Saturday, September 10, 2005

Yes, Virginia. It is political.

Okay, I'm suitably restrained. Angry, upset, but subdued in comparison to last week, and the week before.

Yet there exists something bubbling under the surface, something churning that's not only coming from what's overheard in DC but in smaller quarters. On right-wing talk radio, they prove it. Amongst friends (unfortunately, even some of my own) there's even a bit of underlying racism, though far less insidious and obvious than what's coming from inside the Beltway.

"Everyone's politicizing it," says a friend of mine.

That's because it is political.

Much of what happened, and what we witnessed happen in the aftermath of the storm is a direct result of our political choices in this country. It's our values, our beliefs, our chosen direction writ large that exacerbated and underscores both the hurricane and its aftermath.

I submit to you, as distasteful as the remarks have become, despite the fact they leave me feeling as though someone slapped me or called my mother a prostitute, the aftermath of Katrina was not about race or class.

But it is about politics.

That's right, Kanye. Not about race or class. After all, to Bush and his inner sanctum, we're all lower class and disposable. There's nothing disequal about it.

What it's done has spark the question of race and class, and in the process, expose a great deal of our own deep-rooted biases, sometimes consciously and sometimes not. The actual event, however, wasn't about class and race.

Unfortunately, there exists the belief, according to polls, that it was about that to many blacks. I'd bet most elderly and poor feel similarly afraid and singled-out for neglect at the hands of those whose job it is to save and protect them. That perspective is what we need to worry about and fix; otherwise, we run the risk of becoming more fragmented and angry as a populace.

What then, if not race and class concerns, is the primary lesson to be found in the aftermath of Katrina? Setting aside all obvious grave security concerns for a moment, I believe this:

The white-hot laser of Katrina's aftermath centers around the meaning of strength as a nation, and the direction in which we should be heading.

Is a country strong because it can wage somewhat successful wars on other, smaller countries? Is success measured by carnage, smart bombs, exporting "democracy?" If so, at what price? Does smaller government really translate to more effective government, and, if so, why is the current government bloated beyond belief?

These are the fundamental foundations of what passes for Republicanism these days, and the post-Katrina horror highlights what it costs to be a 'guns or butter' society. Not without irony, we're learning that personal responsibility only goes so far - and that many in power who claim to believe in it do not extend the refrain to themselves when they totally fail.

On the opposite side of matters, is a country's strength measured by strong education, infrastructure, and the majority of citizens having the financial means to remove themselves from impending danger? By how it treats the least of its citizens, rather than the wealthiest? Is all butter, no guns a better way to ensuring America's success both now and in the future? Does the creation of a society with the largest demographic being middle class actually make for a stronger country, overall?

Take a look at the tax code and prosperity under FDR and later Eisenhower and then get back to me on that last one.

Though in the 'terror age,' I suppose the question assumes more validity than it once did.

To my eyes, it's far less clear than it once was - but Katrina's aftermath again suggests that to focus on the fomer while completely disregarding the latter cripples rather than strengthens.

We're shortchanging ourselves with a focus predominantly on military strength to the deteriment of all else.

Part of the failure in New Orleans last week has everything in the world to do with reduced capacity in city first responders and state resources.

In a chorus heard around the country, firefighters and police have long bemoaned a lack of equipment and manpower in larger urban areas. Nobody listened.

States are cut to the bone, financially, impacting everything from roadworks projects to basic education. To compensate, they're forced to put the burden on citizens. We, in turn, complain about filling the state coffers and wonder why "nothing gets done." Nobody gets it.

Forgive the poor metaphor, but government is much like the human body and the Federal Government is obviously akin to the head and brain (except not so much anymore, clearly). One cannot live without it being connected to the rest. If the head and brain focus on duties other than caring for what goes into the rest of the body, or what happens to anything below the neck, the result is obvious neglect.

When our government -- remember, ours -- spends more time and resources on a war than they do on their own country, states and then cities and then people cease to function properly. In that order.

Trickle down government at work.

What we've got now is a lack of connection, witnessed in myriad ways. Four days of inaction when people are dying on American television.


A direct, massive government PR campaign moving faster than federal relief efforts.


A former first lady saying that victims are "better off" in a shelter than they were before losing their homes and often family members.


A President that still has not figured out "what went wrong" if anything, in New Orleans.


A First Lady who calls the hurricane "Corrina" rather than "Katrina" - twice.


A Vice President who, when told to "Go BLEEP himself" on live television due to victims feeling left behind by their so-called leaders, somehow connects the words of Dr. Ben A. Marble with John Kerry -- last year's news.

Disconnect. And it goes on and on and on.

We're shortchanging our safety and security by dumping all our resources into war. It's indeniable. If half the money and resources we spend went back into critical infrastructure, education and the citizens of our own country, much of what we saw on the news last week would not have happened as it did.

Regrettably, the money and lives spent in Iraq are not going to help us respond to a terrorist attack. But enough first responders, state resources and a populace with decent employment and the ability to evacuate, even after an emergency, will go far to alleviate the aftermath of disaster.

Our responses, both their expediency and what's expressed by us collectively after a disaster, are the face of America. It's both frightening and painful to see what has become of us, except for the regular people who have jumped-in to give everything they can in relief and support. Why we cannot be that giving, empathetic and kind in times of non-crisis is something I do not understand. Don't want to, either. It's much easier and less costly to adequately prepare for disaster than it is to clean-up afterwards.

But to do it, we've got to ask ourselves the question: What America do we really want -- the war waging, militarily strong country, or the country with policies that are tuned-in to the needs of a nation, one that is strong at home, first?

Until we realize the true meaning of strength, we'll continue to trickle down as a nation.

(By the way, I've talked with Ben "Go Fuck Yourself, Mr. Cheney" Marble via email. Should anyone wish to help him out after having lost everything in Mobile, AL and just having a new baby, drop me a line and I'll get your email address to him.

And send a little love to Al Gore, who arranged for 271 residents of Charity hospital to be evacuated last Wednesday. He proved that real compassion and leadership are more than lip-service.)
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