Wednesday, August 29, was the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina slamming into the Gulf Coast and pretty much destroying New Orleans. On the first anniversary, many were unhappy that very little had actually been accomplished in whatever recovery efforts had been pledged. Words are cheap, and other things came up. Perhaps another year was needed to get things rolling. But no, things are not much better.
That’s how it seemed to an outside observer, like the Guardian’s Ewen MacAskill in New Orleans, with his report – “Two years after hurricane, frustration grows at sluggish rebuilding of New Orleans” –
The US president, George Bush, who is scheduled to visit the city today, visited two weeks after Katrina and promised “this great city will rise again … our goal is to get the work done quickly”. But there is still mile after mile of abandoned homes, disappearing behind creeping vegetation, testament to the failure of the richest nation on earth to rebuild one of its best-loved cities.
There has been progress but it has been slow and limited, lacking energy and drive. Tens of thousands are still living in cramped caravans provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Many schools have not reopened. Basic medical and social services are being provided by churches and charities, working out of caravans, who claim that stress levels have risen to an alarming degree. And, on top of all that, the city is experiencing a crime wave, up 33% on last year, with a murder on average every 1.8 days, putting it on course to become the murder capital of America by the end of the year.
There’s much more at the link, mostly human-interest “personal stories” – but the news was filled with those. That’s the “Oh my!” sort of voyeuristic stuff that is the economic fuel that keeps broadcast and cable news running profitably – tears (when at all possible, and in close-up) and pathos (frightened, wide-eyed minority children) goose the ratings, and the ratings determine what you can charge for a thirty second spot. The many bloated bodies floating face down in the deep oily water in the streets are long gone. But things were still sufficiently awful. The day’s television news items on New Orleans were filled with adequate visual and quite specific pathos – but the blanket coverage all seemed to blur together after the seventeenth “illustrative” personal tale. CNN, Fox News and MSNBC need to think about when typical viewers reach some sort of saturation point and switch to the Travel Channel or the Home Shopping Network – the point of diminishing economic returns.
In print such “example” reporting is less effective of course – you cannot hear the catch in the throat as someone explains they’ve lost everything and don’t know where to turn, even after two years of those who roll in and promise the moon, leave in an hour or two, and don’t even deliver Moon Pies. With print all you have is words on a page, and space for one or two photographs. So in print you get “perspective and context” – you get what’s going on, with the anecdotal detail. The examples are rolled up into the general situation, as in the opening of the Associated Press account – “Prayers, protests and a lingering disgust with the government’s response to Hurricane Katrina marked the disaster’s second anniversary Wednesday, with a presidential visit doing little to mollify those still displaced by the storm.”
That is what was going on. The president squinted and smiled and smirked a bit, and tried to do the solemn but hopeful routine as best he could. No one was impressed. Locals felt betrayed, and the rest of us know not to expect much. Six years have taught us all not to expect much.
Taking one more step back from the pathetic specific, for an even broader perspective, the Washington Post offered this –
Much more than Katrina explains the continuing drop in Bush’s support in the past twelve months, but there is little doubt that the hurricane crystallized negative perceptions about Bush’s performance that he never has been able to shake. And in the fallout from the Gonzales resignation on Monday, there were renewed complaints that echoed the criticism after Katrina, that the administration lacks basic competence in dealing with problems.
Note that is “problems” – in general, all problems. After the wild ride of the Clinton years, we were told “the grown-ups were in charge now.” A few scoffed, but most people gave the administration the benefit of the doubt – maybe this was so. Then we had four years of “oops” moments following the September 11 attacks and the subsequent war with Iraq – from no WMD to the attorney general who, if you asked about decisions and policies, knew nothing, really, and pretty much destroyed the Justice Department in his, or someone’s effort, to turn it into a tool of the Republican Party for smearing the opposition and getting Republicans elected, and keeping the voter rolls from having too many of the opposition able to register to vote. And there was everything in between. The inattention to doing anything much about the destruction of a major American city doesn’t stand alone, and in fact becomes emblematic. And people do respond to symbols – the president standing in front of that “Mission Accomplished” banner, the bloated body of a fellow citizen floating face down in the deep oily water in the streets of New Orleans.
