Saturday, September 03, 2005


After The Flood: 9/11/01-9/02/02

If one day made George W. Bush's presidency, one awful week in late summer four years later may have completely unraveled it. And the offhand comments of the person second-in-succession to the White House may have spread the damage even further.

Yes, presidencies can collapse on big things. But, often it is the smaller incident that becomes the proverbial straw the broke the camel's back. The immediate Katrina fallout -- the tardy initial response, the FEMA funding backstory, his Wednesday speech -- all that might have been withstood. A case could have been made that lack of communication between the federal, state and local authorities might have contributed to the chaos. And, even despite New Orleans' recent gang-related
backsliding to its Murder Capital days, the violence perpetrated against relief workers is truly something that couldn't have been anticipated. That's something that the Congressional Black Caucus could have at least mentioned during their reflexive political attack.

However, the backbreaker of the Bush administration and -- if serious steps are not undertaken across the board -- the current Republican governmental ascendancy is now very clear to see. When as many as thousands are dead and dying, the President of the United States can't say
We've got a lot of rebuilding to do. First, we're going to save lives and stabilize the situation. And then we're going to help these communities rebuild. The good news is -- and it's hard for some to see it now -- that out of this chaos is going to come a fantastic Gulf Coast, like it was before. Out of the rubbles of Trent Lott's house -- he's lost his entire house -- there's going to be a fantastic house. And I'm looking forward to sitting on the porch. (Laughter.)
As Andrew Sullivan says:

Just think of that quote for a minute; and the laughter that followed. The poor and the black are dying, dead, drowned and desperate in New Orleans and elsewhere. But the president manages to talk about the future "fantastic" porch of a rich, powerful white man who only recently resigned his position because he regretted the failure of Strom Thurmond to hold back the tide of racial desegregation.
A casual move around the cable universe and one notes that this is a rare moment when the American media speak as one. Whether it is CNN's Anderson Cooper, MSNBC's Martin Savidge or Fox's Shephard Smith and Geraldo Rivera -- there is a unified voice of outrage and horror at seeing human beings tossed into a hell beyond description. Some people remain trapped in the convention center, others outside, not to mention the "forgotten" victims -- those not "lucky" enough to be in the once-picturesque New Orleans, that for all its suffering is still getting 90 percent of the media attention.

Andrew's gut instinct is right. This image of Bush and those around him is the perfect opposite of the social dynamics of the tragedy itself -- it isn't completely racial, but it definitely has a racial element to it. The tragedy hit the poor hardest -- and there happen to be more black poor than white. In the broader picture of humanity those facts shouldn't matter. Alas, in our contemporary political and social construct they do.

The president was pretty much surrounded by people of certain privilege. He felt comfortable and made a joke. Those around him laughed (albeit, perhaps nervously). They were mostly white. In the broader picture of humanity those facts shouldn't matter. Alas, in our contemporary political and social construct they do. Forget about it being Trent Lott or the various racial elements. Seeing or hearing this, why won't the average person think, "How many houses do senators have? Even if it's only one, should the president joke about something like that? What on earth is he talking about hanging out on the guy's 'fantastic porch'? What happened to our president?"

On a different late-summer day, after an initial post-attack stumbling, the President of the United States
found his voice on September 14th during a walk through Ground Zero. He told a crowd of exhausted firefighters, one arm around a grizzled FDNY veteran, with a bullhorn in his other hand: "I hear you, the rest of the world hears you, and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon."

The words of 9/14/01 were egalitarian, firm with a common-touch; those of 9/2/05 were elitist, flip and completely out-of-touch. The former suggested resolute leadership; the latter, cavalier disengagement.

It was followed by perfunctory stops and statements in other affected areas, with constantly changing comments on the quality of the overall response. Nothing -- not even a hearty "
hang in there" to two homeless young girls -- could really expunge the memory of the earlier inappropriate levity. Indeed, his end-of-the day remarks in New Orleans about his younger-years days visiting the city where he enjoyed himself "occasionally too much" were almost as maddening. With all that, his departing "I'm going to fly out of here in a minute, but I want you to know that I'm not going to forget what I've seen," rang pretty hollow.

In a vacuum, this could be attributed to a bad day by one man. But, all this transpired on the same day the national media picked up Republican Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert's
casual comment about the disaster area: "It looks like a lot of that place could be bulldozed." Of New Orleans, he adds, "How do you go about rebuilding [the] city?...We ought to take a second look at it."

An obviously-anguished spokesman (who, ironically, previously caught flak for Trent Lott) sought to "clarify" Hastert's remarks: "The speaker believes that we should have a discussion about how best to rebuild New Orleans so as to protect its citizens."

Alas, you can't unring a bell. The speaker is talking process when -- as the above mentioned media personnel are pointing out -- people are dying. As a Republican senator
surmises that fatalities could hit 10,000. An overstatement? Perhaps, but at least David Vitter is actually thinking about the humanity and not already formulating the next round of urban renewal. No one's asking for Hastert to put forward some phony, bite-your-lip, types of "compassion." A major American city is essentially dying (if not dead): Isn't there an internal political common-sense brake that normally kicks in to prevent a national leader from talking about "bulldozing" before the corpses are buried, the suffering are alleviated and the hungry are fed?

No surprise that a New Orleans native recognizes the
damage Hastert has done to Republicans in Louisiana -- and it probably extends around the rest of the country too.

The CBC,
Jesse Jackson and other auto-pilot Bush critics are just demonstrating their political stupidity. As they pull out the "federal government doesn't care about blacks" racial card, others less interested in the history of black plight might feel obligated to bring up the looting and the shooting at rescue helicopters (though the race of those people may not be known). No, the Bush critics would be far better served following the advice of the famed strategist and Republican National Committee chairman, Lee Atwater: "Never get in the way of your enemy when he is self-destructing."

Because, the words of George W. Bush -- and to a lesser extent, of Dennis Hastert -- will resonate in a destructive fashion for some time. They will be used to paint the administration, the congressional leadership and the party whose principles they purport to uphold as clueless, callous and -- given most of this week -- incompetent.

A Bush-voting Democrat
wonders, if the Republican-run Department of Homeland Security can't deal with a natural disaster, how can they deal with a terrorist-initiated attack? That's a serious concern for supporters of the president to deal with. The words of two leading Republicans have created a political breach far greater than that arising over a simple policy dispute.

Over a few days in September four years ago, the security "brand" was indelibly attached to George W. Bush and Republicans at large. This week culminating in the first couple days of this September may cause people to wonder if the "security" shield prevents one from seeing "humanity" on the other side.

Kanye West can say
idiotically: "George Bush doesn't care about black people." But over the next many months, Republicans have to prepare themselves to address the question, "Do you and your leaders care about people, period?"

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