Thursday, September 08, 2005

The legacy of the Uncivil War haunts the Katrina catastrophe

At some point in the 1980s, when I was moving from newspapering to politics, a bright young man named Lee Atwater was remaking the Republican Party and the South. His main idea was to aggressively use wedge politics, especially race politics, to peel away white southern Democrats from their party.

Atwater is dead but the movement he started lives on. The demonization of political opponents, using the techniques typically associated with psychological warfare. The political opposition became instead the enemy.

This view if the world was brought into the public eye when Rep. Newt Gingrich, the leader of the conservative revolution in Congress in the early 1990s, declared a “bloodless civil war” was underway against Democrats and other opposition parties, such as liberal interest groups.

This approach was terribly successful. The effort to divide and conquer has brought the heirs of its architects into complete control of the federal government, and much of the media (at least the radio and cable television talk shows that lead public opinion).

It has also left the nation in the deepest division since the years leading up to the first Civil War.

It didn’t take long for the division to emerge in the post-Katrina south. The governor of Mississippi is the former chair of the Republican National Committee, and would brook no criticism of the Bush Administration, even as officials across Louisiana wept and swore in their distress on natinal television.

Much of the affected population, especially in NOLA, is made of up the “Them” of the uncivil war: working class black people, and the economic dead-enders (to borrow the current term of art in Iraq) who also populated their community.

A basic premise of the Uncivil War is that this Other aren't neighbors with whom we disagree; they are a vicious and unAmerican mob, threatening "Our" very way of life.

How did we wind up in Poli Sci 101 on a blog about Hurricane Katrina? Because much of what happend, outside of the forces of nature, happened and continues on it current course because of the ugly political realities of the Uncivil War.

It is my view, based on every fact I can find, that FEMA and Homeland Security failed their first major test catastrophically, leaving thousands more dead than need have died. The facts clearly support this. Every significant local elected official not formerly on the payroll of the RNC agrees, as does the New Orleans Times-Picayune, and all of the national media who have been on the ground.

But our ruling political elites and their allies cannot allow this. Like North Korean aparatchiks, nothing must be allowed to pierce the veil and disturb the vision of the United States as a shinning white Chritian city on a hill, or sully the image of its Leader.

I don't believe that the President and his inner circle rejoiced in the suffering of New Orleans. I believe that they were indifferent to it.

If they felt any joy it was only that the victims and survivors were part of that great, dirty Other. And they were behaving so badly. Every effort was made to make the most out of this circumtance. Although all local reports indicate looting (excluding people taking water and food, medicine and clothes) was minor. Never mind that there is not a single report of an aircraft being fire at. Ignore that the worst of the rumours of rape and mayhem can't be confirmed by the NOPD or the reporters on the ground.

The leaders of the Uncivil War could not have ordered a more perfect spectacle, a better demonstration of the unfitness of the darker and poorer populations to govern themselves, their unfitness as Americans. The media sitting in their comfortable studios in New York and Washington and Atlanta obliged. They circulated every rumour, and ran the same video of a handful of looters over and over again.

Given the task of saving a population so marginal to their view of the world they might as well have lived in a third world country, out federal leaders turned their heads. It was not so much race as pure politics. These people didn’t matter to them, dead or alive.

These people are some of the first mass casualties of the Uncivil War. They were victims of a spoils system that put the former head of show horse farms in charge of our domestic national security. They were allowed to die because their lives and deaths could not be directly detected in the valuation of the New York Stock Exchange.

The federal government only began to respond when the scale of the disaster became apparent, and the spectacle of watching thousands of dead bodies pulled from the sodden rubble threatened to disrupt their other agendas.

In the view of some, all blame falls on local shoulders. This is in no way supported by the facts (although the acolytes of AM radio will dispute it to their deathbeds). Their were errors at every level, as there must be in any chaotic situation.

But in their cult-like insistence on a controlled reality, they could not allow their own failures to become an issue. How could our Dear Leader be seen as anything other than a shoulder to cry on in times of crisis?

So instead of a discussion or examination of how the federal government massively failed it's people, we have heard an endless discussion of the details of how NOLA might have been evacuated or not, a discussion largely innocent of any facts, but accompanied by a picture of flooded school buses.

What is almost as distubing as the callous disregard for the deaths of thousands of their fellow citizens is the effort to make sure their responsiblity never comes to light.

Another Katrina-scale disaster will come: from deep beneath the earth’s crust in California, from the tropical convergence zone in the south Atlantic, or on a shipping container from the MidEast. And the federal government will be as unprepared at that time as they were on Aug. 29.

Our government will be no more prepared because they have no reason to be. The blame will have been heaped upon the dark Other, and there will be no need for any changes in Washington.

Newt Gingrich promised this would be a "bloodless" civil war.

Tell that to the people of New Orleans.

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"And when we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard nor welcome, but when we are silent we are still afraid. So it is better to speak remembering we were never meant to survive." -- Audie Lorde

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