Some thoughts on the anniversary of Katrina

Of all the horrifying images of Katrina, the one above is the one that sticks with me most. Bush, in the photo, is flying over New Orleans surveying the flood damage. He has turned to the camera to give what he thinks is his best “heavy is the crown” face, but all I can see in his expression is “can I go home now?” “I’ve flown over the destroyed city, I’ve looked out the window, I’ve ‘shown I care,’ can I go home now and get back to killing people, spying on Americans, crushing dissent, gutting the constitution and making all my friends wealthy?”

Katrina, for me, was when the mask finally came all the way off, revealing the administration of Bush II for what it was: an unfathomably brutal, cynical, uncaring cabal of monsters concerned only about accruing wealth and power. Karl Rove spoke often of building a “permanent Republican majority,” but time has shown that the Bush II people (who, let’s face it, are also the Bush I people, the Reagan people, the Nixon people) don’t even care about their party — they care only about themselves. They act as though they are the last people who will ever preside over the government of the United States. They believe this whole system of government was set up for them to loot the treasury for eight years and then leave town chortling.

But I was talking about Katrina.

First thing that happened two years ago today was that, for me anyway, the mainstream American news media became obsolete. The news out of New Orleans was coming too fast for outlets like the New York Times to keep up with, so I started looking elsewhere. News blogs like Eschaton, Crooks and Liars, Daily Kos and Americablog I had heard spoken of but never frequented, but during Katrina I sought them out because they were gathering information from all kinds of different places, giving me a much fuller, more truthful picture of what was going on on the ground than, say, CNN or Fox News were, including Anderson Cooper and Chuck Roberts and Geraldo and their efforts to convey the horrors of the flood.

I have not looked back since. I haven’t turned on the TV to watch an American news outlet since Katrina and I find that I am better informed for it. American TV news, it will surprise no one, is driven not by a search for journalistic truth but by advertising dollars. This formulation can only lead to networks promoting sensation over substance in their attempts to garner more viewers than their competition. The “liberal blogs,” I find, regardless of their openly-stated biases, to be more informative and ultimately more truthful than any money-driven corporate news organization.

The second thing that happened was that Katrina exposed America’s conservative movement for what it truly is. I saw a clip from The O’Reilly Factor where Bill O’Reilly, within days of the disaster, denounced the dead, the homeless and the doomed as lazy, shiftless losers who deserved exactly what they got. Now, I know that O’Reilly is a merely a heartless clown who believes in no ideology beyond the continued dominance of his little patch of media real estate, but I, who have seen a lot from these monsters in the past few years, was still struck by the sheer hatefulness of his response. I couldn’t find the clip on YouTube, but the quote I remember was O’Reilly saying something along the lines of “It is not the responsibility of the federal government to help the people of New Orleans, it was the responsibility of the people of New Orleans to get good jobs and good educations so that they would not have to live in poor neighborhoods below sea level.” His words were decidedly more snide and scabrous, but you get the idea.

Anyway, I got stuck on the first part of the statement and it rolled around in my head for days. It’s not the responsibility of the federal government to help the citizens of a major American city when it is struck by a natural disaster? I had heard a lot of denial of responsibility from conservatives over the previous five years, but this was a new one on me. If the federal government is not responsible for protecting its citizens, what, in God’s name, are they there for? Why should we pay federal taxes to a government who, literally, does not care if we live or die?

This concept bothered me so much that I went around reporting this to friends. One of those friends, not a poli-sci major but a regular, garden-variety college graduate, gave me a strange look, as though she suddenly realized that I was, in fact, only five years old, and said “But Todd, that’s the whole point of a conservative government — you give them all your money and they use it to fight wars forever.”

And so that weekend, not only Katrina but Iraq came into sharp focus for me. The Bush administration declared war on Iraq not because Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, or because they were linked to Al Qaeda, or because Saddam was a bad, bad man, but because it served their political ideal of always being at war so that nothing they do can be questioned and they can take all the money they want. I guess I always knew that on some level, but it took Katrina, and that quote from O’Reilly, and the above photograph to fully expose Bush and Cheney for what they are.

Because I realized, the reason Bush has that look on his face is because, for him, Katrina was not a disaster. When he told the lying, stupid, incompetent, crony head of FEMA he was doing “a heckuva job,” he wasn’t being clueless or idiotic, he was speaking honestly. Because for him, Katrina, far from being a disaster or tragedy of monumental, history-changing proportion, was the perfect fulfillment of his principles, namely, that in the perfect conservative world, the wealth of the nation is ever-concentrated upward from the poor to the middle class to the upper class to the ruling class, where it stays, and then the poor die, proving, by divine providence, that they were unfit to live in the first place.  Bush, in his actions, said “I am your leader.  Give me your money and then die, so that I and my friends in the military/industrial complex may flourish.”  I remember one Republican politician surveying photos of the inundated 9th Ward and reasonably judging that “it looks like that could all just be bulldozed,” as though it was not actually a city, where thousands of people had homes, but simply another felicitous opportunity for gentrification for some lucky real-estate developer.

