Looking Back At Katrina, Glenn Beck Rally

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The Gulf Coast was not the only thing damaged by Hurricane Katrina, Americans' faith in their government also was hurt. FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers have been blamed for contributing to the disaster. Meanwhile at a rally over the weekend in Washington DC, TV host Glenn Beck tried to rally Americans to turn to God.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

NPR's Cokie Roberts joins us next, as she does most Monday mornings.

Cokie, good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS: Good morning, Steve. Welcome back.

INSKEEP: Thank you, glad to be back.

We know how the flooding changed New Orleans - your town, Cokie. But has it had a lasting impact on the country?

ROBERTS: Well, you heard the president talk about the failure of government, and I think that that certainly has had a political impact. Whether it's lasting or not, we'll see.

But the inability to respond in a way that Americans thought was appropriate, to the disaster in New Orleans, really turned people against the government in a way that we had not seen in a while. You know, after September 11th, there were more people saying they trusted the government than at any time since the 1960s. And Katrina, on top of the war in Iraq, really turned that completely around.

And then we learned that it was a government agency - the Army Corps of Engineers - that was responsible for the failure of the levees to hold. And the courts have now agreed with the people of New Orleans that yes, there was a natural disaster, but the huge flooding of the city was a manmade disaster, and those men were paid by the government.

So it has been part of a whole series of events that have destroyed a certain faith in the government.

INSKEEP: So is the government any better prepared for a disaster?

ROBERTS: Well, we're told that the levees are much better - we'll see. There are many more systems in place, in terms of better evacuation plans nationwide. And for the first time, there's some attention being paid to children in disasters. That's been true internationally, but it wasn't true in this country until after Katrina, when the National Commission on Children in Disasters was established.

We're still waiting for implementing legislation in the Senate on that. But, you know, there is still a long way to go in terms of response to disasters, and another huge hurricane could still have a totally devastating effect.

INSKEEP: We're talking with NPR's Cokie Roberts. And Cokie, I want to ask about another city that's close to your heart, Washington, D.C., which is where the TV talk show host Glenn Beck held a rally over the weekend at the Lincoln Memorial. Let's listen to some of his speech.

Mr. GLENN BECK (TV Talk Show Host): This day is a day that we can start the hearts of America again, and it has nothing to do with politics. It has everything to do with God. Everything - turning our face - back to the values and the principles that made us great.

INSKEEP: Beck was a little vague on what the principles were, in this speech, although he's been very conservative in other settings. So how'd the rally work out?

ROBERTS: Well, it's hard to know how many people were there, because the Park Service and the D.C. police have gone out of the business of crowd estimates, because they only got in trouble. Everybody would get in big fights with them about how many people were actually there.

The pictures from the air showed a National Mall filled with people. And here is how Glenn Beck himself assessed it yesterday, on Fox News Sunday.

Mr. BECK: You don't get that many people to come to Washington and stand there and have that kind of a moment without signs, without any political messages, for no reason. You don't do it because they're happy about things.

ROBERTS: Now, that hardly comes as a surprise to politicians, that voters are not happy about things right now. President Obama said yesterday that given the economy and given the security situation, that it's quote, not surprising that someone like a Mr. Beck is able to stir up a portion of the country.

But the idea that having Glenn Beck - who, as you say, has been very political in his past pronouncements - and Sarah Palin, the former vice presidential nominee, there, addressing the crowd against the backdrop of the Tea Party's movement in the primaries up to this point - the idea that that is not political is a little farfetched, and it's also against the backdrop of them being adamantly anti-Barack Obama.

INSKEEP: It's a very symbolic location you could choose here - the Lincoln Memorial, the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on the date of Martin Luther King's March on Washington in 1963 - which Beck said was a coincidence, but it did raise some comment.

ROBERTS: And of course, a lot of comment, particularly since Beck has referred to President Obama as a racist. He said yesterday that that was wrong, that Obama is not a racist, he's a liberation theologian, which Beck said is not Christian, not Muslim - once again, raising questions about the president's religion. So to say this was not political - you just can't buy it.

INSKEEP: And just to be clear, no evidence that even what he said was true. Cokie, thanks...

ROBERTS: Exactly.

INSKEEP: ...very much. That's NPR's Cokie Roberts, who joins us most Monday mornings, right here on MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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