform this country into a more compassionate nation that reaches out to America's poor and most vulnerable.

He's not alone. ''There has been a growing sense that race and class are the unspoken markers of who got out and who got stuck. Just as in developing countries, where the failures of rural development policies become glaringly clear at times of natural disasters ... some of the United States' poorest cities have been left vulnerable by federal policies,'' writes David Gonzalez of The New York Times.

The single biggest challenge facing America and the world today is restoring hope to the hopeless. To do that successfully we need to pay more attention to the silver lining of Katrina's ominous clouds than we do the cold-hearted analysis coming out of the silver-spooned mouths on right-wing radio and television.

For the life of me, I can't understand why ''compassionate conservatives'' are spending so much time moralizing about the looting in New Orleans.

To give their meanness a thin veneer of rationality, some are making trivial distinctions between those who ''looted'' stores for water, diapers and baby formula and those who took electronic items.

Granted, taking TVs and other nonessential items seems foolish.

But in the face of such massive human suffering, who cares? Those non-essential items will never be sold.

The biggest natural disaster in U.S. history and the most profound question law-and-order proponents can muster is: How are we going to protect destroyed property?

I don't recall war cheerleaders worried about looting in Iraq. In fact, commenting on the looting of Iraq in 2003, Donald Rumsfeld said: ''Free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things. For suddenly the biggest problem in the world to be looting is really notable.''

Yet, Rumsfeld fans want to blame the looters for the slow rescue response in New Orleans?

As for reports of shooting at rescuers, I'm as perplexed as you are. But I just can't see how small bands of criminals could hamper rescue efforts or prevent humanitarian air drops.

We can send our sons and daughters into the Iraq shooting gallery to ''liberate'' Iraqis but a handful of thugs in New Orleans are enough to deter the most powerful government on earth from liberating its own people out of a hell that would never have existed if the city's infrastructure had been properly funded, instead of giving tax cuts to those who already have piles of wealth?

When Hurricane Ivan hit the ''backward'' nation of Cuba, there wasn't a single fatality.

A reader of this column raises a good point. ''I'm sure we've all noticed the difficulty the U.S. is having evacuating people from New Orleans due to all the water on the roads. An insurmountable problem? Hardly. Amphibious tanks were deployed (in Cuba) to evacuate people ... Anyone want to speculate on whether the U.S. has more amphibious tanks than Cuba?''

America must re-discover hope, the passion for what is possible. Given the overwhelming response to Katrina victims so far, I'm hopeful that this will close the chapter on ''compassionate conservatism'' and usher in an era of true compassionate Americanism.

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