Tuesday, September 06, 2005

American Sentiment towards Federal Government as a result of New Orleans

I know this is a blog titled the Lebanese Bloggers. But, most of us in this blog are intimately connected to the United States either through education, birth, or actual residence. Therefore, a calamity of the scale of New Orleans is a deserving topic to discuss.

One of the US networks that has shocked me with its coverage of the Hurricane and relevant commentary has been MSNBC. In my mind they conveyed the Republican perspective in most issues. Today though, even such staunch Republicans as Joe Scarborough has lambasted this administration and the general response directed at the Hurricane victims.

I don't want to turn this entry into a Bush-bashing session - there are enough of those going around. However, I cannot but admire how these people, even though staunch Republicans, have put politics aside and moved to hold those people they perceive to be guilty of mismanagement accountable before the American people. After years and years of viewing the American press with cynicism, I'm finally beginning to admire their work! It ironically appears that in catastrophic moments like these, some aspects of the American system actually begin to shine.

Below is a transcript from a show that was aired last night on MSNBC called Countdown. I barely watch that show, but yesterday I just flipped to the channel at exactly the right time. Keith Olberman, the host of the show, was angry, frank and simply disgusted. I wish all of you had watched it, but know that most of you probably didn't. The transcripts really won't do him justice, but its the best I can do:

OLBERMANN: [...] this is not typically a newscast of commentary. I can recall only twice previously offering such perspectives.

But something that Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff said at his news conference Saturday made this necessary.


MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Louisiana is a city that is largely underwater.


OLBERMANN: Well, there`s your problem right there. If ever a slip of the tongue defined a government`s response to a crisis.

Forget the history of slashed federal budgets for projects that might have saved the levees. Drop the imagery of the government watching "Monty Python`s Flying Circus" while New Orleans drowned. Ignore the symbol of bureaucrats like Mr. Chertoff using only the future tense in terms of relief that they could have supplied Monday and Tuesday.

We no longer need the president sounding like he`s on some sort of five-day tape delay to summarize this debacle. We now have Mr. Chertoff`s indelible announcement that Louisiana is a city. Politician after politician, Republican and Democrat alike, has paraded before us, unwilling or unable to shut off the I/me switch in their heads, condescendingly telling us about how moved they were or how devastated they were, congenitally incapable of telling the difference between the destruction of a city and the opening of a new supermarket somewhere.

And as that sorry recital of self-absorption dragged on, I have resisted editorial comment. The focus needed to be on the efforts to save the stranded. Even television`s meager powers were correctly devoted to telling the stories of the twin disasters, natural and government-made.

But now, at last, it has stopped getting exponentially worse in Mississippi and Alabama and New Orleans and Louisiana, the state, not the city. And having given our leaders what we now know is the week or so they need to get their acts together, that period of editorial silence I mentioned should come to an end.

No one is suggesting that mayors or governors in the afflicted areas, nor the federal government, should be able to stop hurricanes. Lord knows, no one is suggesting that we should ever prioritize levee improvement for a below-sea-level city ahead of $454 million worth of trophy bridges for the politicians of Alaska.

But, nationally, these are leaders who won reelection last year largely by portraying their opponents as incapable of keeping this country safe. These are leaders who regularly pressure the news media in this country to report the reopening of a school or a power station in Iraq and which regularly defies its citizens not to stand up and cheer when something like that is accomplished.

Yet, they couldn`t even keep one school or power station from being devastated by infrastructure collapse in New Orleans, even though the government had heard all the chatter from the scientists and city planners and hurricane centers and some group whose purposes the government couldn`t quite discern, a group called the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Most chillingly of all, this is the law and order and terror government. It promised protection, or at least amelioration, against all threats, conventional, radiological or biological. It has just proved that it cannot save its citizens from a biological weapon called standing water.

Mr. Bush has now twice insisted that -- quote -- "We are not satisfied" -- unquote -- with the response to the manifold tragedies along the Gulf Coast. I wonder which "we" he thinks he is speaking for on this point. Perhaps it is the administration, although we still don`t know where some of them are. Anybody seen the vice president lately, the man whose message this time last year was, I will protect you; the other guy might let you die? I don`t know which "we" Mr. Bush meant.

