On the John
Completed on September 14, 2005
It’s amazing what a week of intense rain, wind, flooding, looting, hunger, anger, and hopelessness will do to a person’s perspective. And I only saw it on TV.
Having gotten through the initial shock and sadness of Hurricane Katrina, we can now move on to the reaction process, which seems to include analysis, assignments of blame, thoughts on preventative measures, and shrill yelling. From President Bush to New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin to White House press secretary Scott McClellan to former FEMA director Michael Brown to the people of New Orleans who have been affected in the most direct and devastating ways, anyone involved in this catastrophe has gone to great lengths to ensure that the public does not hold them personally responsible. The levees even called a press conference to place blame on the architects.
The so called “blame game” is no surprise, as anyone in the political circuit worth his socks is on automatic when it comes to saving his own ass. What has been interesting amid this whole mess has been the way that our country’s divisions have been revealed.
I was watching Hurricane coverage with my friend Danny a few days after Katrina hit. I am a Chicago boy; Danny is from Indy. I voted for Gore and Kerry; Danny voted for Bush…and Bush. I am opposed to the war in Iraq; Danny has friends there. Perhaps that is all you need to know about us to understand today’s America. Every news station that we flipped to was running shots of desperate people pleading for food, water, and help. The commentators went on and on, from Wolf Blitzer to Charles Krauthammer, blaming government officials either at the state or federal level, and all the while, people sat screaming for help while copters flew overhead collecting footage.
Danny and I sat and watched. We were both upset. Danny saw people who were warned to leave the city, and didn’t. I saw people who couldn’t leave the city due to financial constraints, as well as people who didn’t want to leave the lives they’d made. Danny saw brave military men and women doing thankless work, and being fired upon. I saw the same, but wondered why it took them so long to get there, and why more wasn’t being done. Didn’t the 9/11 relief efforts begin almost immediately, with President Bush standing on a pile of rubble at Ground Zero addressing workmen and the world through a bullhorn on the 14th? Well yes, but as Danny reminded me, New York is a lot closer to DC than New Orleans is, and considering that so much man power is currently deployed in the war in Iraq, he considered the relief effort in New Orleans to be strong. Ah yes, I said, The War. And from there we went down a slippery slope, one that lead me back to why Bush is a lousy president, and lead Danny to saying that even though Bush may have been late to react, there was little he could have done. There we were, to American guys, revealing just how American we were.
In a way, I felt bad bringing up the war, even though I felt strongly about it. It seemed like such a partisan thing to do, using the misfortune of others to make a political point. But still, it was how I felt, and certainly if Jack Silverstein—a 23 year old kid with nothing political at stake—felt compelled to bring up the war when talking to my conservative friend, it is no surprise that Democratic leaders like Nancy Pelosi and Howard Dean did the same thing.
Dean also brought up the possibility of racism, suggesting that the relief effort was slow because so many of the victims were black. Many people agree with that sentiment, though others do not, and the response seems to be divided down racial lines. In response to a Sept. 8-11 CNN gallup poll that asked “Do you think that George W. Bush does—or does not—care about black people?”, 72% of blacks polled answered “no, he does not,” while 67% of whites polled answered “yes, he does.” And so we see again, like we always do, that it takes a monumental happening—such as the most destructive Hurricane in American history—to get Americans thinking about the realities of America.
So now what? Hurricane talk will die down eventually—as all things do—New Orleans will or will not be rebuilt, and the people affected will or will not figure out a way to sort out their affairs and move on with life. Doesn’t much matter to me or most of you, since we are able to return to “normalcy” and begin ignoring each other again. However, there is one thing I know for sure: at some point, we will be struck by the next catastrophe, thus forcing us to bring up all of this unpleasantness again. We probably won’t even see it coming. After all, who would’ve thunk that this country could be torn apart by something as simple as a hurricane?
Copyright 2005, jm silverstein
Lil’ Wayne shares his thoughts: