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Dean: U.S. must face 'ugly truth' about Katrina

Democratic chairman: Bush lacked vision in handling disaster

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Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean

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Howard Dean
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(CNN) -- Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean said that in Hurricane Katrina's wake Americans need to face the "ugly truth" that race and class played a significant role in who lived and died.

Dean also said that "lots of people perished" because the Bush administration lacked "vision" in handling the disaster.

Speaking to a black religious group Wednesday in Miami, Florida, Dean -- an outspoken critic of the Iraq war -- raised the question of whether money spent on the conflict would have been better spent on flood-control projects in New Orleans, Louisiana.

"Two hundred billion dollars -- could that have saved lives in New Orleans by rebuilding the levees that everybody told us needed to be done?" he told an audience at the National Baptist Convention's annual meeting.

The DNC chairman did not offer an answer to the question he posed, but he went on to say that "we need to make moral choices in America," calling on Congress to abandon plans to make permanent the elimination of federal inheritance taxes.

"If there's an extra $750 billion in the budget, let's ask the American people, 'Shall we give that to 3,000 of the wealthiest people in America, or shall we rebuild New Orleans and rebuild Mississippi and rebuild the school system in Chicago and rebuild New York and rebuild Indianapolis and Los Angeles?' "

In the aftermath of Katrina, Dean said that "we saw people desperately trying to survive conditions that not one of us could imagine would ever happen in an American city."

Critics have argued the federal government took too long to mobilize aid, causing thousands of storm victims to languish for days without food, water and other necessities.

"We have to come to terms with the ugly truth that skin color, age and economics played a significant role in who survived and who did not," he said. "And this question, 40 and 50 years after Dr. [Martin Luther] King [Jr.] and the civil rights movement, is, 'How could this still be happening in America?' "

Dean also drew on the Bible to offer an assessment of the Bush administration's performance in handling the disaster, quoting Proverbs 29:18: "Where there is no vision, the people perish."

"That is what happened this week, and a lot of people perished," he said. "I'm not here to point the finger of blame. I'm here to say -- let's rebuild America."

Dean also offered a spirited defense of New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco, both Democrats, saying that "spin doctors in the Republican Party" were trying to dump blame for the disaster response on them.

"Ray Nagin is a hero," he said. "If the president doesn't want to have fights over who's to blame, then let's not blame the local people."

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