Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Southern Discomfort & the Arrogance of the Presidency...

Tough questions will arise in the coming days concerning the Bush Administration response - or lack thereof - to the deteriorating situation in Southern states battered by the onslaught of Hurricane Katrina. In addition, we are curious to know why it took such a long time (nearly 72 hours) for the President's "compassionate conservatism" to kick in upon realizing the devastation that took place. Certainly, the assessment should have been absolutely clear. It can't get any more worse than the complete destruction of an entire coastline and the loss of a major U.S. city. However, we suspect that this President has a habit of relying primarily on the irresponsibly filtered analyses of aides too afraid to give the full truth, hoping that a quick Air Force One fly-over will suffice: "Yes sir, the situation on the ground is very difficult ... but we have it under control." And so, news reports emphasize the Commander-in-Chief " ... cutting his vacation short" as if hundreds of thousands of American refugees planned Katrina and suddenly inconvenienced him.

Doesn't look too good if you ask us. And since all natural disasters bear some sort of political consequence, certain individuals should be feeling quite nervous about their prospects for 2006 mid-terms.

Another more pointed, political and more racially-charged question will also arise: Was the response of a sitting Republican President sufficient enough to address the needs of a heavily Democratic New Orleans with a population over 70 percent African American? Some may find this question irrelevant - perhaps, even absurd. Yet, at least we ask what is certainly on the minds of many as video feeds from adventurous journalists braving the flooded and "lawless" streets of New Orleans show scores of looting Black people breaking into stores and dashing off with anything needed to survive (although we cringe at reports of others looking for the latest pair of Nikes in their foot size). This doesn't look too good either, and accusations of media stereotyping and bias will soon follow: "Where were the looting White people?"

But, it's not as simple as that. Just weeks ago, this blog placed focus on the grueling level of poverty in New Orleans, LA ("Black Eye in the Big Easy," 8.5.05) while contemplating the political fate of Congressman Jefferson (D-LA) in the face of an FBI probe. It was clearly an issue few cared to discuss at that time, but here we are. Why be surprised? Prior to Katrina, New Orleans was just as devastated by entrenched poverty, racism, political corruption, burgeoning unemployment and environmental waste in disregarded urban communities. Is it any wonder we now find the Big Easy gripped by rampaging bands of that Bad Apple 10 percent of the population that just can't help itself? The collective patience of New Orleans was running thin long before Katrina. It just took a natural disaster to shed light on the enduring plight of the Deep South's poor. Today's New York Times Editorial aptly notes: "People who think of that graceful city and the rest of the Mississippi Delta as tourist destinations must have been reminded, watching the rescue operations, that the real residents of this area are in the main poor and black."

The Washington Post's Dan Froomkin also asks an important question: "Are National Guard troops and equipment required to restore order in this country many thousands of miles away?
Will he and his administration meet this disaster quickly and effective with the appropriate civilian and military resources and manpower?"

"Military resources" is the key phrase here. A disaster of this magnitude requires a massive, well coordinated and rapid military response. But, that isn't happening since hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops are thousands of miles away and bogged down in a war to build "democracy" in a country that, judging by its draft constitution, doesn't seem to want it. We find it rather difficult explaining that to a President brazen enough to compare our occupation in Iraq to our very necessary involvement in World War II. Again, it takes an Act of God to open eyes. Maybe that will translate into something tangible come next election cycle. In the meantime, more important than any federal, local or state response is a unified community response.