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The thoughts and theories of a guy who basically should have gone to bed hours ago.

I know, I know - what's the point? But look at it this way - I stayed up late writing it, but you're reading it...

Let's call ourselves even & move on, OK?

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Saturday, September 03, 2005

Blame Bush First

This is not about George W. Bush or his policies. This is about how people respond to a major hurricane and devastating flood. Before I continue, a quick note to those who think the first two sentences are bullshit: This is not about George W. Bush or his policies. This is about how people respond to a major hurricane and devastating flood. If you still don't believe me, do us both a favor and stop reading now.

What's going on in New Orleans right now is terrible on dozens of different levels. Just to name a few:

  • Atlantic hurricanes have been growing in strength for the last 30 years, and are expected to continue growing for the next 20-30.
  • One of these huge hurricanes made landfall in several populated areas on the Gulf Coast, including a major city that is below sea level.
  • That city had no practical plan for evacuating all of its citizens in case of emergency, particularly for those who were most in need of help.
  • The infrastructure designed to keep the city from flooding was deemed inadequate forty years ago, and no one has done enough about it to this day.
  • The various local, state, and federal agencies that typically provide help in these situations appear disorganized, ineffective, and slow.
  • Some of the victims are hampering the efforts of the few rescuers that are there by doing things like firing guns at supply helicopters, robbing crippled hospitals at gunpoint, burning down buildings and then shooting at the firemen, and raping women in temporary shelter facilities.

With all this going on, I have noticed a predominant theme in the news coverage, blogging, political speeches and victims' statements thus far: President Bush is to blame. For everything. He is an incompetent, uncaring, racist, Jesus freak and he is personally responsible for all that has happened. New Orleans will be "his Waterloo."

This concerns me greatly.

First of all, much of what we're talking about here are long-term problems that have been ignored by local, state, and federal government officials for decades. Global warming, for instance, which some say has increased the temperature of the ocean and increased the strength of hurricanes, has been a political football for more than twenty years. The disrepair of the New Orleans levee system was first identified in 1965. New Orleans has had decades to formulate an evacuation plan, and had several days of warning before Katrina made landfall to put it into action. Nonetheless, global warming is Bush's fault because he didn't sign the Kyoto accords, the levee system is Bush's fault because he cut funding for the latest round of levee rebuilding, and the people trapped in New Orleans right now are Bush's fault because he layered FEMA under the Department of Homeland Security and nominated an old college buddy to run it.

Now, lest you start doubting the first two sentences of this post again, allow me to be clear: Bush bears some responsibility for each of these things. But he doesn't deserve sole responsibility. Many who have come before him, and many who are in leadership positions right now, should be held accountable as well. But commenters of every stripe have been focusing on the president.

When Hurricane Andrew ripped through Florida in 1992, FEMA was harshly criticized for its response, some people were scorned for scamming helpless victims, and the insurance companies were absolutely crucified (we haven't even reached that point with Katrina yet). Through it all, though, I have no memory of people lambasting Bill Clinton. Yes, the buck stops with the president, but the problems people were having were directly related to the actions of others, and it was those people who bore the brunt of the criticism (justified or otherwise).

So what has changed? Why the need to pin everything and anything on George W. Bush? To be honest, I think there's an unbelievable hatred for the man. I think it began with the 2000 election, strengthened through 9/11 and the War on Terrorism, and crested mightily with the invasion of Iraq. Those who hate him do so with such a white-hot passion that they cannot possibly believe themselves to be in the minority. They cannot accept that any sane person would not hate him, nor are they willing to believe that he is responsible for anything positive in the world (or, as is the case here, not responsible for anything negative).

These are the people that some have referred to as the "Blame America First" crowd. Now that the bad news is a domestic, natural disaster rather than a foreign policy question, it occurs to me that they are actually the "Blame Bush First" crowd.

This is a bad sign for our country. Much as Watergate lifted the "nod and wink" attitude of the press and the public that John F. Kennedy enjoyed, this willingness to "Blame <whoever the president happens to be> First" threatens to poison our national dialogue for years to come. We're stripping away yet another layer of logical debate and respect for our leaders, and we're doing it in a world where our internal squabbles are increasing played out on the world stage.

This is a great country. It's one of a very few in the world where one can criticize the leadership freely, publicly and without fear of retribution. There was a time where this gave us a great sense of pride and freedom in our nation. Over the past decade or so (one could argue that this attitude began with Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky), this right we hold so dear has been hijacked and used to make us feel less free, less secure, and less invested in seeing our government and our nation succeed.

The President, whoever he/she may be, will always have enemies. If those enemies feel free to indiscrimately paint him/her as the cause for all evil and strife in the world, we will all suffer the consequences. We absolutely must find a way to hold the president accountable for his/her mistakes, without clouding the argument with hyperbole that serves only to heap more shit on the pile in hopes that it will increase the stink.

God Bless America. God Bless the people of New Orleans. And yes, dammit, God Bless the President of the United States.

posted by Brian at 2:55 AM


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