I know... two in one week, but I couldn't resist.
Any of you know who Andrew Sullivan is? He's a walking oxymoron, a "gay Republican" who appears often on the Bill Maher show. He's also the rare right-leaner who sees George W Bush for the hollow incompetent that he is.
For some reason, I just decided to go look at Sullivan's blog and I note that he's keeping a pretty steady commentary on the Katrina situation, taking even-handed shots at people on both ends of the political spectrum.
What I want to pass along from Sullivan's site is this little bit of Constitutionally-grounded "what went wrong in the Gulf" commentary from another writer, a "theocon" named Mark Shea:
"Doubtless certain of my readers will again leap to the tired claim that I "hate Bush". Sorry, but a quick read of my blog will not support that conversation-killing thesis. I don't hate Bush. I simply wish to hold him responsible to do his job. Do I deny that there is an entitlement mentality? Of course not. But it is not an expression of entitlement mentality to expect the state to ensure domestic tranquility and provide for the common defense. It is not an entitlement mentality to expect to be safe from rape in emergency facilitiies provided by the state. It's not an entitlement mentality to think you shouldn't have to watch your baby die of hydration because the Feds couldn't figure out how to airlift water to helpless thirsty people for five frickin' days and, in their world-historical and criminal incompetence, actually turned offers of water away.
The Rush Limbaughs of the world will have ample opportunity to blame poor people for foolishly expecting the state to do what the Founders thought it should do: ensure domestic tranquility and provide for the common defense. We'll all be able to indulge ourselves in blaming the poor for being powerless, undereducated, frequently below average in IQ and all the rest of it. They have no access to the Golden EIB microphone. Likewise, nobody (including me) is going to spring to the defense of the state and local authorities in NOLA. They have no effective spin machine to shift the blame to somebody else and they deserve all the hell they will get.
But Bush does have a spin machine. And it's already swinging into high gear to sayi loudly, "Don't look at Bush! Look! Incompetent state and local guys! Look! Stupid poor people! Look! Thugs!"
So long as Bush remains the King of Massive Government Spending Coupled with the Promise of "Homeland Security", guys like Limbaugh are going to have a colossally difficult time shifting the blame for this debacle away from Bush. That's not "Bush hatred". That's cold logic. "
See, the government WAS supposed to do something! "Ensure domestic tranquility and provide for the common defense." That's what Bush swore to do when we swore to "uphold the constitution." Pretty simple when you look at it those terms. Oops!
If you really have nothing better to do, then it's worthwhile to spend some time perusing Andrew Sullivan's blog for diverse points of view, and you can read the entire post that the above quote is lifted from at Mark Shea's blog.
This time, it's somebody else's opinion that should be yours, too.
As most of you know, Ann and I travel a fair amount. For years, we've been saying "ya know, we really ought to go to New Orleans." I guess we'll be putting that trip off for a while, if not indefinitely.
Like everybody in the world, I've been watching the TeeVee footage and reading all the commentaries, right and left. I've read all the lefties like Maureen Dowd and Molly Ivins and Frank Rich, the latter quite effectively equating the situation in New Orleans to the sinking of the Titanic: "New Orleans first-class passengers made it safely into lifeboats; for those in steerage, it was the horrifying spectacle of every man, woman and child for himself."
And I've read commentaries by typically right-leaning commentators like David Brooks, who departed from his usual endorsement of all things conservative and Republican to note that Katrina represents a "huge cultural moment," coming as it does on the heals of "a string of confidence-shaking institutional failures" like 9/11 and everything about the war in Iraq.
And I've gotten countless e-mails from my friends all over the country, who are all uniform in their scorn for the man in the White House, or Crawford, or whatever undisclosed location he happens to be holed up in this week.
All of which makes me seriously wonder what I, a mere bystander/viewer with a computer, an e-mail list -- and too much time on my hands --might constructively add to the cacophony of criticism being fired at all levels and from all directions in Katrina's wake. Well, I do have one fairly simple point to make, and I'll get to it as quickly as possible...
First, the the thing that strikes me as oddly discordant in all the punditry, both amateur and professional, is the quickness with which my philosophical and political compadres rush to lay blame for the whole cataclysm squarely at George Bush's feet. Clearly, if we're going to point fingers, we're going to need all the fingers of both our hands for this one. And a few toes maybe, too.
For example: Last night I saw some aerial footage of the flooded areas of New Orleans, and I took particular note of a shot of a vast parking lot of water-logged school buses. I frankly did not realize the significance of that image until I heard somebody on right-wing talk radio ask this morning, "why were those buses still in New Orleans? Why hadn't they been used to evacuate some of the people who wound up at the Superdome because they lacked the means to leave town?"
You'd like to think that an Enlightened Leader would have come down from on high and said, "let's use the school buses." But that leader could just as well have been the Mayor of New Orleans or the Governor of Louisiana. When the mayor of New Orleans issued the evacuation order, didn't he know that there were a lot of people in his city who lacked the necessary means to get out of town? And not all of them poor, mind you: there are plenty of people of means in New Orleans who did not own a vehicle simply because their urban lifestyle precluded the need for one.
