Friday, January 15, 2010

What should we think of Haiti?

I realize it is the way of political people to try to make themselves appear to be on top of every possible issue.

Yet I got my chuckle the other night when in my e-mail turned up an announcement from Cook County Board President Todd Stroger, informing me and everybody else he felt the need to notify about the county’s relief efforts intended for the people of Haiti.

THAT CARIBBEAN ISLAND nation suffered a severe earthquake earlier this week that you have to be a virtual shut-in to have avoided hearing anything about. Of course, some people are complaining about the degree to which they are hearing things, wishing they could shut themselves off from the suffering taking place there.

But seeing the big bold red typeface telling me Stroger to kick off Cook County Haitian relief effort made me wonder how desperate is Todd for votes if he’s trying to put himself at the head of the pack – since he was the first Chicago-area politico (to my knowledge) to take a public stand on Haiti.

Then again, I’m surprised it took our local political people until Wednesday night before they started issuing statements trying to make themselves appear to be aligned with the needs of Haiti – a nation that many of them usually try to ignore. Life won't be anywhere near this idylic in Port-au-Prince for a long time. Photograph provided by Library of Congress collection.

Now I shouldn’t complain.

IT IS NICE that Cook County government is cooperating with activists and other people in Chicago’s population of Haitian ethnic descent to put together some sort of relief effort to help people who are trying to dig through the rubble for survivors – while also helping those people above-ground to rebuild their lives.

They probably had very little to begin with, and now have managed to lose even that. It is a shame that eventually, another news story will come along to sweep Haiti out of the public eye because it likely will take years for the island nation to rebuild itself.

But locally at this point, I would guess that Stroger is looking for every possible vote source he can find in hopes of putting together the magical “30 percent” level of support that would theoretically enable him to win a four-way primary for county president.

So trying to be on top of the Haitian situation could help in terms of gaining votes from those Haitian people now living here (about 40,000 estimated out of the 2.9-something million population of Chicago as a whole).

IF IT READS like I’m being crass or cynical, perhaps it is just the mood of the candidates these days that is rubbing off on me. Anybody who believes that political people always behave altruistically is being naïve. And I’m not trying to imply that it is just Stroger who can have political motives.

Even President Barack Obama is on top of the Haiti situation now – saying Thursday that their situation ought to be a “top priority” for federal government agencies. Our nation is pledging at least $100 million in aid, with more likely to follow up in the near future.

Former President Bill Clinton, who would like to someday displace Jimmy Carter in the informal title of “Greatest Ex-President ever,” got his name in the news by saying people should make cash donations to relief agencies if they truly want to help. Which is why I took notice of a CNN Headline News report that gave a “voice” to people who were angry about so much attention being paid to Haiti.

It seems like the economic struggles of our nation for the past year have so many people feeling like they have too many problems of their own in order to afford to make any kind of donation.

COULD IT BE that these appeals for aid from political people will wind up causing some resentment that will cost them votes on future Election Days? I can appreciate that some people don’t like to be made to feel guilty about their inability to give.

Or will they just take it out on the so-called “liberal news media” for exaggerating the significance of the situation in Haiti – although I’d argue it is difficult to “exaggerate” the destruction caused by a 7.0 Richter Scale earthquake that may have killed at least 100,000 people.

Unless someone is truly callous enough to think that a crisis in Haiti isn’t worth our attention because it’s only Haiti. I’d like to give our society more credit and that the complaining isn’t due to that kind of reasoning.

But then again, maybe that’s just me being naïve.


EDITOR’S NOTES: You can find just about every ethnicity in Chicago, although the Haitian community isn’t ( exactly a dominant part of the ( Second City’s culture.

People can make a $10 donation to the Red Cross through their cellphones (, although more significant donations can be made ( through various groups.

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