They are two former presidents who by now have heard all the jokes about what an unlikely pair they make. George Herbert Walker Bush, and the man who defeated him, Bill Clinton, have now twice teamed up to raise money for disaster relief. Wednesday, both flew to New Orleans to award the first $90 million they were able to raise.
During a conversation with them, I asked if they worry about Americans who have moved on — the syndrome some are calling Katrina fatigue.
Former President George H.W. Bush: Well, first place, I don't believe there is such a thing. I think a lot of groups are still stepping up to the plate and helping in every way they can. But I think we can remind people from time to time by coming here.
Former President Bill Clinton: I think that the fatigue will not be as great if people all over America and all over the world see these people rebuilding and doing exciting, interesting, innovative things.
Brian Williams: There's a tricky role that race has always played in Katrina, ever since the days just after it. Tuesday, we had a hearing on Capitol Hill and some of the witnesses made some extraordinary charges. One used the word "genocide." What do you do about this obvious rift?
Clinton: What I think we can do is to show that we're going forward together across all the racial and income lines. And if you look at how our committees constitute — look at our religious committee, look at the people involved in higher education, look at the composition of the advisory committee that President Bush and I set up to advise our fund — there won't be any of those charges with what we're doing. And I think if we all keep in mind that we all need to go forward together then we'll be able to dissipate them over time.
Bush: I can understand the frustration of somebody whose home is gone and neighborhood is gone saying this is a race thing. But I think the leadership in New Orleans, for example, black Americans and plain everybody, is going to say this isn't based on race, it shouldn't be and it won't be and it hasn't been. So I would discount somewhat the charge.
Williams:For the Americans watching this who can't be where you are or see what you've seen down there, tell us about the role churches have played really since Day One.
Bush: Well, I think it was put very well by Governor Blanco of Louisiana, the necessity of getting these churches back in business, getting the church leaders back. This whole concept of faith-based is very, very important when it comes to reconstruction. It's a wonderful thing and it's going to help a lot spiritually.
Clinton: The most important thing they did, Brian, I think first of all is they found homes for tons of people. And they really did work across racial lines and political lines. It was incredibly moving.