Friday, September 2nd, 2005

New Orleans, the Bushes, and the Politics of Abandonment

In New Orleans, the end of George W. Bush’s term begins. It exposes his morally empty politics of abandonment.

All week, his statements to the press have been terse and out-of-touch, a mix of sunny optimism and defensive posturing, spiked with promises he doesn’t even seem convinced he can deliver. Today he will give a press conference at New Orleans airport, miles away from the Superdome, now Ground Zero of the Flood of 2005.

It will undoubtedly be reminiscent of another Bush speech in the wake of a disaster–his father’s talk in 1992, three days after the start of the Los Angeles riots. At the Superdome, people have been chanting at TV cameras –“we are dying”–and this Bush also cannot escape a sense that he is there with much too little, far too late.

His father’s speech on May 1, 1992 focused on violence, a way of diverting the focus of what was to be the last real debate about urban poverty this nation has had. So instead of rebuilding the city and reversing poverty, the focus of the 1992 urban aid bill shifted to short-term disaster relief, a continuation of years of abandoning the poor to serve the rich.

By now, it’s clear that New Orleans was long abandoned before Hurricane Katrina and the levee breaks forced the city’s actual abandonment. For years, scientists have not only warned of potential levee breaks that could inundate this city, but provided potential solutions. It ranked as one of FEMA’s top 3 most likely catastrophic disasters to occur.

Yet a city that is 2/3rds black and a quarter impoverished never merited the little money that had been asked for to study and shore up sinking levees. Instead, the money went to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, wars that uprooted and then abandoned the poor to once again serve the rich.

As Paul Krugman writes:

I don’t think this is a simple task of incompetence. The reason the military wasn’t rushed in to help along the Gulf Coast is, I believe, the same reason nothing was done to stop looting after the fall of Baghdad. Flood control was neglected for the same reason our troops in Iraq didn’t get adequate armor.

At a fundamental level, I’d argue, our current leaders just aren’t serious about some of the essential functions of government. They like waging war, but they don’t like providing security, rescuing those in need or spending on protective measures. And they never ever ask for shared sacrifice…

So America, once famous for its can-do attitude, now has a can’t-do governemnt that makes excuses instead of doing its job. And while it makes those excuses, Americans are dying.

New Orleans, and other places in Mississippi and Alabama today, are not too different from Los Angeles in 1992, the Bronx in 1977, or Baghdad and Kabul in 2005.

They provide parallel images now–a complicated visual jigsaw of mass tragedy, starvation, disease, thug warfare, and at the same time, a spontaneous outpouring of collective empathy, sacrifice, and support.

This is death from above.

posted by @ 9:35 am | 13 Comments

13 Responses to “New Orleans, the Bushes, and the Politics of Abandonment”

  1. Cal Ulmann says:

    I don’t think Bush is to blame alone. I’m sure some of the Hundr3eds of Billions in the transportation bill could have been diverted to be diverted but both parties of Congress screwed up.

  2. Brother OMi says:

    i think CHang is blaming all levels of gov’t for this… Bush, COngress, city gov’t… etc..

  3. Anonymous says:

    kanye west made some pointed remarks today during the NBC relief concert. this blog links to a video of kanye’s sure-to-be-controversial remarks:

    his comments weren’t polished like the emtionally devoid script other celeb’s read off the prompters, but the man makes some damn good points. some will likely see it as a stunt to sell more copies of late registration, but i agree with ye.

    while it’d be unfair to solely blame bush for katrina, he was tragically slow to react (just like 9/11). his sluggishness has sentenced a lot of folks to prolonged suffering and worse. it took him 3-5 days to finally get out there… and i know he wasn’t busy because he was on frickin’ vacation!

    then again, can’t say that i am suprised. what do you expect from a C average student?

    but enough with bush-trashing … it’s all about relief for now. we can sort out the politics after our people are out of danger.

  4. mike li says:

    p.s. anyone knows the best way to donate, email me at .

    mike li

  5. ronnie brown says:

    Bush was the “emperor with no clothes” long before he assumed the Presidency. His “cowboy charisma” is nothing more than a public relations cover for his general incompetence…surrounded by yes men within and cheerleading corporate news media from without; a freshly served hot mess.

