Up for Discussion

We’re approaching the anniversaries of our two big recent tragedies — Katrina and 9/11. Last week Digby blogged about the “Duelling Pageants” and wondered about these disasters’ relative impact on the upcoming midterm elections. Republicans are still running on 9/11 and will be pulling out all the stops for the fifth anniversary. Dems have Katrina, and for once they may have a media advantage, says Digby:

Obviously the Democrats will shine the light on Katrina as the iconic example of Bush’s mismanagement but the question will be whether the white house can control the way the press reports it. My bet is the media will want to go back and show plenty of footage of themselves down in New Orleans. They were in the middle of the story for a few days reporting on the appalling conditions when the government seemed paralyzed. They are going to want to revisit their glory days.

They will also undoubtedly do a bunch of “where are they now” stories and investigations into what has happened in the past year. I believe it’s going to be very bad for the Republicans to be reminded of their lowest moment, just before the election.

Of course, the Pugs are gonna anticipate this and will have a strategy to deal with it, which Digby discusses here.

Yesterday I reflected on the passing of September 11 as The Big Deal. There are signs the American people finally have had it up to here with 9/11 and don’t want to think about it any more. The Bushies have gone to that well a few times too many, methinks. On the other hand, although Katrina has been off the front pages for awhile, I think feelings about it nationwide are still pretty raw. And Katrina has not yet been transformed into sterile iconography, as I believe 9/11 has been transformed for most people who weren’t there. In our memories, Katrina is still hot and organic and damn messy.

Lately I’ve seen television commercials for some September 11 commemorative medallion or sculpture or some damn thing that I sincerely hope nobody buys. But can you imagine a Katrina commemorative sculpture? I’m sure someone will come up with something eventually, but I can’t imagine what it would look like. Bodies floating in flood water just aren’t inspirational.

But however the disasters are commemorated, my questions now are how will these disasters affect us long term, and which will historians say was more significant?

Of the two, September 11 was a unique sort of disaster, unlike anything else this nation has experienced; and the suddenness of it, the shock of it, gave it the bigger emotional wallop. On the other hand, in many ways it was an easier disaster to deal with than Katrina. The actual damage was contained within a few acres of lower Manhattan; the rest of the city was untouched. Further, New York is a rich and resourceful city that didn’t have to wait for federal help to take care of its own. Many people (Chris Matthews comes to mind) continue to praise Mayor Guiliani’s leadership during that crisis, and he was impressive, but the fact is he didn’t have shit to do except be on television. Had Hizzoner evaporated that day I think the city would have managed perfectly well without him.

Katrina, on the other hand, was a disaster that required excellent leadership and management, during and after, which it sure as hell didn’t get. It was a bigger disaster that presented myriad problems to be solved, many of which remain unsolved. And the states, cities and communities impacted by Katrina lacked the resources to take care of their own, and needed federal help, which in large part they are still waiting for.

The long-term significance of both disasters lies not in the disasters themselves, but in our responses to them. In that regard, right now it seems 9/11 wins the significance prize, since the Bushies used 9/11 to bleep up pretty much the entire planet. I suspect we’re going to be dealing with the responses to the response to 9/11 for many years, possibly generations, to come. Unfortunately.

On the other hand, someday historians might say that Katrina represented a more significant turning point. And I’m not just talking about George Bush’s popularity numbers.

For many years Americans were taught from infancy that the U.S. was the biggest richest strongest most advanced badass country on the motherbleeping planet; the fountainhead of wealth and science and resources and technology and cool pop culture, not to mention liberty and democracy. And after the Cold War we were the World’s Only Superpower. That makes us, like, the Supernation, the nation that can fly around flexing its muscles, admired and envied, fixing the rest of the world’s problems.

But what kind of Supernation leaves the bodies of its citizens rotting in the streets?

Someday historians may write that Katrina marked the true end of The American Century. It was the moment at which the Supernation finally came down to earth and began to recognize its own limitations and mortality. That, coupled with the squandering of our military resources in Iraq, has revealed us to be smaller, weaker, shabbier, and more vulnerable than many of us had realized. The facade may still be bright and impressive, but there’s rot underneath.

We have finally come up against our own limitations. And we smacked into ’em pretty hard.

What do you think?

Also: More ruminations on 9/11 and What It All Means by Athenae at First Draft.

