From NBC's Lauren Appelbaum
Ahead of the rest of the presidential candidates, Obama visited New Orleans yesterday to commemorate the upcoming second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. While addressing the First Emanuel Baptist Church, he focused more on a religious message and -- for the most part -- left politics off the pulpit.
Promising to remember the past but to concentrate on looking ahead to fixing the future, Obama pledged to fix an "empathy deficit" created by America's culture that promotes responsibility to selves rather than to others. He also promised to rebuild a "bond of trust that was broken" so that people can depend on one another again. "Let New Orleans be a place for those who lived in the shadows can step out into the light," the senator said. "And let it be then, as Jesus said, a city that is set on a hill cannot be hit. And in 10 years, in 100 years, let people come here and say this is where the renewal began. Let this place be where it was said that the people came together to build that foundation and a deep darkness was replaced with a light of hope."
The congregation received Obama well, giving him numerous applauses, standing ovations, and "Amens." In fact, the pastor introduced him as the "our candidate for president of the United States of America" -- to rousing applause.
But Obama recognized he will not be alone in visiting New Orleans this week -- and courting support while there. Clinton, Edwards, Huckabee, and Hunter will be speaking today at Sen. Mary Landrieu's Katrina Recovery Presidential Forum in New Orleans.
Obama urged others who come to the area to look deeper than the "city's storm battered surface" and examine the foundation. Using a metaphor from one of Jesus' teachings, Obama said New Orleans needs to be rebuilt "founded on the rock" of the principle "I am my brother's keeper," arguing the government has not lived up to that principle. "When the winds blew and the floods came, we learned that for all our wealth and power, something wasn't right in America," he said. "Our foundation wasn't built on the rock."
Obama did bring some politics inside the church, however, telling the congregation that America has failed New Orleans twice already. "America failed the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast long before that failure showed up on our television sets. America failed them again during Katrina," he said. "We cannot, we must not, fail for a third time. But, tragically, that's what's happening today. And that's what needs to change. I am here to remember this, but also to look ahead. We need to rebuild this city. And we need to tend to the foundation that we rebuild upon."