    Alfred E. Newmann must be proud.

  6. Danyel says:

    I say, Go, Kanye!

  7. Anonymous says:

    I disagree with bush’s policies, but he probably cares about what happened to the people in the region.

    I disagree with the politics but he also probably has thousands of threats his own way every day.

    Of course people care about what happened. You could argue that Bush is being an oportunist about the photo ops, but you could just as simply argue that all of the negative comments about his presidency are every bit as opportunist on the part of his rival’s.

    Even if you disagree with a president, it’s odd to see the same sort of negative campaigning that clinton went through going the same way, and from some of the people that defended Clinton. Of course, people care about what happened, they probably didn’t see it coming.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Is bush incompetent or did he have some really onbnoxious speech writers early on? Did you go to school with them?

  9. Anonymous says:

    One thing you can say, for once some republicans might resist chicken and girl jokes during wartime.

    Looks like it wasn’t vegas, baby, after all.

    But the tragedy is senseless, so that is other than to take away from that.

  10. ronnie brown says:

    Bush “probably” cares what happened?????????


  11. ChiTownFilos says:

    While Ye’s comment may, at first glance, seem over-the-top (this is certainly how mainstream America has taken his comments), it only takes a minute of reflection to realize that he articulated a very defensible point. Isn’t it true that Bush has left a trail of policy breadcrumbs that could lead any Hansel or Gretel straight to the door of the veracity of Ye’s point? Put another way, when one considers the Bush administration’s policies (suit over U of Michigan’s affirmative action, sending a military that is disproportionately Black and Brown to fight a war on false pretenses, increasing middle class “welfare” and creating high class tax benefits, nominating John Roberts to the Supreme Court — in fact, now tabbing him for Chief Justice in the wake of Renquist’s death — even though he has a clear record of being hostile to continued Civil Rights and voting rights legislation, and now the slow and incompetent response to the plight of Black and poor folk in New Orleans) it’s actually quite reasonable to say that Bush not only appears to not care about Black people, put all poor people as well.

    Just think how ridiculous it would sound to most of us if we consider the opposite assertion: “Bush really cares about Black people and poor people.”

    Seems to me that KanYe was exactly on point — even if mainstream America’s not ready to hear it.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Many people are waiting for Bush to stumble. Some are saying this is the turning point. Of what? His impeachment? He already got his 2nd term people! It’s a little LATE for turning points.

    If we assumed people vote logically and rationally, with their best interests in mind… maybe accountability would be the appropriate angle on this. But, um, last time I checked, Bush was elected to invade countries and keep government “small” 😉

    When a person commits suicide, it doesn’t make sense to anyone. Yet it makes perfect sense to the person who kills himself. To me, this is the appropriate metaphor for contemporary American politics.

    It’s a suicide.


    ps. peace to the Gravediggaz

  13. samchennault says:

    Great column, Jeff.

    Not to say I endorse it, but I’m surprised that people aren’t rioting. When I heard there was looting, the first thing that I thought of was the LA riots. This was a very basic failure of government — before, during, and after the tragedy, and at almost all levels. I can’t comprehend how, in this age of supposedly heightened homeland security, something like this could happen. I’m not blaming just Bush, but there seems to be a passive aggressive racism and classism that defines his presidency. Check out this editorial in NYT today:

    I assumed things had gotten worse in the past few years, but I never imagined that they were this bad. And to bring it around to what Jeff was saying, all three tragedies (the NYC blackout, the LA riots, and NO flood) seem to be during periods of economic abandonment based on race and class. Just like the blackout and the riots, the tragedy NO didn’t arise from a vacuum.

    And this isn’t at all like the personal attacks hurled Clinton’s way. Maybe the tone of it is, but Clinton haters focused on conspiracies involving land deals in Arkansas, supposed homicides that Clinton orchestrated, anti-gun policies that he never implemented or even suggested, extramarital affairs that he may or may not have had. If Clinton would’ve led us into a war based on false pretences or if he would’ve bungled a disaster on this scale, he would’ve been impeached or worse.

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