One more time – it has been said often and will be said again – these folks ran on the Reagan principle that government is not the solution, it is the problem. Private enterprise, particularly large corporations, is always more efficient than government. Individuals are smarter than people getting together to decide how to spend pooled resources – you know best how to spend your tax dollars, so we’ll give them back to you, or at least some of them. Religious groups, funded by the donations to the mainstream religions, should take care of the needy and deal with emergencies – helping the government and finally supplanting it in those efforts. They’re better at that sort of thing. In short, you shouldn’t look to the government. It doesn’t do anything well.
Hey, weren’t you listening? What did you expect? New Orleans is lost – unless we all get together and work outside the government. You see, we all get together and chip in, then we elect some of us to get together on the side to work out the precise details of how to distribute the funds, with some rules we’d have to have about that, and we could change who makes those rules and decisions with periodic elections if we’re unhappy. No, wait. Then we’d have a… government. Drat – governments are inherently bad. It is puzzling.
But, when you put the guys who say government doesn’t work in charge of the government, you get what we have now – it doesn’t work. Duh?
Maybe things are just wacky these days. That might be the problem. On the Second Annual National Had-Enough Day the will of the late Leona Helmsley was registered – her dog gets twelve million and her son ten million. This is the woman who once said that “only little people pay taxes” – just before she went off to jail for tax evasion. Sigh.
On the Second Annual National Had-Enough Day you could read this post by Steve Clemons, regarding one discussion of the business with Senator Larry Craig of Idaho pleading guilty to soliciting gay sex in an airport, then saying he shouldn’t have pled guilty, as he wasn’t (he only purposefully committed perjury with his plea, which wasn’t that bad). Clemons discusses what happened on MSNBC in an on-air discussion of all this – the admission, or boast really, of their commentator Tucker Carlson that he bashed, quite literally bashed, a gay man who hit on him in a public restroom. See also Digby at Hullabaloo with Tucker Carlson: He-Man – Carlson may have been sending out odd vibes, when you think about it. The final irony is that Steve Clemons was guest-blogging at Andrew Sullivan’s site – Sullivan, openly gay, was off to marry his partner. Things are just wacky these days.
On the Second Annual National Had-Enough Day, Sheryl Gay Stolberg at the New York Times notes that the Republican themselves have had enough, in A Scandal-Scarred GOP Asks, ‘What Next?’ –
Forget Mark Foley of Florida, who quit the House last year after exchanging sexually explicit e-mail messages with under-age male pages, or Jack Abramoff, the lobbyist whose dealings with the old Republican Congress landed him in prison. They are old news, replaced by a fresh crop of scandal-plagued Republicans, men like Senator David Vitter of Louisiana, whose phone number turned up on the list of the so-called D.C. Madam, or Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska and Representative Rick Renzi of Arizona, both caught up in F.B.I. corruption investigations.
It is enough to make a self-respecting Republican want to tear his hair out in frustration, especially as the party is trying to defend an unpopular war, contain the power of the new Democratic majority on Capitol Hill and generate some enthusiasm among voters heading toward the presidential election in 2008.
“The real question for Republicans in Washington is how low can you go, because we are approaching a level of ridiculousness,” said Mr. Reed, sounding exasperated in an interview on Tuesday morning. “You can’t make this stuff up. And the impact this is having on the grass-roots around the country is devastating. Republicans think the governing class in Washington are a bunch of buffoons who have total disregard for the principles of the party, the law of the land and the future of the country.”
Well, yes. And the second anniversary of Katrina just provides the perfect symbol.
As for how low you can go, Paul Kiel offers a useful review –
Jack Abramoff is in prison. Ex-Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-CA) is in prison. Ex-Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH) is in prison. Ex-Reps. Mark Foley (R-FL), Katherine Harris (R-FL), Tom DeLay (R-TX), Curt Weldon (R-PA), and Ex-Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT), all either lost or did not seek reelection. Gone, away, to be forgotten. This year was supposed to be different for the Republicans. But…
… So what’s the tally this year so far? Well, there is, of course, 1) Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID) and 2) Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) with their sex scandals (the attempted restroom tryst and numerous successful hotel room trysts, respectively).
But then there’s the much greater toll of just plain ol’ corruption. 3) Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) and 4) Rep. Don Young (R-AK) are under investigation for their ties to the oil company Veco (though that’s just the tip of the iceberg for Young). 5) Reps. Tom Feeney (R-FL) and 6) John Doolittle (R-CA) have found themselves the focus of a reinvigorated Abramoff investigation (though Abramoff is in prison, he’s still busily cooperating). 7) Rep. Rick Renzi (R-AZ) had his house raided. 8) The FBI is investigating Rep. Gary Miller’s (R-CA) land deals.
