14 September 2005: Hurricane Katrina

Disasters show Bush administration weakness

Four years and four days ago Osama bin Laden attacked America killing over 2,700 of our brothers and sisters. Today, bin Laden lives as he did before, relatively free despite the fact George W. Bush swore he’d get him dead or alive. To put it in perspective, it took the United States under Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S Truman less than three years and nine months to defeat the empire of Japan in World War II and to bring the war criminals to justice, all the while fighting another war with its allies to defeat Nazi Germany. No wonder our grandparents are called America’s Greatest Generation.

While bin Laden manages to live and to plot and murder for another day, Saddam Hussein has not. But that’s like the Texas Ranger in Marty Robbins’ song “Big Iron” going after Texas Blonde rather than Texas Red, and in the process taking out a good number of innocent bystanders in the town he terrorized. The result is that Texas Blonde may be dead, but the town is so ravaged that outlaws regularly do their dirty deeds nearly with impunity while Texas Red lives for another day able to plan his next murder.

The attacks of September 11, 2001,a watershed in our history, define in large part our political dialogue. Bush and his cohorts have argued that since that day America has become safer and better prepared to deal with terrorist attacks, but if his and his administration’s response to the horror unfolding in New Orleans is an indicator about how prepared to deal with such a behemoth destruction, America is in trouble. Two courses of action by the Bush team have had direct bearing on the situation nearly as much as Hurricane Katrina: invading and occupying Iraq and gutting homeland security funds to pay for the tax cuts for the ultra rich. Couple those with his team’s relative indifference in preparing for the onslaught of the hurricane, what would have been a tragedy of great magnitude has escalated into a horror unimaginable and unforgivable.

The scenes broadcast across the nation of our American sisters and brothers enduring, if surviving, horrendous ordeals have been mind blowing, so much that the feds—imagine from where that order has come—want to censor the oftentimes graphic and gruesome scenes. To be fair, the horror of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina cannot be solely placed at the door of the Bush Administration, as there is question as to whether state and local authorities did everything in their power to prepare for the storm. It was interesting to hear administration officials, though, immediately trumpet the message that we cannot afford to get caught up in the “blame game,” and then watch them do exactly that, placing all the blame at the feet of the governor and the mayor. The fact is, however, Governor Blanco implored Bush before the storm struck to send help because the state had nowhere the resources available to deal with the oncoming onslaught. What most Americans believe according to a CBS poll is that ultimately it is the federal government that is responsible for the situations on a magnitude such as this.

The issue of not viewing flag-draped coffins of our returning soldiers from Iraq as well as the historical fact of how the American public turned against the war in Vietnam when the graphic brutality of the war was broadcast into their living rooms come to mind, and therein lies the rub: the Bush Administration’s spin machine will go to any length to conceal the awful truth—the grim reality—of the consequences of its actions or, in this case, inactions. And to be sure, the rabid right will be swift to Swift Boat those who dare take the opposing view.

The B-Team is in damage control. At the time of this writing, President Bush is taking a “more hands on approach,” and FEMA Director Michael Brown, an inept, bumbling political appointee, has been sent back to Washington—but not fired—and replaced by someone who hopefully knows what he’s doing. But it is too late: the veneer of national security and preparedness has been ripped away. The horror of New Orleans is real, and it won’t take “liberal commentators” to convince Americans that when a tragedy of this magnitude will be the result of a terrorist attack, our nation will be unprepared to react in an effective and coordinated manner in order to minimize the death and destruction, and to minimize its impact on the nation overall.

Outraged. Confused. Sad. Helpless. These were among adjectives my students listed when I asked them to describe their feelings about it all. I might add one more: embarrassing, for when I asked them why they believe there is such a deep anger among the American people about this calamity, they hit the nail on the head—because it shouldn’t happen here.

Not since September 11, 2001 have Americans been so united in their anger about an issue. Then, that anger was directed towards those responsible that were outside the nation; now, it is directed at leaders within. Where we disagree, sadly, is along that fault line that has become as distinct as that of the San Andreas Fault, that is, who’s to blame. This tragedy ironically does give President Bush an opportunity to prove that “compassionate” and “conservative” can be synonymous. He could garner quite a few of poll votes if he simply went on the air and said, “We blew it. All of us, from the federal down through the state and local levels, should have been better prepared on all fronts. As the President of ALL the American people, I can tell you I am very upset about this, intend to get to the bottom of it, and will make changes, no matter where or with whom. Because, as my great predecessor Harry Truman said, ‘The buck stops here.’” Perhaps by reaching out to his old nemesis, Al Gore, to co-chair an independent commission?

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