It was only when even Fox News was horrified by the scenes of unspeakable carnage and loss that Bush and company realized that they had to put on some kind of show of caring, which is exactly what they did — they put on a show.  They put Bush in New Orleans, turned on the lights, put a camera on him, and as soon as he was off the air, turned off the lights again, and as far as I know, that’s the last time Bush ever thought about the destruction of New Orleans.  Bush in that speech looked ridiculously uncomfortable and stiff, not because he was reeling from the loss of a major American city on his watch, but because he honestly had no idea what the hell it had to do with him.

UPDATE: Given the above, how appropriate it is that Bush chose the anniversary of Katrina to ask the American people for another $50 billion to continue his endless war in Iraq (which has, by the by, now killed more Iraqis in four years than Saddam Hussein managed to kill in thirty).

UPDATE UPDATE: Pam Spaulding of Americablog is on the ground in New Orleans today and efficiently outlines just how much caring has been done by the Bush administration on the behalf of the city.

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13 Responses to “Some thoughts on the anniversary of Katrina”
  1. greyaenigma says:

    I am not drowning

    I was sorely disappointed with NPR this morning that the quote they used for Bush from two years ago was not “heckuva job”.

    The other main thing I remember from Bush back then is, after having viewed all the devastation of New Orleans, he promised Trent Lott that he would rebuild his house and looked forward to sipping lemonade on his porch before long.

    And, of course, it put the Norquist bathtub quote in stark relief.

  2. greyaenigma says:

    Given the above, how appropriate it is that Bush chose the anniversary of Katrina to ask the American people for another $50 billion to continue his endless war in Iraq (which has, by the by, now killed more Iraqis in four years than Saddam Hussein managed to kill in thirty).

    I’m kind of surprised he didn’t try and blame Katrina on Al Qaeda.

    • adam_0oo says:

      Ah ha, but they did, in a sense. I remember hearing alot of people, some of them servicemen, complaining that the National Guard could not respond in force in New Orleans because they were so sapped by being in Iraq.

  3. ghostgecko says:

    Well, there you see Bush’s real stupidity. The poor, uneducated folks shouldn’t just die, they should die usefully, in a war. Katrina was just a waste of good cannon fodder.

    • Todd says:

      Yeah, but a lot of them were elderly black people. And there is nothing more useless to George Bush than a poor, elderly black person.

  4. Anonymous says:

    That’s right.

    “It’s not the responsibility of the federal government to help the citizens of a major American city when it is struck by a natural disaster?”

    A Humbling Lesson

    Congressman Davy Crockett learns about limited government

    In the following, excerpted from the book The Life of Colonel David Crockett (1884), compiled by Edward S. Ellis, the famous American frontiersman, war hero, and congressman from Tennessee relates how he learned — from one of his own backwoods constituents — the vital importance of heeding the Constitution and the dangers of disregarding its restraints.

    • Todd says:

      Re: That’s right.

      I liked Davy Crockett a lot better when he was played by Fess Parker.

      • greyaenigma says:

        Re: That’s right.

        I hope he was better written back then.

        I skimmed that but couldn’t find any actual argument for small government beyond “it’s not explicitly in the Constitution” And that’s assuming that national defense must be provided with guns, I suppose.

  5. autodidactic says:

    More Americans have died in Iraq than were killed by Al Qaeda in the 9/11 attacks. That’s the statistic that’s the easiest to remember. Hearing the statistic that we have now killed more than the dictator we put to death… it makes me sick to my soul.

    I am 35 years old and it makes me sick to my soul that mine is the generation that will most likely be held accountable for keeping this man in office.

    I never wanted a world like this.

    • Todd says:

      I am 35 years old and it makes me sick to my soul that mine is the generation that will most likely be held accountable for keeping this man in office.

      Wait a minute — You’re not John Roberts, are you?

      • autodidactic says:

        If there was a spectrum analysis, he’d be infrared and I’d be ultraviolet. The only black lady Bush likes is Condi, and a lot of it is probably due to her baseball bat-like calves.

  6. toliverchap says:

    Well you can’t discount what you bring to your interpretation of the image. Just like in a movie the audience’s biases and assumptions carry an unpredictible weight on how something will be recieved.

  7. teamwak says:

    Sometimes I just dont get it

    Don Imus got his ass handed to him for the “happy-headed ho’s” comment, and probably rightly so, because that sort of inbred, low-grade bigotry isnt nice to hear on National Radio.

    Yet O’Reilly can say something more hateful and insiddious(sp) and be lauded and keep his National TV show.

    I know which comments I find more offencive.