A routine roundtable interview with syndicated radio reporters took an unexpected political turn Wednesday (March 8) when Tim McGraw and Faith Hill sharply criticized the federal government's efforts at rebuilding the Gulf Coast region in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Photo Credit: Stephen Shugerman/Getty Images
The couple had already spent more than an hour talking about their upcoming tour, McGraw's next greatest hits album and other topics when they were asked to reflect on what has happened since the hurricane hit in late August. McGraw was born and raised in Louisiana. Hill is a native of Mississippi.
McGraw recalled his visits to the New Orleans area, and how long it has taken for substantial improvements to made in the area.
"I spent a lot of time in Chalmette in St. Bernard Parish," McGraw said. "It was 100 percent devastated. Everything there was gone. Being down in the middle, they were still rescuing people off the roofs when I was down there. People were still coming in and just clinging to you. ... It's hard not to get political here, but I do not understand how we could not have done a better job -- and still can't do a better job. It's outrageous that you see it every single day on the TV of how it is. I went back just a couple of months ago, and it had not changed one bit. Not one bit. There were kids living in tents.
"Not a door moved," Hill noted. "Not a car moved."
"The same shrimp boat was sitting in the road that was the same shrimp boat sitting in the road a few days after the storm," McGraw said. "It makes no sense to me. I don't understand where the problem is. I don't understand the blame game. I don't understand how this person blames that person.
"To me, there's a lot of politics being played and a lot of people trying to put people in bad positions to further their agendas. I don't understand that. When you have a lot of people dying because they're poor and because they're black or poor -- and they're white or whatever they are -- if that's a number on a political scale, then that is the most wrong thing. That erases everything that's great about our country ... to let something like that happen and to continue to let something like that happen and to continue to not do anything about it."
Claiming that someone needs to take full responsibility to ensure the future of the Gulf Coast, McGraw added, "There's no reason somebody can't go down there who's supposed to be the leader of the free world ... and step foot in that town and say, 'I'm not leaving here. You're held accountable ... and you're held accountable ... and you're held accountable. This is what I've given you to do, and if it's not done by the time I get back on my plane, then you're fired and somebody will be in your place.' It's that simple to me. It makes me angry."
McGraw and Hill acknowledged that mistakes had been made at the state and local level immediately before and after the hurricane.
"Once a declaration of disaster was declared, then it wasn't a state issue anymore," McGraw said. "Help was asked for, and help wasn't given. And help still hasn't been given. ... If you don't know what to do, then you shouldn't be doing it. Find somebody who knows what to do."
"Six months after a hurricane," Hill said, "and this is the richest country in the world."
"Except for the ones that are going to get our ports," McGraw interjected.
"Six months after this has happened, and they are still living in tents," Hill said. "It's not right ... and somebody needs to do something about it."
Aside from rebuilding levees, streets and structures, Hill and McGraw said efforts need to be increased to help rebuild the lives of the survivors. McGraw recalled visiting a shelter and meeting five young African-American children.
"They didn't know who I was," he said. "I started talking to them. The oldest was an 11-year-old boy and the youngest was a 2-year-old little girl. They'd been on the roof for 10 days ... separated from their parents. All they had was their gallon of water. The look on their faces ... the littlest ones were just glad to be somewhere. The little girls were happy. They were hugging me and hanging onto my leg."
"But the face of that 11-year-old boy, McGraw continued, "I'll never forget. The struggle and the weight that he had on his shoulders. Every time his little sister would move, you could see him move toward her and put his arm close to her just to make sure she didn't get out of reach of him. I asked them when the last time they saw their parents, and the little girl said, 'Up on the roof.' That's a definining moment in their life that will change them forever. And even more so, what will change them forever is knowing that nobody cared."
The couple acknowledged that they are at a loss to suggest exactly what needs to be done to help.
"There's housing," Hill said. "There's money that exists down there. So don't send money. I don't know what to tell you."
"Some of the supposedly smartest people in this country can't figure it out, so I don't know what to tell you, either," McGraw said.
Noting that some Gulf Coast residents have been accused of trying to take advantage of federal assistance programs, McGraw said, "That's got to be left out of the equation when it comes to helping people. ... You just have to write that off as a loss and help the other people."
"How can anyone sit there and watch a family that has three children and say, 'They're taking advantage. We're not going to take care of this group.' That child is going to suffer and not be given a chance in life because some stupid law or bureaucracy says they haven't turned in their papers. Well, the paper they're supposed to turn in, the office that used to exist doesn't exist anymore. ... Where do they go? Help these people. ... I fear for our country if we can't handle our people in a natural disaster."
"You know what I can say?" McGraw offered. "Vote. That's the best answer I can give."