For many of this country`s citizens, the mantra has been, as we were taught in social studies it should always be, whether or not I voted for this president, he is still my president. I suspect anybody who had to give him that benefit of the doubt stopped doing so last week. I suspect, also, a lot of his supporters, looking ahead to `08, are wondering how they can distance themselves from the two words which will define his government, our government: New Orleans.

For him, it is a shame, in all senses of the word. A few changes of pronouns in there and he might not have looked so much like a 21st century Marie Antoinette. All that was needed was just a quick, "I`m not satisfied with my government`s response," instead of hiding behind phrases like "no one could have foreseen."

Had he only remembered Churchill`s quote from the 1930s. "The responsibility of government for the public safety," Churchill said, "is absolute and requires no mandate. It is in fact the prime object for which governments come into existence."

In forgetting that, the current administration did not merely damage itself. It damaged our confidence in our ability to rely on whoever is in the White House.

As we emphasized to you here all last week, the realities of the region are such that New Orleans is going to be largely uninhabitable for a lot longer than anybody is yet willing to recognize. Lord knows when the last body will be found or the last artifact of the levee break dug up. Could be next March. Could be the year 2100.

By then, in the muck and toxic mire of New Orleans, they may even find our government`s credibility, somewhere in the city of Louisiana.

(Source: Lexis Nexis)

For the sake of comparison, imagine Future TV unabashedly criticizing Saad Hariri after a debacle that he was partially responsible for! I know it is an unfair comparison, but maybe it is still worth considering.


Anonymous said...

Republicans are toeing the party line again. Sen. Vitter of LA originally gave the federal government an F at relief. Now he's changed his tune.

"SEN. DAVID VITTER (R), LOUISIANA: Yeah, first of all, Friday, I gave all of the organized government relief effort an "F," state and federal. I think it's turned a corner, in fact, it began to turn later that day, Friday, when it essentially became an unprecedented military operation, not only National Guard, but major active duty military."

Raja said...

If the Senator continues to tow the Republican line rather than represent his constituencies, he will lose his job.

Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

Most of these politicians are from the south and are trying to save their ass from their electors' wrath, though I think that Bush is overblamed on this issue. Peopler are searching for a scapegoat.

Regardless of the real cluprit, what we can see here is a healthy democratic mechanism functionning as it should: loyalty to the people is above loyalty to the 'commander in chief'.

Raja said...

I agree with you Vox, especially your last statement. In fact, that is the message I've been trying to convey since my first entry on the issue. For the first time in a while, I'm feeling that "the people" are in the driver's seat over here. I also don't think I can over-emphasize the role of the media. Up until their coverage of Katrina and its aftermath, I believe they had a crisis of credibility. Now, if they don't screw up, it is the politicians who might be left out in the cold. I am watching.... I desperately want to see how this all plays out in the medium to long run.

Dr Victorino de la Vega said...

Since the beginning of the Katrina tragedy, Dubya has been repeating that “the area hit by the hurricane is the size of Great Britain” as if to say the sheer scale of things can be used to justify his administration’s incompetence...speaking of which, the “President-Minister” of Great Britain has patently shown his Bush-synchronized ineptitude one more time- The Times reports in its Sept 5 2005 issue that:

“British survivors have criticised the Foreign Office’s response to Hurricane Katrina … I have never known a more useless bunch of people in my life. The British press managed to gain access to the New Orleans Super-dome but UK embassy officials couldn’t!”

If conditions in Louisiana and Missouri continue to deteriorate, expect Tony Blair to publish a “thoroughly researched dossier” (nabbed from the works of some obscure Cajun student!) on the utter unavoidability of such a tragic disaster- I can already hear him say “There’s no doubt in my mind...”

Dr Victorino de la Vega
The Middle East Memo

Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

You have to consider that an area equivalent to half of France was touched with security and transport infrastructure heavily damaged.

Maybe the assistance could have come earlier (it took 7 days to be effective), but it certainly couldn't have come on day D+1. The only real mistake they made was waiting for so long before deploying the army.

barney g. said...

Please take a look at another view of the disaster relief operations, posted by Ben Stein -- you know, the "WIN BEN STEIN'S MONEY" and the "Get the RED out" AD guy, who is also a lawyer, economist, professor and author!

Before I got old (smile), I worked for several years as a volunteer RED CROSS Disaster Relief worker on hurricanes, tornados and floods throughout the US; from this perspective, I think BEN STEIN speaks true in the linked piece.