Opinion: Donna Brazile: COVID-19 doesn't care about your politics. So why are we fighting?

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Once again, we’ve seen that killer storms, like killer viruses, don’t discriminate based on political party. It’s time we stop the endless partisan feuding and fighting tearing us apart and defend ourselves against these deadly threats as a united people.

Hurricane Ida and the tornadoes and torrential rains it spawned killed more than 80 people in eight states. More than 400,000 homes and businesses in my home state of Louisiana, where Ida made landfall, remained without electricity last week, nine days after the storm. And the COVID-19 pandemic has killed more than 650,000 people in the United States.

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There is no question that human-caused climate change is making hurricanes develop with greater force. There is also no question that the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over, that more pandemics will follow, that safe and effective vaccines are the best way to protect us, and that masks are needed when infections are rampant.

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So why are we fighting with each other when we should be fighting climate change, improving our infrastructure and fighting the coronavirus?

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Growing up on the Gulf Coast near New Orleans, I lived through multiple hurricanes – Betsy, Camille, Frederic and more — and saw the havoc, chaos, destruction and death such storms bring. As a young girl, I saw “The Wizard of Oz” as a horror movie because of the roaring winds that carried Dorothy into the unknown.

Sixteen years to the day before Ida struck, Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in a far-worse disaster, causing more than 1,800 deaths and an estimated $125 billion in damage as levees broke in New Orleans.

Every member of my large extended family was displaced by Katrina. Some of my relatives lost their homes. Most rebuilt. A few began new lives in other states. Thankfully, none lost their lives.

Even worse than Katrina, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, killed nearly 3,000 people.

Bipartisan effort to rebuild

There are lessons from our recovery from Katrina and the 9/11 attacks that we should apply today in our fight against climate change and COVID-19.

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Led by President George W. Bush, members of Congress from both parties united to approve $14.6 billion to redesign and rebuild the levee system in the New Orleans area — and when Ida hit, the levees held. The Army Corps of Engineers will ask for an additional $3.2 billion to make further improvements to the levees, and I hope the request will win bipartisan support as well.

Americans also united behind President Bush to strengthen our defenses against terrorism and depose the Taliban government in Afghanistan, which gave harbor to al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. President Barack Obama approved the raid by Navy SEALs that cornered and killed bin Laden in 2011.

There has not been a major terrorist attack against our homeland since the horror of 9/11 – good news both parties can take credit for.

U.S. forces exited Afghanistan at the end of August under a deal negotiated by the Trump administration and carried out by the Biden administration. Regrettably, the Taliban are back in power, but they have pledged not to again allow Afghanistan to become a launching pad for international terrorism and to improve their treatment of women and girls. Only time will tell whether they stick to their pledges.

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Crisis should bring us together

Moments of crisis like the 9/11 attacks, deadly storms caused by climate change, and pandemics can shape a nation for the better, or they can spiral out of control from hyperpartisan criticism and infighting.

If we apply the lessons of our successful response to 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, we can take the steps necessary to fight climate change, rebuild our infrastructure nationwide as we rebuilt Louisiana’s levies, and get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Getting this done will require enacting the $1 trillion bipartisan traditional infrastructure bill already passed by the Senate. Congress should also enact the broader $3.5 trillion human infrastructure and jobs plan President Biden has proposed. And an overwhelming number of Americans need to get vaccinated against COVID.

I’ve spent my life working to elect Democrats and defeat Republicans. But after Katrina struck, I didn’t attack President Bush for the disaster that hit on his watch. Instead, I spoke with him and asked: “Mr. President, how can I help you?”

“Civility,” Bush said. He was right.

Several weeks after Katrina, Democratic Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco asked me to serve on the Louisiana Recovery Authority board as an unpaid lobbyist to Congress to seek funds for rebuilding. I took the assignment, and would have done so just as enthusiastically if asked by a Republican governor.

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I learned from Katrina that preventing and meeting disasters require core values like excellence, resilience, civility and unity. Unity flows from civility.

In a column I wrote 16 years ago after Hurricane Katrina, I said: “Unity springs from mutual respect, from setting aside the blame game and working, in good faith and trust, with one another.” Those words remain just as true today.

Donna Brazile (@donnabrazile) is a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors, an ABC News contributor, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and the King Endowed Chair in Public Policy at Howard University. She previously served as interim chair of the Democratic National Committee and of the DNC’s Voting Rights Institute, and managed the Gore campaign in 2000.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Donna Brazile: COVID-19 doesn't care about your politics. So why are we fighting?

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