14 thoughts on “Up for Discussion

  1. I saw the revolting TV ad for that gold coin or medallion, too. The item itself and the selling of it are both in the worst possible taste– in other words, perfect for our Bushidiot society. Of course, the ad suggests that partial proceeds will be made to unspecified charities (uh huh). We’re a nation of suckers.

    Still, for all that I dread and mourn both upcoming anniversaries, I can only imagine what the White House is feeling. Dread, certainly. ‘Cause they don’t mourn nothin.

  2. Katrina revealed the ultimate proof that we are short-term thinkers. America today does not plan any farther ahed than the next congressional election. Hurricanes are a real and present danger. We need to follow the example of the Dutch an prepare for major storms now, not simply react to them after the fact.

    The US still uses the 100-year storm event as the basis for most flood protection. I know that sounds like a lot, but think about it: If the averae life span is in the 70s, designing for the 100-yr storm almost assures that the majority of citizens will experience a catastrophic event. The Dutch, in contrast, use the 10,000 year storm. Why are they suddenly so much smarter than us?

    Thanks for remembering New Orleans and what Hurricane Katrina has done (and continues to do) to us. I am living and blogging in New Orleans with the hope that the lessons of this tragedy are not lost. Louisiana and all of America must join together in making this promise to our citizens: Never Again!



  3. There is going to be a Spike Lee movie in two parts on HBO about Katrina this week. Not sure of the times. I don’t have HBO; but just read a very good article about the film. I am old enough to remember an America that would not have allowed Katrina to happen. I personally think that during the elections the Democrats should do nothing but run the news footage of Katrina with a voice over that this can happen to you as long as the Republicans stay in office.

    September 11 has become pretty much about New York and the WTC as it possibly should be. However, I live in the DC area and have friends who live near the Pentagon and friends who work in DC. The fact that the Pentagon was hit by a plane seems to be forgotten by most people. I work in Rockville far enough away from the Pentagon not to be concerned about myself; but, I remember the fear I had until I heard from all my friends that they were safe. It was scary; but, certainly not on the level of New York.

  4. I was watching C-Span this morning, and Katrina was featured. It seems to me that all of the cold, heartless policies of the last 25 years (post Reagan) came together in this tragedy. It took days and days of media coverage for the government to act because so many of the vicitms are poor. If this had happened in a wealthier community, I believe what relief there was would have come along sooner. One of the callers lost her home to Rita AND the bank! They were not able to live in the home, couldn’t afford to repair it, didn’t receive funds, and the bank repossessed. Now they can’t get credit to buy another. Why is there no provision for this? Why were the laws against usury revoked? Why is it okay to prey on the poor? They are not all on welfare, and even if they were how does that make it okay? Also, poor people come in all colors so the repuglies can’t justify the cruelty by rascism – coded or otherwise.
    When the issue of values comes up, state loud and clear that decent people don’t attack the “underdog,” and remind the next pitiful, suffering repugly complaining of class warfare that the class war is over, they won years ago.

  5. Given the depravity that the American media have sunk into (not that they had far to go) like sensationalizing the tragic death of a little girl, it could surely, with a shove from an enterprising Democratic operative, put together hours of footage and commentary around a New Orleans family, preferably white, mom and dad and kids make four, living in the rubble of their once small but tasteful home, barely making ends meet. Even though dad has two jobs (of course mom is a stay-at-home) the family is barely surviving. It would help if the little boy had a runny nose and the little girl sat softly weeping in a corner. An occassional cut to a smirking Mr. Bush sailing or playing golf followed by the clip “You’re doin a good job, Brownie” would be icing on the cake. Another occassional cut to a rubblized Israeli home being rebuilt (be sure to get in at American taxpaper’s expense) would be the cherry on top. Any Dem operative takers?

  6. My faith in the USA disappeared with Katrina. We are old and disabled; unable to live in our distressed home in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. Living on my disappearing IRA in high ground in west Mobile, Alabama. Four children and a grandson were also affected by this storm. None have recovered. We are all better off than our former neighbors. One of whom committed suicide in her bedroom closet last Wednesday evening leaving three young children behind to face an uncertain future with grandparents. Advice: Don’t look for the current governments to step up to help you. Do for yourself and do what you can do for others.

  7. This is the America all those folks who ‘loved’ George W. Bush voted for.

    It would appear that they aren’t to happy with this version of our nation.

