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THIS SAYS IT ALL

10 September 2005 - A

I don't know if people follow the links that I post here, but I was led to this piece that so accurately describes why I'm so furious about what has gone on in the debacle in New Orleans that rather than link to it, I'm going to just reprint it.   You can find the original here.

Here's What Gets Me

People are going around and around about who should have done what at what time to get food and water to the victims of Katrina, and to get the buses there to evacuate people from the city who didn't get out on their own, and to get medical care to the elderly so they wouldn't die, and to get control of the shelter areas so that people wouldn't be beaten, raped, and murdered at the convention center and the Superdome. Let's assume we're not deciding who should have done what at what time.

My problem with Bush -- and here, I do indeed address Bush individually, as a guy -- is that during the time that the crisis was developing, from Monday to Friday, he never seemed to experience any actual sense of urgency as a result of the simple fact that people were, minute by minute and hour by hour, dying.

Let's give him the benefit of the doubt that he was being prevented from acting by bureaucracy and the sheer magnitude of the situation. Where are the stories of how he was in his office freaking the fuck out because there were tens of thousands of Americans trapped without food and water? Where's the story of how he ripped a strip off of somebody, demanding to know what the holy hell the holdup is getting water and food to those people?

I want to hear about how he was demanding that extraordinary steps be taken. I want to hear about how he sent his lawyers into a room -- he had four days, you know -- and demanded that they come back in an hour with a plan for him to send the Marines into New Orleans with 100 trucks of food and water, posse comitatus or not. I want to hear that he was panicked. Because I was panicked. Everyone I know was panicked. Everyone I know was gnashing their teeth with helpless rage because they couldn't get in a car, drive down there, and drive a load of homeless Louisiana residents back home with them for soup and a goddamn hot bath. I want to hear that he acted at some point out of genuine despondency about the fact that citizens of the country he is supposed to be running were being starved and dehydrated in a hellish, fetid prison. We are dancing around now about whether it is his failure or not his failure. Where is the decency that would tell him that he is the president, and FEMA is part of his administration, and this failure is his to own and apologize for, whether other people also were wrong or not?

Why is he even trying to shift blame to anyone else? Why isn't he wracked with such guilt, justified or not, that he can't stand up straight? How is it possible that late in the week, when it was so obvious that every safeguard meant to guard against just this kind of catastrophe had failed and he had failed every citizen of that city, he had the joviality to make jokes about his partying days in New Orleans? I'm not talking here about appropriateness or sensitivity, although both were obviously lacking, and there's been no apology for that, either. I'm wondering how it's possible that he felt that way. How was he not tormented? Because he wasn't. You can see that he wasn't. I would feel better if there were some report that he seemed, at some point... shaken. Upset. Angry. Desperate. Something. Something other than "on vacation" and then "lecturing emptily about how much help everyone's going to get, provided they haven't already died of dehydration, drowned, or committed suicide."

The state has the primary responsibility, you say? Okay, fine. Then I want to hear how Bush offered the governor whatever she wanted on whatever terms he could legally get it to her, because it made absolutely no difference who got credit. I want to hear how he couldn't concentrate like the rest of us couldn't concentrate, because he was so consumed by images on television of old women in wheelchairs slowly dying.

Prevented from going into the city by the criminals? Are you telling me that armed thugs could take over a suburban neighborhood and surround it, and law enforcement would stand back until the thugs decided to go away? The people at the Superdome who were following all the rules were being, in a sense, held hostage by the relatively small number who chose to be violent -- to shoot at planes and whatnot. Since when do we leave good citizens to die because we don't want to get dirty doing law enforcement?

Say what you want about the mayor and governor -- those people were in pain. They saw people suffering and dying and took it as a given that it couldn't go on that way, and that if it did, government's response would be a failure. The mayor cried at the top of his lungs for help. I want to hear that Bush cried at the top of his lungs for help. I want to hear that he called every corporate hotshot he's befriended in the last twenty years and told them that if they ever wanted another invitation to the White House for dinner, they were going to pony up a fat wad of cash to the Red Cross, and they were going to do it yesterday.

I want him to have reacted like a person who happened to also be the president. I want him to have felt the same bone-deep sense of shock that I felt at the thought that this could happen in a large city, easily accessible by trucks, in a wealthy country. I want him to have gotten on the damn phone and told somebody that if there wasn't water for every person at the Superdome within eight hours, that person's head was going to roll, and he didn't care how it got done, it had better get done. I want him not to have sat around on his ass on vacation while people's children were being taken from their arms to be rescued.

I want Bush not to have spent four days dicking around while the conditions deteriorated. I want him to have acted sooner, not because it was his obligation as president and it would reflect badly on him if he didn't, but because people were dying, and everyone I know who could think of something to do did it. There were a million things he could have done besides sit around making happy speeches about how everything would be fine. The stupid comment about Trent Lott's porch doesn't infuriate me because Trent Lott can't miss his porch. He has as much right to be sad over his losses as anyone. But the lighthearted way in which Bush delivered those remarks was absolutely chilling.

I want him to have been consumed with grief and sorrow at the dying that was ongoing, and he wasn't. I want him to have felt like a profound failure because an entire segment of the population of one of America's greatest cities was suffering and was at risk of starving to death, but he didn't. I want him to have been embarrassed when the FEMA director gave up the information that FEMA knew less about the convention center than CNN, but he wasn't. I want him not to have smirked his way through the entire experience, and he did.

No matter whose fault the slow relief effort was, the fact of the matter is that these are Americans, and this is their president, and the fact that they were homeless, starving, dying of thirst, and deprived of medication never once seemed to actually bother him.

 

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