Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The politics of Katrina

"May you live in interesting times," says the old Chinese curse. Well, I'm starting to blog in interesting times, freshly in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

For some people, the Katrina debacle has been the tipping point in going over to the anti-Bush camp. My reaction, strangely, has been almost the opposite. By the way, I did not vote for Bush in the last election, and my readers may recall I have been highly critical of Republicans on a number of issues, from anti-gay bigotry to Terri Schiavo. But the post-Katrina combination of hysteria and glee from the Bush-haters has been so revolting, it's pushing me in the other direction. (For examples see the links here and here; see also this thread and this one, where a poster inquires, "Louisiana voted for Bush, twice. Is Katrina a form of divine retribution?") When it was widely believed there were 10,000 dead in New Orleans alone, some people could think of nothing better than to gloat that Chimpy BusHitler had been taken down a peg. How compassionate. Yes, Bush deserves plenty of criticism, for everything from the cronyism and cluelessness at FEMA to an initially nonchalant response to the disaster (strumming the guitar while New Orleans drowned) to that amazingly stupid comment about Trent Lott's house rising from the rubble. And yes, I know that to some extent the buck stops with the president. But a lot of the charges leveled at Bush have been so absurdly unfair that it only makes me more sympathetic.

And no, I'm not excusing the weaselly and sometimes downright dishonest attempts of some pro-Bush spinners to push off all responsibility on state and local officials (including the claim, which made its way to Fox News Special Report with Brit Hume, that New Orleans mayor C. Ray Nagin only ordered a mandatory evacuation after Bush "pleaded" with him to do so). But why is it any better for so many the left to pin all the blame on Bush and dismiss all talk of the responsibility (or lack thereof) of the state and local authorities as so much pro-Bush spin? Read this Knight-Ridder investigative report and tell me that the primary blame lies in Washington. Everyone was clueless. Everyone was shamefully unprepared. Perhaps the most amazing revelation in this story is this:

Though several government agencies were certain by 6 p.m. on Monday that New Orleans' levee system had given way, no official screamed for urgent help when daylight hours might still have permitted a rescue effort.

By that time, water had been pouring from the damaged 17th Street Canal for perhaps as long as 15 hours. A National Guard Bureau timeline places the breach at 3 a.m. Monday and an Army Corps of Engineers official said a civilian phoned him about the problem at 5 a.m., saying he had heard about it from a state policeman.

But officials sounded no alarm until Tuesday morning, after the city had been flooding for at least 24 hours.

I'm sure someone, somewhere will come up with an explanation of how that's Bush's fault, too.

By the way, in case you haven't heard, Bush cutting funding for flood control projects in Louisiana was not the problem. And neither was global warming.

To all this, add the stoking of racial divisions with the charge that federal aid to the victims in New Orleans was slow because they were black (thank you, Harry Shearer at the Huffington Post, for putting that to rest with a post about Katrina's neglected white victims). The race-baiting reached its nadir when two Air America hosts, appearing on MSNBC's "The Situation with Tucker Carlson", refused to condemn the Rev. Louis Farrakhan's demented suggestion that white people had deliberately blown up the levees in New Orleans in order to flood the black neighborhoods. (Chuck D.: "You cannot blame people for coming up with conspiracy theories when they look on television and see that the government is four days late in saving people that are supposed its citizens." Rachel Maddow: "Conspiracy theories don‘t necessarily help but you have to understand where they come from. They come from people feeling like this disaster had a real racial component. I mean it was a majority black city that was absolutely abandoned by the country where people went through stuff they never should have gone through.")

Add to that the bizarre charge that complaints about looting in New Orleans were "racist" -- a pretty racist claim it itself, since it implies that looting is a "black thing." (And please, let's drop the B.S. about how the looters were just desperate people in need of food and other basic necessities. Yes, some people broke into stores to get basic necessities. But see this account by a British tourists who says that "looters ... tried to sell the stranded guests [at his hotel] mobile phones, radios and clothes.") Add to this cries of "ethnic cleansing against starved, tired, half dead black Americans" when the military arrived in New Orleans on September 2 for the rescue, evacuation and crime control.

Sure, some on the right have made stupid and callous statement in Katrina's aftermath (see Sen. Rick Santorum blaming the victims who didn't evacuate even though many didn't have the means, or American Spectator editor George Neumayr blaming rap music and affirmative action, or the Hoover Institution's Victor Davis Hanson claiming that the Katrina response hadn't been a miserable failure after all). But on the whole, the Hate Week on the left has been far worse. The left on Katrina has been much like the right on Terri Schiavo: hysterical, paranoid, shrill, hate-filled, and not exactly reality-based.

It's enough to make me want to be on the other side.


Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Two points:

1) But a lot of the charges leveled at Bush have been so absurdly unfair that it only makes me more sympathetic, is a sentiment more notable for its honesty than its originality. Pretty much every conservative on the web (a) thought Bush did a pretty crummy job, but (b) detests the president's critics even more.

2) I would suspect you really can't find a critic of the president who would make or actually has made the charge that only the president is responsible. You demolish this straw man pretty well, but the most vituperative leftist Bush-hater can recognize that there were other failures at the state and local level.

Just not by state and local officials who had run for reelection lasat year on the pledge that only they could make us safer.

Anonymous said...

You could just say, "Both 'sides' are stupid."

Cathy Young said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone -- good points. Actually I agree that both sides are stupid, the anti-Bush one just happens to be more hysterical right now.

Barry, if the criticism from the left focused on the cronyism and incompetence at FEMA, I'd happily join in. Heck, even Michelle Malkin agrees (and for the record, it's a rare occasion when I agree with Malkin).

Oh and in case anyone is wondering about the comment I removed: it was spam.

Anonymous said...

For future reference, "may you live in interesting times" is neither old nor is it Chinese. Stephen DeLong has sourced the quotation back to a 1950 science fiction story: "U-Turn" by Duncan H. Munro, a pseudonym for Eric Frank Russell. Read about it here:

Anonymous said...

Why is it appropriate when you use Katrina as occasion to take WS profs down a peg, but a sign of non-compassion if someone uses Katrina as occasion to take Bush down a peg?

Cathy was taking the professors down a peg for saying dumb things about Katrina, and taking other people down a peg for their barely suppressed glee at the climbing body count and its effect on Bush's popularity. There's no inconsistency.

Anonymous said...

Adding to Ampersand's first comment, not only is it misguided to switch sides over hateful and rediculous rhetoric from one side of the political spectrum, its a definite overreaction. Although I believe you were probably only using this term to punctuate your points and did not really switch sides, this type of tone only seems to support the too often radical nature of today's political discussion in the mainstream media and on blogs.

I can't imagine your reaction was this radical. Please tell me you are not one of the electorate that would support a President based on too far out rehotoric from his or her many detractors.

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