    They would have done well to have paid attention to who they were voting for: a brain-damaged drunk who just happened to be a sociopath in the bargain. The information about this man was out there in the media and the blogosphere for those who cared to look.

    Most did not.

    As Ben Franklin famously said: “Experience keeps a dear School, but Fools will learn in no other, and scarce in that.”

    And I ain’t talkin’ about Bush folks.

    We need to look at ourselves in the mirror and own up to the fact that Bush is our creation. America’s Great Leader…a product of our best schools, the military and most of all a successful politician.

    Does that tell you something about our political system?

  8. We need to look at ourselves in the mirror and own up to the fact that Bush is our creation.

    I’ve acknowledged my mistakes to the limit that I’ve made them..I’m fully repentant and ready to move on in a positive direction.

  9. I will not forgive George W Bush, his administration members, and those who support(ed) and voted for him and his fellow Republicans. I am moving forward thanks to an anti-depressant/anti-anxiety prescription and absence of access to any weapon whatsoever except a keyboartd. USA, Repent; The End in Not Near !!!

  10. Please don’t ever tell me that Bush is Christian! How could he sit by and watch all those people suffer? He had all the resources of the army , navy, National Guard and just let them drown. How could a Christian do that? He is a very shallow man and the world finally sees him for what he really is. I could not vote for another Republican for anything on this earth. That could have been me and my family. How anyone could even consider him as a decent man is beyond me.I don’t want a politician that is full of razzle and dazzle. I want them to be honest, decent, and have compassion for people that may be poor and elderly or sick.

  11. What changed with Katrina was not so much that we were no longer –

    …the biggest richest strongest most advanced badass country on the motherbleeping planet; the fountainhead of wealth and science and resources and technology and cool pop culture, not to mention liberty and democracy. And after the Cold War we were the World’s Only Superpower. That makes us, like, the Supernation, the nation that can fly around flexing its muscles, admired and envied, fixing the rest of the world’s problems.

    – it’s that the people in power were so heartless and cruel that they could not be bothered to care. It suited their power schemes to let New Orleans die, just as it suited their schemes to come to Florida’s aid in 2004 when that state was struck by four hurricanes (Bush’s numbers perked up as a result, and he won Florida in the election).

    What 9/11 and Katrina show, for all the world to see, is the complete moral depravity of the people in power, their disgusting ideology of greed and selfishness, and how far this country has fallen.

    All the Democrats need to do is to harp on this theme, that these ruthless assholes will eat your children if they see fit. I can see some campaign commericals intermixing scenes of our worn-out soldiers in Iraq, with one of Bush’s nonsensical justifications for Iraq, with bodies floating in New Orleans. There is so much grist for some killer commercials, if only the Ds would have the guts to use it.

  12. it’s that the people in power were so heartless and cruel that they could not be bothered to care.

    The government’s resources are depleted, however, by waste and corruption and Bush’s damn tax cuts. We’re not maintaining infrastructure, updating the power grid, protecting oil pipelines, and a lot of other basic things governments are supposed to do. Social services are being cut everywhere in the country. We’re in debt up to our eyeballs to Japan and China.

    Sure the nation as a whole is still incredibly wealthy, but the wealth is being hoarded in a few private hands and is no longer available to government (us)..

  13. …the wealth is being hoarded in a few private hands and is no longer available to government (us).

    That was by conscious design. It reflects the unconscionable priorities of this administration and its backers. They don’t care about this country, except to milk it dry. They moved on from Texas to a bigger game.

    There’s plenty of money to throw at military boondoggles, for example, or to various special interests in order to stay in power. Put it on the national credit card.

    Our finances are like those of the children of a once vast and immensely wealthy trust, which has been completely mismanaged. And yet by many appearances we look like a wealthy nation, but it’s mostly now on credit.

    It’s similar to the Dot com companies who had nice offices, pinball machines, and masseuses, but who were really hopelessly in debt with little to show for it. But for awhile it looks a viable, prosperous concern.

    The point is, despite our ocean of red ink, the powers that be chose to borrow money for certain things over others. Helping the people of this country – except in ways that enhanced the position of the powerful – didn’t make the list.

  14. You write: “Someday historians may write that Katrina marked the true end of The American Century.”
    No ‘someday’ about it, maha. You are the historian, and you have written it.

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