And then there’s 9) Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) whose land deal with a businessman and campaign contributor became such a scandal that she finally just sold back the plot of land.
… I omitted 12) Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM) and 13) Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM) in my original round-up. Both are facing ethics committee investigations for their calls last October to former U.S. attorney David Iglesias about his office’s investigation of a state Democrat.
A kind of bonus field of scandal has been campaign officials for the various Republican candidates and their various scandals.
And there are a couple holdovers from 2006, of course; scandal figures who’ve stuck around and managed to keep a relatively low profile. 10) Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA) is still apparently under federal investigation. And 11) Rep. Ken Calvert’s (R-CA) land deals are still winning scrutiny.
On a more serious note, Dale Carpenter, on the site of the quite conservative UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh, adds some insight on some of what is happening with the Republicans –
The big, open secret in Republican politics is that everyone knows someone gay these days and very few people – excepting some committed anti-gay activists – really care. It’s one of the things that drives religious conservatives crazy because it makes the party look like it’s not really committed to traditional sexual morality.
So to keep religious conservatives happy the party has done two things. First, it has steadfastly resisted efforts to ease anti-gay discrimination in public policy, even when Republican politicians know better. I can’t tell you how many Republican staffers told me, for example, that their bosses privately opposed the Federal Marriage Amendment but would be voting for it anyway.
Second, to keep the talent it needs and simply to be as humane and decent as politically possible toward particular individuals, the party has come up with its own unwritten common-law code: you can be gay and work here, we don’t care, but don’t talk about it openly and don’t do anything to make it known publicly in the sense that either the media or the party’s religious base might learn of it. It’s the GOP’s own internal version of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
Carpenter says this odd mix of the public and the private isn’t exactly hypocrisy. He calls it “a form of ideological schizophrenia: private acceptance welded to public rejection.”
And that “is a very unstable alloy” that leads to trouble –
For the closeted gay Republican, this alloy means a life of desperation and fear and loneliness, of expressing one’s true feelings only in the anonymity of the Internet, of furtive bathroom encounters, of late nights darting in and out of dark bars, hoping not to be seen. It means life without a long-term partner, without real love.
Worst of all, it may mean a life of deceiving a spouse and children. It’s hardly surprising that most of the men caught cruising in parks, bathrooms, and other public places are deeply closeted and often married. They don’t see themselves as having many other options.
Nevertheless, it seems to work until the day you get caught tapping your toe next to a cop. Desperation sets in and you say things that bring everyone much mirth at your expense, like, “I’m not gay, I just have a wide stance.”
So how do Republicans deal with the “periodic public morality convulsions?” It’s not easy –
There will be no purging the party of gays. There is no practical way to purge them, and even if there were, most Republicans would be personally repulsed by such an effort.
These closeted politicians, staffers, and party functionaries will occasionally be found out one way or another and again will come the shock, the pledges to go into rehab, the investigations, the charges of hypocrisy, the schadenfreude from Democrats and libertines, the sense of betrayal from the party’s religious conservatives.
This doesn’t happen to the Democrats because the party’s public and private attitudes toward homosexuality are fully consistent: acceptance of gays. Their homosexuals feel little need to remain closeted (with the recent exception of Jim “I am a Gay American” McGreevey). Notably, past sex scandals involving gay Democrats, like Rep. Barney Frank (with a prostitute) and Rep. Gerry Studds (with a congressional page), occurred some two decades ago, when the party was less accepting and the men themselves were still closeted.
So the only practical way out of this for the Republicans is to come to the point where its homosexuals no longer feel the need to hide. That’s not going to happen soon. Maybe they should put some grown-ups in charge.
On the Second Annual National Had-Enough Day, Katrina Day, we know now what’s going on. Those in charge are useless, and their titular leader, if he is in charge, hopeless.
David Kurtz puts it nicely –
Nearly seven years into his Presidency, don’t we have a pretty good idea of the character and abilities of this man? There is a long track record now of truly unparalleled incompetence, corruption, and politicization. What more do we need to know? Bush’s legacy is firmly entrenched, and barring any seismic historical events between now and January 2009, any changes to that sorry legacy will be at the margins.
That’ll do for the Second Annual National Had-Enough Day.