[Warning: as can be guessed by the title, this post contains strong language.]
Ten years ago, I was telling my friends that people in the Gulf Coast were using “the C-word”: Camille. Growing up in Florida, the refrain you always heard was “That was some hurricane, all right, but it wasn’t like Camille.” For the first time I could remember, people were looking at a storm and wondering if maybe, just maybe, this one would be “like Camille.”
Now, of course, people say “yeah, that was a storm, but it was nowhere near to Katrina.” But Katrina, by the time it hit, was only a strong Category 3 — not a 4 like Andrew, let alone a 5 like Camille. Katrina was a man-made disaster as much, or more, than a natural one.
The entire story of the political and policy missteps which culminated in a clusterfuck of monumental proportions goes back decades before Katrina started to form over the warm waters of the Atlantic Ocean. But the Bush Administration’s abject failure to behave with competency or compassion in the wake of the storm resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people and the destruction of the lives of many thousands more.
The man at the center of the fiasco, FEMA director, Michael Brown, has a piece in Politico Magazine, explaining his side of the story. According to him, he was the victim of a vicious press and idiotic superiors, and the only mistakes he made were matters of media relations and spin control. He does have some valid points: FEMA needs to be independent of the sort of political meddling Brown claims resulted in support being pulled from New Orleans and sent to Mississippi because Trent Lott threw a temper tantrum. And yes, a lot of blame rests very squarely with New Orleans municipal and Louisiana state governments. But even in his defense of himself comes across as whiny and obtuse.
Brown sprinkles sad images (e.g.young mothers in the Superdome in squalid conditions) merely to say how these things had nothing to do with him. Nowhere in the entire piece does Brown in any significant way express any dismay at the toll that all of that incompetence by the government took; there is a detached “mistakes were made (and not by me)” air about the entire piece. And then there is this…
The American public needs to learn not to rely on the government to save them when a crisis hits. The larger the disaster, the less likely the government will be capable of helping any given individual. We simply do not have the manpower to help everyone. Firefighters and rescue workers would all agree the true first responders are individual citizens who take care of themselves.
This astounding viewpoint is…
…a fuck you to every poor person living within 100 miles of the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic Ocean.
…a fuck you to every poor person living in Tornado Alley.
…a fuck you to every poor person living in the flood plains of the Mississippi, Missouri, or Ohio rivers.
…a fuck you to every poor person who lives in any part of the country subject to horrific blizzards or ice storms.
This statement is a huge upraised middle finger to every person in America who lacks the means to get themselves out of the way of disaster, and insurance to help themselves recover from it.
“Individual citizens who can take care of themselves” would not include people who have no transportation to evacuate when no other means of evacuation have been made available, or who have no place that they can evacuate to. “Individual citizens who can take care of themselves” would not cover people with disabilities that lack resources to help themselves keep safe. “Individual citizens who can take care of themselves” would not be poor people left homeless by a hurricane or tornado or flood.
Stating, as Brown does, that the federal government should step in only “in those disasters that are beyond the capacity of state and local governments to handle” neatly begs the question of why the Bush Administration in general and he in particular did such a horrible job in dealing with a hurricane. And Brown’s statement “the federal government must not become a first responder” since “the more state and local governments become dependent upon federal dollars, the weaker and more dependent upon the federal government they will become” only makes sense if you belong to a party who, in Grover Nordquist’s words, wants to shrink federal government so small it can be drowned in a bathtub. It totally ignores the issue of what the federal government should do in cases where the local or state governments are too corrupt or incompetent to take care of all of their citizens fairly and adequately. You only have to look at how school resources are divvied up in some places in America to get some idea about how disaster resources might be.
But I suppose if you belong to a party who believes government is a bad thing, or have the wealth or connections that mean you can take care of yourself even if left all on your lonesome, then I guess you can make statements like “the American public needs to learn not to rely on them to save them when a crisis hits” in all sincerity, even if it does make you look like a bastard. Either that, or a fool. Or both.
The rest of us understand that the government cannot save all of us, but we damn well expect them to try.