Don't get me wrong, I've got nothing kind to say about Bush's role in all this. I tuned in when he went to New Orleans on Friday; I heard one of the impromptu speeches he made on the scene, and it occurs to me that if George Bush were somehow forced to drop the expressions "workin' hard" and "makin' progress" from his repertoire, the man whould have absolutely nothing left to say. Every time Bush opens his mouth, that's about the extent of what comes out. That's what's going to be carved on his tombstone: "Here lies a victim of the Peter Principal... but he was workin' hard and makin' progress."
The best George Bush could do was act as Cheerleader-In-Chief... which is fitting, considering that his great contribution to life during his tenure at Yale was serving on the cheer leading squad, a fact we often forget while rummaging around in his spotty National Guard records.
And while I'm at it: Gee, doesn't all this make a great advertisement for the "freedom and democracy" that W is trying to export around the world through the barrel of a gun? I can see the Public Service Announcements now: "Adopt our system and you too can have thousands of poor people starving and dying of thirst in your own streets!"
Sorta makes you wonder if the people in Iraq are seeing the footage from New Orleans on Al Jazeera and saying to each other, "look, some place has got it worse than Baghdad!"
But the real reason I don't think all the blame can be laid at George Bush's feet is because he is in fact the titular heir of a trend in governance that reaches back at least as far as Newt Gingrich's "Contract on America," or, if you prefer, all the way back to Reagan and the earliest iterations of "trickle down economics." Between Reagan and Bush 41, Gingrich, Tom Delay and now Bush 43, a conservative/Republican ideology has pretty much managed the throttles of America's engines. It should be clear to anybody viewing the footage from New Orleans that somewhere along the way, the filters through which the great wealth of this nation is supposed to trickle have gotten as clogged as the pumps in New Orleans.
Since I started writing these Screeds last year, I have clung privately to a very simplistic belief regarding the central difference between conservative/Republican political ideology and that of the liberal/Democrats: To me, it seems that the Republicans are the party of "every man for himself," while the Democrats, at their idealistic best, should be the party of "everybody pulls together."
The best the Democrats can hope for in the short term is to regain control of the Senate in 2006. From there, perhaps they can reclaim the White House in 2008. But in order to do that they are going to need a clear, simple message that both paints the Republicans into the corner of their hypocrisy and clearly defines the ideals that the Democrats hope to restore. Katrina has handed the Democrats precisely the opportunity they need to crystallize both sides of the debate.
If the Democrats (or any opposition party) are going to reverse the deteriorating trends of the past two-plus decades, they have got to adopt a simple message, one that they can say over and over again without confusion or embarrassment.
So repeat after me:
The Republicans are the party of "every man for himself." In New Orleans, we have seen the ultimate realization -- the utter moral bankruptcy -- of that ideology. Vote for Democrats, and "Let's All Pull Together."
Admittedly, it could be a hard sell. As Frank Rich pointed out, "every man for himself" worked fine for the large majority of New Orleans residents -- the roughly 80%, or 400-thousand, of the city's half-million residents who managed to load up their SUVs, fill the tanks with $2.50/gallon gasoline and head out of Dodge. But even those people had to be appalled, once they got wherever they were going, to turn on their TeeVees and see the fate they had narrowly escaped.
The political pendulum in America began swinging to the right with Ronald Reagan's election in 1980. It kept swinging right through the Clinton years ("The era of big government is over..."), and the arc accelerated with the attacks of 9/11. With Katrina and its aftermath, I think (well, hope) that history will record that the pendulum has reached the zenith of its swing to the right.
The pendulum has to start swinging back in the 2006 mid-term elections. If it doesn't, then I share the unspoken fear that a lot of people felt as they watched their TeeVee screens last week: that what we saw in New Orleans was just a dress rehearsal for the fate that awaits the rest of America after another decade or two of "compassionate conservatism."
Anyway, that's my opinion, and it should be yours, too.
I want a job like the job Frank Rich has got. Rich no doubt makes a very fine living writing a column for the New York Times once a week. While most of the columnists for the Times toil to contribute about 800 words twice a week, Rich writes a longer column than the others, so I guess he only has to do one a week. But the few hundred extra words seem to give Frank Rich the room he needs to paint some very clear pictures.
Frank Rich lives at the intersection of politics and culture. His job amounts to monitoring the news, and then commenting on how the various media report the news. And somehow, he manages to put it all together, and find the shreds of the truth that are drowned but by the static. His columns have a very high "signal to noise ratio." That's why sitting down and reading Frank Rich is one of the highlights of my Sundays.
So I'm just going to pass on a link to Frank Rich's column from this past Sunday's Times, where he weighs in on Cindy Sheehan, Bush's vacation, Pat Robertson (just Who Would Jesus Assassinate?) and the simmering cesspool we've made out of Iraq.
What I found most compelling about this particular column -- and the reason I feel compelled to pass it on -- is that Rich has the temerity to say what a lot of people in my circle are loathe to admit:
"It isn't just Mr. Bush who is in a tight corner now. Ms. Sheehan's protest was the catalyst for a new national argument about the war that managed to expose both the intellectual bankruptcy of its remaining supporters on the right and the utter bankruptcy of the Democrats who had rubber-stamped this misadventure in the first place."
Yes folks, the Democrats have just as much culpability for this mess as Bush and the neo-cons who pull his strings:
"If there's a moment that could stand for the Democrats' irrelevance it came on July 14, the day Americans woke up to learn of the suicide bomber in Baghdad who killed as many as 27 people, nearly all of them children gathered around American troops. In Washington that day, the presumptive presidential candidate Hillary Clinton held a press conference vowing to protect American children from the fantasy violence of video games."
Here is the link to Rich's August 28 column:
So read that and see if it doesn't make you start to think -- as I've been saying all along (haven't I?): that with a (very) few exceptions, the Democrats are just as responsible for this war as W and his neo-con-cronies. Both parties in Congress bought into it, hook line and sinker. Not a one of 'em had the presence of mind to see they wuz bein' snookered, or to scratch beneath the surface of the WMD "intelligence" to see that the fix was in. Least of all the guy we wound up running against the prime perpetrator in last year's election.
Me... I'm starting to lose patience with this whole political duopoly, which looks more and more every day like the the two sides of the plutocracy. What's so sacred about the "two-party" system, when both parties are in fact the opposite sides of the same coin?
What'd that Jefferson guy say about "When in the course of human events..." ??
Anyway, that's my opinion, and it should be yours, too.
I always liked Wes Clark, I thought his military experience would give him the credibility to send Bush back to Crawford in the 2004 election. Instead we wound up with the very vulnerable John Kerry ("I voted for the war before I voted against it") as the Democratic nominee.
Here, General Clark chimes in on the bubbling quagmire President "Mission Accomplished" has gotten us into, and articulates a comprehensive approach to making it all better.
It's hard to argue with his initial premise:
"More than half the American people now believe that the invasion of Iraq was a mistake. They're right. But it would also be a mistake to pull out now, or to start pulling out or to set a date certain for pulling out. Instead we need a strategy to create a stable, democratizing and peaceful state in Iraq -- a strategy the administration has failed to develop and articulate."
That's pretty much how I feel about the whole situation: starting the war was a mistake of epic proportions, but we just can't turn our backs on the fuck-up now. But it is going to take more than simplistic rhetoric delivered before hand-picked audiences to fix the mess.
And it is for sure going to take more thought than W's current line, which simply stated now amounts to "the killing and death must continue in order to justify the killing and death we and the Iraqi people have endured so far."
President Bush, let me introduce you to General Clark:
Link: Before It's Too Late in Iraq.
... But It's Not On The Airwaves.
That's the title of an "underground" music video by spoken word artist Chris Chandler that I think you all might find entertaining.
Chris Chandler is hardly your typical singer-songwriter. He might be the first to tell you, he can't really sing, and his pieces are not really "songs" though they are frequently put to music. And I'm not sure, but I think he's finally given up trying to play guitar.
But whatever you call his art, Chris Chandler's commenatries on American politics and culture are among the most biting, incisive, and original work I've ever encountered. Among my favorite Chris Chandler "lyrics" is this excerpt from a track on 'Generica' called "Elvis," in which I think he rather succinctly sums up the late 20th/early 21st century American ethos:
"You see, we... are like Elvis. In the seventies. Puffy and bloated, wheezing our way through our set, heaving our way across the world stage, the fans still scream for more, failing to notice any decline. The world wants what we have, but America has left the building."
In his video, Chris comments on the difference between the current "anti-war" environment and the Vietnam-related movement of the 1960s... the title of the piece pretty much tells it all, but I don't want to spoil it for you. So just aim your web browser to:
...scroll down to "Windows Media" or "Quicktime," choose a player, click on the link, and launch the video.
See if you don't agree with his premise...
Anyway, that's my opinion, and it should be yours, too...
Novelist E.L. Doctorw (Ragtime) writes in the East Hampton Star:
I fault this president for not knowing what death is. He does not suffer the death of our 21-year-olds who wanted to be what they could be. On the eve of D-Day in 1944 General Eisenhower prayed to God for the lives of the young soldiers he knew were going to die. He knew what death was. Even in a justifiable war, a war not of choice but of necessity, a war of survival, the cost was almost more than Eisenhower could bear.
But this president does not know what death is. He hasn't the mind for it. You see him joking with the press, peering under the table for the weapons of mass destruction he can't seem to find, you see him at rallies strutting up to the stage in shirt sleeves to the roar of the carefully screened crowd, smiling and waving, triumphal, a he-man.
Link to the rest of Doctorow's essay: East Hampton Star - In the News.